Town Meeting 2018: Updated overview of Warrant, context, and links (plus the Annual Report)

Above: To prepare for Town Meeting some voters will want to dive into the official Budget Book and Annual Report. Others will just want the basic overview. Info and links for both kinds of voters are below.

On Monday, voters will have a lot of decisions to make about how to spend taxpayer money and run our government.

Voters will determine whether taxes go up by 3.82% or up to 4.5% and what projects for the community will move ahead or get pushed/scrapped.*

We will also decide whether or not to make changes to Town Code/bylaws. (All of these are proposed by Town boards. There are no Citizen’s Petitions on ATM Warrant this year. That will have to wait for a potential-yet to be scheduled Special Town Meeting.***)

Trying to read the whole Warrant can be intimidating and confusing. So, I’ve tried to organize and simplify the basics to make it easier to understand what voters are being asked.

The Town’s administration tried to provide context on what is and isn’t included in budgets. From the Budget Book:

The FY2019 budget may be the beginning of a multi -year challenge to mitigate tax rate increases as the construction of the Public Safety Building, Recreation Field repairs and improvements, Golf Course restoration funding, Transfer Station improvements, and Senior Center building improvements are all being proposed for funding considerations. This will require difficult decisions for the Town, as prioritizing these and other requests will become essential in developing future plans and budgets.

The Budget Book doesn’t specify any belt tightening choices that were made during the operating budget process. But the Town Administrator and Treasurer did call out six deferred capital expenses totaling $335,500 pulled from this year’s plan. (You can scroll to the bottom for those.)**

Expect deferred expenses and priorities for future needs to be referenced by some officials and voters when they oppose specific funding Articles. Advisory’s Town Meeting report states:

Of major concern is the continued deferrals of capital requests year after year. This lack of financing for the town’s infrastructure results in a serious deficiency of improvement and repairs to buildings and the replacement of aging equipment.

Before you approve funds for this year’s budget, you might want to know what the Town has been up to over the past year. The 2017 Annual Report has been posted. You can read that here.

Town Meeting is scheduled to start at 7:00 pm on Monday, April 9th at Trottier Middle School. Babysitting will be provided. (If a second night is needed, that is usually scheduled for the following night. But with a pending Special Town Meeting this spring, it’s possible it could be pushed further out to combine the two. That would likely depend on the urgency of remaining Articles.)

Now, here’s my updated overview of the 2018 Warrant.

I’ve bolded the Articles that seem most likely to prompt discussion or debate on the floor. I’ve also included dollar amounts, very brief explanations, and relevant links for more background. (Of course, you can see each full article and official summary in the Warrant.)

Except where specified, each only requires a simple majority vote to pass:

1: To Hear Reports (Brief presentations from committees or departments. This year, the Economic Development Committee and the Library are set to speak. The Public Safety Building Committee will also make a brief update.)

2: Acceptance of Monies from Contributors (annual authorization)

3: Borrowing Authorization (annual authorization)

4: Authorize Board of Selectmen and Supt. of Schools/Three Year Contracts (annual authorization)

5: Amend the Personnel Salary Administration Plan (Click here for coverage of this year’s changes)

6: Fiscal Year 2018 Budget Transfers (annual authorization)

7: FY19 Operating Budget ($53,828,271 – I’m not aware of any budget controversies – but it’s pretty common for a voter to call out one or more budgets for objection or requested explanation. For the breakdown by budget buckets, see the Warrant. For an explanation from each dept/committee, see the Budget Book. You can also see the planned presentation here. )

8: General Government Capital Items ($1,035,000 broken down below)

A. MIS – Private Fiber Line to Cordaville Road – $30,000
B. MIS – Upgrade Library Phone System – $8,000
C. Facilities – Replace Air Compressor Unit – $12,500
D. Library – Engineering for Drainage/Waterproofing – $15,000
E. Facilities – Town House ADA updates – $25,000
F. DPW – Replace Transfer Station trailer – $55,000
G. DPW – Sidewalk Plow/Snowblower/Sweeper – $160,000
H. DPW – Replace Radio System – $165,000
I. Repaving of Town House Parking Lot – $150,000
J. DPW – Road Maintenance – $400,000
K. Emergency Management – Message Board – $14,500

9: Insurance Deductible Account ($1,035,000 – The fund needs to be replenished – it was last funded in 2006.)

10: Payment to Retirees for Accrued Leave Time ($17,000 – The fund needs to be replenished – it was last funded in 2016.)

