Town Meeting Update: Details on the Articles up for vote (Updated)

Annual Town Meeting opens next week (weather permitting). As I posted earlier this week, the meeting is scheduled for Saturday, June 13th at 1:00 pm with Sunday as the raindate. 

Voters will be asked to wear facemasks to the meeting. Once in their safely spaced seats, they can remove them for as long as they remain seated.

Since it’s an outdoor, daytime meeting, the limited presentations will rely on speakers and handouts – nothing projected on a screen. (Hopefully, most of the handouts will be available online sometime next week. I’ll share them when posted.)

Today, the Town posted confirmation of how it plans to handle the Warrant for a (hopefully) streamlined meeting.

Basically, the Town is looking to focus on the Articles that need to be handled before the start of the July 1st fiscal year. Others that can wait (especially controversial ones) they hope to postpone to a Special Town Meeting in the fall. (That date has yet to be determined.)

Selectmen and the Moderator have publicly assured that any Articles indefinitely postponed “for convenience” of voters this spring will be taken up at the fall Special. Citizen Petitioners won’t need to collect signatures again, since Selectmen can sponsor their Articles for the Warrant (even if they don’t support them). Given those assurances, it appears that all sponsors impacted have agreed to cooperate.

The gameplan was formed when the meeting was planned for indoors. On June 1st, the decision was made to move outdoors. Selectmen and the Moderator decided to stick with the plan to streamline the meeting. In a meeting yesterday, Town Administrator Mark Purple explained that the notice would have been too short for sponsors to prepare to present additional Articles. It would have set them up for failure. 

On Tuesday night, other reasons were raised. Selectman Marty Healey noted that the number of voters who feel comfortable showing up and debating Articles may be low. And Selectwoman Lisa Braccio noted that rain isn’t the only weather concern for the meeting. Voters may have to sit outside on a hot day. (Moderator Paul Cimino assured that he would try to keep the meeting moving quickly and bottled water will be given out for free.)

“Critical Articles” up for vote

Below are Articles that Town boards plan to ask voters to decide on as written in the ATM 2020 Warrant.

Annual administrative/financial authorizations:

Article 2: Acceptance of PILOT Payments
Article 3: Annual Borrowing authorization
Article 4: Authorization of contracts in excess of 3 yrs.
Article 8: Fiscal Year 2021 Water Enterprise budget (Click here to see the figures)
Article 13: Capital maintenance fund – ($100,000 for the ongoing maintenance of capital equipment and systems associated with town buildings
and facilities.)
Article 15: Annual authorization of revolving funds (spending limits for previously authorized accounts)
Article 16: CPA – Administrative (The budget and set asides as required under the Community Preservation Act)
Article 17: CPA – Burnett House bond (required annual payment for previously approved project)
Article 18: CPA – Library façade bond (required annual payment for previously approved project)

Article 5: Salary Administration Plan

The Personnel board’s recommended adjustments to the by-law that governs policies and pay structures for non-union Town employees. This years changes are explained in this summary and demonstrated in this redlined version. The board doesn’t plan to make a presentation but will be available to answer any questions.

Article 6: Amend borrowing authorization for PSB

This is to reduce the amount allowed for the Public Safety Building project. It was created to highlight to Town Meeting voters that the Town carried through on its promise to work to keep costs lower than the funding they requested.

The original Article budgeted for a $22.6M project with 10% based on contingencies for unforeseen issues. Currently, the project is projected to come in at $19.5M. (The building is complete but there are a few outstanding items the contractor is working on.) The Article doesn’t state the amount to be rescinded, but PSBC Chair Jason Malinowski confirmed on Tuesday that they plan to rescind $3 Million at this meeting and hopefully another $100,000 in a future year.

Article 7: Fiscal Year 2021 budget (Selectmen will move to replace the Article with an amended budget with reduced spending. That is still in flux. Click here for related stories.)

