ATM update: Consensus on budgets and expenses; Advisory Report and other handouts

Today, the Town posted several handouts for Saturday’s Annual Town Meeting. Among them are the updated Fiscal Year 2021 Budgets and Capital Expenses that voters will be asked to support.

The updated financial requests were agreed upon by majorities of the Board of Selectmen and the Advisory Committee. The result is a projected tax increase of 0.9% over last year or an extra $94.89 per average homeowner. The figures are based on both Articles up for votes this weekend and most planned for the fall Special Town Meeting.*

Selectmen previously voted to make $160,000 in cuts to an earlier version of the budget. Advisory argued that some of the cuts didn’t make sense. On Tuesday they agreed on $135,000 in cuts. (More details are below under Article 7.)

The Advisory Committee is responsible for issuing a report to Town Meeting members The Chair asked me to share it with readers:

Advisory is hoping that those that expect to attend Town Meeting on Saturday will have a chance to review both [the report and Advisory’s recommended budget] to allow the attendees to be prepared.  In an effort to make the TM as efficient as possible due to the pandemic, there will be no oral reports from Committees.  We are  hoping that publishing the recommended budget and our report in advance will help you prepare for the meeting.   See you Saturday.

To help voters understand how the meeting will be run, Moderator Paul Cimino issued information on planned motions for Articles to be grouped in consent agendas, postponed, and considered individually:

  • The “flow” plan to expedite the meeting through consent agendas and postponements
  • The handout for the proposed consent agenda
  • The list of motions for each individual Article in numerical order as listed in the Warrant.
    • In recent years, these have been projected on the screen. That’s not an option at the outdoor meeting. 
    • If Town Meeting members vote to handle some of these as in groups as proposed by the Moderator, the individual motion for those Articles won’t be made. But voters may reject that plan or pull out some of the Articles. If so, this lists the motions that would be used.

Other handout links are included below with related Articles.

If the Moderator’s plan goes smoothly, only seven Articles will be considered individually.

Articles to be presented individually

All of the Articles below are supported by the majorities of both the Board of Selectmen and the Advisory Committee. Unless otherwise noted, they are worded as posted in the original Warrant

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 year’s 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 last week 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  – Revised from Warrant  (Click here for the updated version) 

A motion will ask to replace the version in the Warrant with the revised, reduced version of the budget.

The Advisory Committee posted its Report to Town Meeting Members and their spreadsheets on the recommended budget. (That’s where I was able to find the tax projections.) If you want the excel version, you can find that here.

Advisory Chair Kathy Cook updated me on the compromises reached with Selectmen on new hires included in the budget. As I previously posted, the majority of selectmen had wanted to freeze the four new positions until January due to economic uncertainty. The majority of Advisory had argued that the new hires were critical positions that should start as soon as possible in the fiscal year that starts July 1st.

On Tuesday night, the majorities of each agreed that IT’s part time position can start as early as July 1st. An administrative assistant for Youth & Family Services can start September 1st. The two police officers will be staggered. One will start in the first available academy (September) and the other will start in the second half of the year (the February academy.)

The updated budgets reflect those numbers.

Article 8: Fiscal Year 2021 Water Enterprise budget (Click here to see the figures) 

Article 9: Capital Budget (Non-borrowing) – Revised from Warrant (Click here for the updated list)

The details that have changed from the original Warrant are noted in bold and italics below. Others are as originally listed in the Warrant. 

A. Capital Planning Committee  – $35,000 for Studies (revised)

These funds will be used by the ad-hoc Capital Planning Committee for review, analysis, and input from consultants on items in the Capital Plan;

(Originally, this amount was slated for use by the same committee, but specified as for studying the Transfer Station Engineering & Design)

B. DPW – $325,000 for Road Maintenance (Originally, listed as item C)

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

C. Fire/Police – $45,000 for Repeater site for Radio System (Originally, listed as item D)

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

D. Library – $85,000 for Replacement Boiler (Originally, listed as item E)

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

E. Library – $75,000 for Energy Management System (Originally, listed as item F)

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

F. $40,000 for American Disability Act Title II Self-evaluation (Originally, listed as item G)

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.

G. $25,000 for Cordaville Hall Renovations (new)

These funds will be used by our Facilities Department to create an additional handicapped-accessible bathroom on the main floor of Cordaville Hall. This will be done within the existing footprint of the building. Currently there is only one bathroom available to the public, which is insufficient with the large number of meetings and events held there;

H. $17,000 for Lucas Device for Ambulance (new)

These funds will be used to purchase one (1) mechanical chest compression device that will allow the department to deliver high-quality, guidelines-consistent chest compressions to patients of sudden cardiac arrest in the field and during transport to the hospital. The implementation of this device will eliminate need of department members to stand in a moving ambulance during patient care and increases the effectiveness and efficiency of on-duty staff.

Removed from the Article for this spring:

DPW – $12,000 for Large Truck & Equipment Body Work (Originally listed as item B)

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

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

Article 14 – MSBA project for Finn School boiler* (Click here for handout)

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%.

As I updated last week, the School Committees decided to pursue this Article this spring for multiple reasons. (You can read those here.) This week, the majority of both the BOS and Advisory voted to support the Article. 

“Consent Agenda” and Postponements

Prior to the above Articles, voters will be asked to decide on the listed Articles below as a group. All are as originally written in the ATM 2020 Warrant, and supported by Selectmen and Advisory.

Article 2: Acceptance of PILOT Payments
Article 3: Annual Borrowing authorization
Article 4: Authorization of contracts in excess of 3 yrs.
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 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 21: Adopt MGL to increase property exemptions

While I don’t think any of the above are controversial, I do think you may wonder what #21 is about. The Warrant explains:

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.

If the plan proceeds smoothly, with Town Meeting voters approving the plan and those Articles, the next few motions would ask to postpone fourteen Articles. (Scroll down for that list.) All Article sponsors have agreed to the plan based on the understanding that they will be put on the Warrant for a Special Town Meeting in the fall.

Hopefully Postponed

Below are the Articles that voters will be asked to postpone to the future. (Again, this will be requested before voters are asked to take up individual Articles.)

Proponents of these Articles 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 22: Amend Town Code – Increase Qualification Period for Appointments
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 27: Adopt MGL for Saturday Office Hours
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 more handouts, check here.

*I’m guessing that some of you noticed that I said the taxes covered “most” Articles planned for the meeting in the fall. All of the capital expenses that are planned for the fall Warrant are included in the analysis.

In an earlier public meeting this spring the Finance team acknowledged there was one potential article for the fall not factored in. Pre-pandemic planning for the fall included a potential Article to purchase a parcel from National Grid. It is part of the Economic Development Committee’s Downtown Initiative project. I don’t have the latest status on that effort.

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