11: Fund to Hire Consultants and Engineers ($25,000 – The fund needs to be replenished – it was last funded in 2015.)

12: Facilities Maintenance Fund ($100,000 – Annual expense)

13: Payment of FY17 Outstanding Invoice ($1,050 – Requires 4/5 approval – The expense was authorized and incurred in a past fiscal year. The invoice was misplaced by Town during staff transition and the vendor is still owed. Because of the time lapse, state law requires special authorization.)

14: Feasibility Study/Design for Senior Center Renovation ($30,000 – Click here for coverage of this Article)

15: Southborough Golf Club – Capital Restorations ($300,000 – Fixing issues caused by the construction of the Public Safety Building, to allow continued operations of the Golf Course. These are the expenses that couldn’t be covered by the building project or the CPA. Click here for background. [Check here to see if the video of the related forum held at the Library last night is posted yet.] Note: This Article may be amended for a lower amount based on the bids that came back. The figures that came back were lower – but I don’t know how much contingency Town officials will want to leave in.)

Articles 16 – 18: Click here for coverage of the Recreation projects. Click here for videos of two recent forums on the subject, and here for the presentation used at the most recent one.

16: Recreation Facilities – Repairs to Depietri & Kallander Fields, Trottier School Track ($744,300 – Requires 2/3 approval – Advisory has opined on them separately and there is potential for an opponent to amend to remove/reduce one of the three projects. So here’s the breakout: A. Depietri Field $197,400; B. Kallander Field $267,400; C Trottier Track $279,500)

17: Recreation Facilities – Neary School Turf Field Design and Permitting ($200,000 – Requires 2/3 approval)

18: Recreation Facilities – Lundblad Field Design and Consulting ($75,000 – Requires 2/3 approval)

19: Amend Town Code – Revolving Funds (Administrative – this is to comply with the state’s Municipal Modernization Act. All revolving funds listed as being “created” already exist.)

20: Annual Authorization of Revolving Fund Amounts (annual authorization)

21: Accept Deed of Conveyance for 0 Kimberly Lane (Requires 2/3 approval – Accepts a deed to 3.3 undeveloped acres in lieu of tax foreclosure. You can read more here.)

22: Acceptance of MGL to Update Senior Tax Exemption (Updates the income eligibility requirement from the static numbers adopted in 2002 to be adjusted annually for COLA [Cost of Living Adjustment])

23: Appropriation from CPA Funds – Administrative (annual authorization)

24: Appropriation from CPA Funds – Debt Payment for Burnett House ($109,072 – annual authorization to pay loan expense incurred through past vote)

CPA Articles 25 – 27: Click here for my coverage of these Articles with more context.

Article 25: Appropriation from CPA Funds – Restoration of Old Burial Ground ($26,450 – Restoring/preserving historic headstones at the 1730-1898 cemetery)

Article 26: Appropriation from CPA Funds – Library Facade Restoration Project ($32,530 – Assessment stage of project to preserve the facade of the historic portion of the Library, built in 1911.)

Article 27: Appropriation from CPA FundsAcquisition of 0 Rockpoint Road ($175,000 – Requires 2/3 approval – for approx. 30 acre parcel of woodlands with trails. Click here for a planned presentation on the Article.)

CPA Articles 28 – 30: Click here for my coverage of these Articles and here for more background. You can see all past posts related to the golf course here. [Check here to see if the video of the related forum held at the Library last night is posted yet.])

Article 28: Appropriation from CPA FundsGolf Course CR Endowment and Costs ($50,000 – Expenses associated with the Conservation Restriction)

Article 29: Appropriation from CPA Funds – Golf Course Parking Lot and Restoration ($581,716 – Fixing issues caused by the construction of the Public Safety Building, to allow continued operations of the Golf Course. These are the expenses that could be included under CPA – those that can’t are under Article 15. Note: This Article may be amended for a lower amount based on the bids that came back. The figures that came back were lower – but I don’t know how much contingency Town officials will want to leave in.)

Article 30: Appropriation from CPA Funds – Audubon Program for the Golf Course ($15,000 – Provides resources for the Town to develop a management plan in keeping with the CR.)

Article 31: Acceptance of Coslin Way and Washington Street as a Public Way (Requires 2/3 approval – Accepting roads constructed by EMC as Town streets. You can read more here.)

Article 32: Amend Article III of Zoning Code – Appeal Process (Requires 2/3 approval – The change would send anyone appealing a Planning Board action related to Site Plan Review to the Land Court instead of allowing the option of appealing to Southborough’s Zoning Board of Appeals – Click here for coverage.)