Article 9: Capital Budget (Non-borrowing) 

A. DPW – $35,000 for Transfer Station Engineering & Design for renovation

These funds will be used by the ad-hoc Capital Planning Committee for review, analysis, and public input on Transfer Station operations, and will lead to recommendations for future improvements to the layout, management, and traffic flow for that facility

B. DPW – $12,000 for Large Truck & Equipment Body Work

This annual funding addresses maintenance of various DPW capital equipment to extend the life of these assets. This year it will be used for body work (strip, prime, paint) on one 35,000GVW truck

C. DPW – $325,000 for Road Maintenance

These funds are for public roadway, sidewalks and walkway maintenance, repair and construction throughout town. These are expended in conjunction with Chapter 90 roadway improvement funding from the Commonwealth

D. Fire/Police – $45,000 for Repeater site for Radio System

These funds will be used to seek a new repeater site for the public safety radio system, which allows Police, Fire and DPW vehicles to communicate throughout Town. No funds will be spent prior to confirmation with the Town’s communication consultants that any proposed upgrade to the radio system will improve the coverage of the existing system

E. Library – $85,000 for Replacement Boiler

These funds will provide the necessary engineering related to and the replacement of the existing 30+ year old boiler and associated components at the Southborough Library

F. Library – $75,000 for Energy Management System

These funds will provide the necessary engineering related to and the replacement of the existing building energy management system (EMS) and associated pneumatic components with a new EMS with Direct Digital Control (DDC) electronic components at the Southborough Library

G. $40,000 for American Disability Act Title II Self-evaluation

The Massachusetts Office of Disability (MOD) recently informed the Town that it is required to perform an accessibility review of its public buildings and facilities. The Town will be applying for a MOD grant to offset these costs. The results of the review, and any corresponding improvements, will be incorporated into the Town’s capital plan.

Article 10: Capital Budget (Borrowing) – $600,000 for a new Fire Pumper truck

Article 11: Payment to Retirees for Accrued Vacation and Sick Time – $28,000

Article 12: Insurance Deductible account – $10,000 fund to cover the deductible for property damages

Article 14 – MSBA project for Finn School boiler*

This project would replace the school’s 21-year-old heating system with new oil boilers, with an estimated efficiency of 85%. The project also includes providing the hardware to convert to natural gas if it becomes available in the future. This project is a partnership with the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) Accelerated Repair Project. The total cost of the project is estimated to be $990,180.00. The Town of Southborough’s cost for the project is $624,903.00 and MSBA’s contribution is $365,276, which reflects the Town of Southborough’s MSBA reimbursement rate of 36.89%.

The Advisory Committee recently indicated this was being pushed to the Fall Town Meeting or even to a few years down the road. The School Committee decided to go forward with it after all. Scroll to bottom update for details.*

Article 21: Adopt MGL to increase property exemptions

Adoption of this local option will increase the property tax abatement benefits to Southborough veterans and non-veterans who currently meet eligibility requirements for personal exemptions on their property. Funds for these abatements are carried in the Assessor’s overlay account.

To Postpone or Not to Posptone?

There are two Articles for which there may or may not be a motion to postpone. These were on the Board of Selectmen’s list for postponement, but previously on the Moderator’s list to have voted on, possibly through a Consent Agenda:

Article 22: Amend Town Code – Increase Qualification Period for Appointments

This would increase the window of time that new appointees to committees and boards have to get sworn in from 15 days to 30. (The other window proved to be too tight, especially in the summer.)

Article 27: Adopt MGL for Saturday Office Hours

Acceptance of this provision of the General Law would extend a voter registration deadline which occurs on a Saturday to the following Monday.

change is achieved by specifying that the Town is allowed to keep offices closed on “any or all” Saturdays.

Hopefully Postponed

Below are the Articles that voters will be asked to postpone to the future. Article proponents have agreed to cooperate with the plan. Some sponsors weren’t able to complete their public outreach (through hearings and public forums), most are controversial enough that voters would want a debate, and powerpoint presentations are out in the new setting. 

Ultimately it remains up to voters, but I think it’s doubtful that anyone looking to force an up or down vote on one of these (rather than postponing) would succeed:

Article 1: To Hear Reports
Article 19: Appropriation from CPA Funds – Kallander Field Construction
Article 20: Appropriation from CPA Funds – St. Mark’s Church Bell Tower Renovation
Article 23: Adopt MGL to Reduce Speed Limit in Thickly Settled Areas
Article 24: Adopt MGL to Designate Safety Zones
Article 25: Adopt MGL to Implement Local Meals Tax
Article 26: Amend Town Code – Southborough Public Accessibility Committee
Article 28: Amend Town Code – Zoning – Miscellaneous Provisions
Article 29: Amend Town Code – Zoning – Outdoor Illumination
Article 30: Amend Town Code – Zoning – Site Plan Review
Article 31: Citizen Petition – Amend Town Code: Noise Bylaw
Article 32: Citizen Petition – Amend Town Code: Reduce Plastic Waste

To look for any official updates on the Annual Town Meeting, including handouts, check here.

Updated (6/5/20 12:53 pm): Advisory Chair Kathy Cook followed up with School Committee Chair Keturah Martin to understand why they were proceeding with the Finn boiler. She reported back to me:

(1) Project has been approved by the MSBA and therefore qualifies for a 37% state reimbursement; (2) they have received assurances that project can be finished by the start of school this fall (3) they have spent about $50k on the engineering that they don’t want to have to repeat if the project is delayed and (4) the MSBA funding might change in the future depending on how significant the state’s financial woes are due to the pandemic.

Superintendent Greg Martineau confirmed that the recap is accurate. He further explained that they had recently been concerned that the Annual Town Meeting delay would prevent the boiler from being installed before this fall’s heating season start. (If that was the case, passing it this June would no longer be urgent.) This week, he received assurances from the onsite project manager and contractor that it could be installed in time this fall. The project has met the MSBA’s criteria and was moved forward.

From watching previous Advisory meetings, my understanding is that based on how the project is funded, it won’t impact the Town’s budget until FY22. So, this will impact the Town’s 5 year outlook but not directly impact the FY21 budget.

Updated (6/8/20 10:42 am): Some of you may have heard that the Governor signed into law a bill to give more leeway on Annual Town Meetings. I am seeking confirmation/clarification on the Town’s plan given the new rules. I will let you know when I get it. In the meantime, my reading of it is that it is unlikely to impact Southborough’s ATM.

For instance, my understanding is that online participation is only for “Representative Town Meetings”. (That is a form adopted by some Towns in which voters elect their representative “Town Meeting Members”.) Southborough has Open Town Meeting (in which voters represent themselves as Members).

Even if selectmen pursued the option to reduce the quorum, it looks like enacting that would also require additional notice that would force another delay in holding ATM.

Updated (6/8/20 10:50 am): Moderator Paul Cimino responded that officials don’t intend to pursue any changes to ATM. He also corrected my misunderstanding of the allowed quorum cap. It would actually allow for Southborough to have a quorum of 10% of the quorum. If selectmen chose to pursue, that would mean they could reduce the voters to as low as 10 voters. (I had initially included in the update above that  quorum could only be reduced by 10 voters.) Again, they don’t intend to pursue the option.

Updated (6/8/20 10:58 am): BOS Chair Brian Shea clarified that selectmen haven’t deliberated on any potential quorum changes. 

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3 years ago

I’m sure everyone’s got their own opinion on these decisions. here are a couple of mine:
Someone thinks it would be controversial to adopt a state law to lower speed limits in thickly settled areas? We’ll look pretty stupid if someone hits a pedestrian or gets hurt in a car crash while we wait to adopt this.
I’d also give some thought to postponing the Energy Management System for the library until after the new replacement boiler is installed and working properly. btw, it seems like a very large amount of money for a system for a single building…

and kudos to the Public Safety building committee for keeping such a large project on its budget target.

3 years ago

I personally think, in light of the current situation with COVID, article 25 should be dropped. This is a time where we shouldn’t be adding a burden onto the restaurants. Ive seen a number of family owned restaurants suffer and have to close due to shut down. I wasn’t get into my own feelings about the shut down, but we need to support these small businesses who were forced to stay closed, not add to their problems.

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