Articles 33 – 36: Click here for my coverage of these Articles

33: Amend Town Code – Eliminate Reconsideration of a Vote (Would remove the option for Town Meeting voters to reconsider their vote on an Article.)

34: Amend Town Code – Motion to Reconsider a Vote (If 33 doesn’t pass, this would clarify the process for Town Meeting voters to reconsider their vote on an Article.)

35: Amend Town Code – Consent Agenda for Town Meeting Warrant (This would allow the moderator to bundle articles that voters have no objections to, to be passed by a single vote.)

36: Establish Regional School Stabilization Fund (This would be used for the school’s future capital needs.)

For the full Warrant, click here to open the pdf. You can find more details about the Town Meeting on the Town’s website, here.

*It’s possible for voters to demand a tax increase by reducing some budgets (which has been done on the floor in the past) and rejecting special funding Articles. But it doesn’t seem likely for both of those things to happen.

**Voters won’t be asked to fund the following deferred capital expenses in FY19:

  • DPW: Collapsed Culvert – $40,000 (Northborough Road – The DPW determined that the temporary repair is holding, and the permanent repair work can be held off until FY20.)
  • Facilities: Cordaville Hall Storage Sheds – would have been $16,500
  • Library: Interior Renovations (Floors & Painting) – $95,000 (Waiting until water infiltration issues better identified under Article 26)
  • DPW: EPA Storm Water Permit Work – $150,000 (Regulations surrounding these new EPA requirements are not yet finalized)
  • Town House: Digital Preservation – $25,000 (To ensure records and documents in the basement of the Town House are not lost to time and the elements.)
  • Town House: Replacement Copier – $9,000

***Updated (4/8/18 1:54 pm): Residents behind the Citizen’s Petition Article who thought a Special Town Meeting would be compelled were notified that if they want the meeting they will need to submit a new petition with different wording. To learn more about that, click here to see the related Letter to the Editor.

Updated (4/9/18 2:11 pm): The Town got in bids on the Public Safety Building. (You can see a summary of those in the packet for tonight’s Board of Selectmen meeting.) There will be an update on the project tonight. I believe it is also likely that Articles 15 and 29 will be amended to reduce the funding requests based on the lower figures that came back.

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Carl Guyer
6 years ago

Since Town Meeting is being asked to grapple with a potential increase in the real estate taxes in the coming year, it is probably a good idea to step back and understand why Southborough has a high residential tax rate when compared to other communities. It is not because we spend too much.

With our current real estate tax policy forcing the commercial and resident real rates to be numerically the same, the Board of Selectmen have created a situation that makes the residents of Southborough paying a tax rate that is higher than that paid on 79% of the residential property in the state, while the commercial property owners, paying the same rate, have the advantage of paying a rate that is lower than that paid on 75% of the commercial property in the state.

Why this situation occurs is that the average residential real estate tax rate paid on property in Massachusetts is $13.06 while the average commercial real estate tax rate in Massachusetts is $22.64. Southborough’s single real estate tax rate is $16.18. So you can see we are high on the residential side while low on commercial side. Overall in the State of Massachusetts commercial property owners pay tax rates 78% higher than residential tax rates. except in places like Southborough. You could say we are upside-down. Our Economic Development Committee (EDC) recognizes this an advantage for our commercial property owners and advertises it on their web page. Do we say to them thank you for pointing that out?

OK, so what does this mean to the average residential taxpayer in Southborough in dollars and cents? Without the long-winded explanation, the average annual residential real estate tax bill would be $1,000 to $2,000 lower if Southborough brought their commercial rates in line with the state demographics. As they say, details at 11 if needed.

So when the gnashing of teeth starts at Town Meeting because some think Southborough is on a spending spree, keep in mind our high residential tax rates are a more a construct dictated by the Board of Selectmen rather than an unusual spending habit.

Concerned Voter
6 years ago
Reply to  Carl Guyer

Thank you for this thoughtful analysis. No doubt, the large projects facing the town present budget challenges in the macro sense — those numbers are huge and do not account for potential overages that will be the responsibility of the taxpayers.

See the following link (Advisory / BOS Meeting on April 2nd) at the 45 minute mark and specifically around the 47 minute mark) where Advisory mentions:

An 8 to 9% increase in taxes at the start of the budgeting process (before the whittling to the current increase). Those initial estimates are from overspending, now curbed somewhat.

See 45 – 47 Minute Mark

So caution must be exercised: The BOS (Board of Spending, as one commenter humorously observes) does not appear to have a good handle on balancing the budget (with the exception of one or two). Thank goodness for Advisory, at least making the attempt. However, even some of Advisory is not taking the intermediate and long term shortfalls seriously, and for everyone’s sake, they need to take a longer term approach to current budgeting.

That said, all for looking at and possibly implementing a split tax rate asap. How do we get started? If this is compelling enough, the voters may well want to get going on it — i.e. take action now.
Thank you.

6 years ago

Carl has provided this detail before and I do not recall anyone questioning his numbers or his conclusions.
Seems like a good idea to me; maybe one that needs to get implemented over some years so as not to hit commercial property owners with a large unforeseen tax bill.

Concerned Voter
6 years ago
Reply to  Beth Melo

Of course the developers and EDC will have a differing point of view.

Many, many communities have a split tax rate. Times change, circumstances change. Let’s have another thoughtful look at this. (Sorry, but not interested in hearing from the EDC, as their point of view is well documented. Also wondering about potential conflicts of interest?)

Please — Advisory — can you, with the taxpayers input, put this topic on an upcoming meeting agenda, i.e. have a discussion on how a new examination and and analysis of this matter might proceed?
Thank you!

Carl Guyer
6 years ago
Reply to  Beth Melo

I did not bring the Citizen’s petition to the Town Meeting. I did support it and when I asked to make a presentation to support it, I was told I could not and was limited to one slide to be presented during discussion of the article.

I got the same treatment during a Selectmen’s meeting when I asked to present my data and analysis to them, I was told I could speak for 5 minutes on this subject. I accepted this as a fair condition but then I got to listen to 30 minutes of local developers telling the Selectmen how valuable they were to the town. These guys came in droves. I knew I was being sandbagged.

Secondly, nobody has questioned by data, calculations or conclusions. I wish someone would, it would be interesting in seeing a logical presentation of why our single rate is finacially beneficial to residents.

Now lets look at Chris’s first two arguments.

FYI : Chris is a friend of mine and a fellow Rotarian. He is great guy, we just don’t agree on this and that is find with me. We come at this subject with different skills.

His first point ”

“First, a Split tax rate would put Southborough in the minority of Massachusetts municipalities and place our Town at an economic disadvantage. Of the 351 cities and towns in Massachusetts, more than two thirds (68%) have a single tax rate. Most of our neighboring communities have a single tax rate, including Westborough, Northborough, Hopkinton, Shrewsbury, Natick, Ashland, Holliston, Sherborn and Wayland. Area municipalities with a Split tax rate include Framingham, Auburn, Hudson, Marlborough and Worcester.”

Chris’s claim is exactly true, but misses an important fact. The 30% of the cities and towns with split rates have contained within their borders 78% of the commercial and industrial property in the state. The other 70% of the communities with single tax rates have 22% of the commercial and industrial property. There are two lessons from this. First, most of the commercial property in the state is taxed using a split rate. Secondly, those communities that follow a policy, like that advocated by our EDC, trying to reduce tax rates by attracting commerical development with a single tax rate have only 22% of this tax base, a failure in policy if there ever was one. FYI, tax rates increase as the percentage of the commercial tax base increases which makes you wonder why the EDC wants to expand our commercial tax base in the town with high property values.

You disagree, show me some data and analysis.

It would certainly be interesting is see some economic data that supports his claim that a split rate would be an “economic disadvantage”… Who does he have in mind here ?

His second point :

“Second, adopting a split tax rate does not increase the gross tax revenues to the Town. It simply shifts the tax burden from one group to another.”

As any teenager would say to this statement, “Duh”. How about considering how our single rate shifts an unnecessary tax burden to the tune of $1,000 to $2,000 a year on to residential tax payers. Again, it is worth repeating, we have a high residential tax rate and a low commercial tax rate. Leveling this disparity this is not the end of the world. For the life of me, I don’t know why the Board of Selectmen think a single rate this is a good idea?

John Butler
6 years ago

Carl, an obstacle for me supporting a split tax rate is a fairness argument. Commercial entities use less Town services than residential ones, far less. Schools for example, but not only schools. Although that might be said of many possible groupings, such as seniors, this is the only one for which we have a legal right to set a different tax rate. Given that they use less services, it seems unfair to charge them higher taxes, even though we could do that. I think a lot of people are aware of this basic unfairness of the concept. The argument that many other municipalities do this only says to me that those communities are insensitive to this fairness argument, not that it persuades me that it is right to charge more to those who use less.

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