Town Meeting: Articles on Meals Tax, Speed Limits, and Standing Committees

by Beth Melo on May 18, 2021

Post image for Town Meeting: Articles on Meals Tax, Speed Limits, and Standing Committees

Above: On Saturday, voters will decide whether we should join the ranks of most neighbors in collecting a municipal meals tax. And they can weigh in on whether or not selectmen should be able to lower the speeds in some parts of town from 30 mph to 25 mph or lower. (images L-R from state website and cropped from pic by Joshua Hoehne on Unsplash)

There are a lot of Articles up for a vote this Saturday. I’m trying to tackle the highlights before it’s time to head to the meeting. (After all, it’s better for voters to start asking their questions now than to tie up the action on Town Meeting floor – or field.)

Tonight, I’m focusing on informing/updating readers on six Articles. They cover a proposed new tax, giving officials the authority to slow drivers down in some parts of town, and bylaw changes related to three committees.

Meals Tax

Article 30 would implement adding 0.75% to the sales tax for meals sold at restaurants in town (including coffee houses). The state would collect it along with the state sales tax and pass the municipal share back to Southborough.

Over a year ago (pre-pandemic), the Advisory Committee proposed and advocated for the Article. The idea was to find a way to offset taxpayer’s burdens. At the time, Chair Kathy Cook urged that residents pay the tax in other towns while Southborough misses out on collecting revenue from non-residents. (Hopkinton is the only directly neighboring town that doesn’t charge the add-on. You can find the state’s list here.)

She furthered that the cost is a negligible difference on most customer’s tabs, but adds up to significant funds for Towns who take advantage. She convinced selectmen that most restaurant owners had no issue with the tax.*

The Article was postponed from last Annual Town Meeting and officials were more hesitant about it this spring given the economic climate for restaurants and residents. Advisory recommended amending the Article to kick in next January. But even that timing was worrisome to some selectmen.

In an April 13th joint meeting, then-Selectman Brian Shea raised his concern that the strategy relies on commuters returning to offices. (Either working in buildings in town or frequenting establishments on their way through.) He opined that its going to be a long time until that’s a market that the Town can tap into, possibly beyond next January. Others echoed concerns about future uncertainty.

In the end both groups voted to support amending the Article to add that the Board of Selectmen would have the ultimate authority to set an implementation date, no sooner than January 1, 2022. The Board would only implement the tax if they believe it makes sense in next year’s economic climate.

Speed Limits

Articles 28 & 29 relate to speeds on Thickly Settled Roads and the creation of “Safety Zones”. The intent is to give the Board of Selectmen the authority to lower speed limits on certain roads.

The issue was raised in 2019 when Public Works Superintendent Karen Galligan was discussing safety on Pine Hill Road and Paramenter Road. (These are among the roads that residents have frequently complained about safety issues.)

Galligan recommended that selectmen lower the speed limit of thickly settled streets from 30mph to 25mph. She explained that it would require a vote from Town Meeting.

The Article, and a second which would allow identifying safety zones, were proposed by Selectman Sam Stivers. He explained the purpose isn’t to automatically change the speed limits for all thickly settled roads. Instead, it would give the Board the ability to vote to change the limits in areas where they determine safety issues. That includes the ability under Article 29 to determine that some zones require speeds to be capped at 20mph.

Standing Committees

Articles 31, 32, & 33 are to create new standing committees and amend details of an existing committee. 

The Town has two committees doing important work that are currently in “ad-hoc” status. That means they were created and appointed by the Board of Selectmen without the official adoption of their charters by Town Meeting. Under state law, that is only allowed temporarily.

Two of the three Articles are to make permanent (and define rules regarding) the Americans with Disabilities Act Committee and the Capital Planning Committee. In both cases, the status change comes with a name change.

The ADAC would become the Southborough Public Accessibility Committee under Article 31. This change reflects a charge to do more than just ensure compliance with federal ADA laws.

Southborough supports a coordinated approach to monitoring and increasing public accessibility and ensuring compliance with local, state and federal requirements. In addition, it is desirable to encourage property owners to consider adopting optional policies that increase accessibility.

. . .this article establishes a committee that will be responsible for developing and implementing this coordination. It will report on status and progress to the Board of Selectmen and the Town Meeting.

The Capital Planning Committee would become the Capital Improvement and Planning Committee under Article 33.

I’m not positive of the reason for the change, but I know why I welcome it. I’ve seen several references to the CPC in Town documents (agendas, minutes, etc.) that reference the CPC and appear to mean Capital Planning. Yet, the Community Preservation Committee has long predated Capital Planning and been referenced by that abbreviation. Avoiding confusion is a good enough reason to me for inserting “Improvement”. 

The bylaw asks for the standing committee to:

Be responsible for creating and maintaining a rolling ten-year Capital Plan across all government entities and will ensure consistent interpretation and execution of that plan. The Committee will work in collaboration with the various government entities that propose capital expenditures. It will report on the plan to the Town Meeting and advise Town Meeting on proposed capital expenditures.

The planned shift from ad hoc to standing committee was a complication for another committee. Advisory has several members sitting on the Capital Committee. But Town Meeting previously adopted rules limiting the ability for Advisory members to serve on other committees. They can currently only serve on an ad-hoc committee or one also appointed by the Moderator. (The CIPC would be appointed by selectmen.)

Thus, the Advisory Committee proposed to change their rules under Article 33. The revision would allow them to also serve on “a standing committee whose purpose is to consider capital Appropriations”.

While they’re at it, they are asking for voters to adopt other changes that members determined made sense. The Article would reduces the number of members from nine to seven, add a Vice Chair, and:

allows all Advisory committee members to count toward a meeting quorum even when other committee matters are being considered and Advisory members also sit on that other committee. Advisory members who sit on the other committees must recuse themselves from any discussion or votes taken regarding the other committees’ subject matters.

For full wording on all of the Articles, you can click here to view the Warrant. For more of my Town Meeting coverage, click here.

*There was one owner, Kevin Gill of Owen O’Leary’s, who passionately argued against the meals tax in fall 2019.

1 Speed Limits May 19, 2021 at 8:49 AM

The Thickly Settled proposal is patently absurd. Southborough already has several streets listed as Thickly Settled with associated tiny, yellow speed limit postings. Does anyone find these to make a difference to motorists?

They absolutely DO NOT.

The town could vote to set the speed limit to 10 MPH in designated areas. The KEY ISSUE is one of enforcement! If there are no police patrols or radar traps set up to apprehend speeders and write citations, there is ZERO incentive for motorists to slow down. That is the situation we’re living with today.

Just try to get speed limit enforcement on the street where you live. It’s not going to happen.

Passage of articles 28 & 29 will create a false set of expectations among residents. It will NOT mean motorists will suddenly drive courteously through your neighborhood, nor will it mean a sudden increase in enforcement activities.

This is fluff, like promises from politicians running for office.

Don’t be fooled.

2 KEVIN May 19, 2021 at 10:11 AM

See Glezen Ln in Wayland for the proper way to fix the issue. Speed bump and sidewalk the whole town and we will never have to talk about it ever again.

3 NO TO STANDING COMMITTEE May 21, 2021 at 10:44 AM

On Article 33, there seems to be a good reason to consider a NO VOTE for Conflict of Interest reasons. Advisory is asking to exempt themselves from state law. The matter sure smacks of conflict of interest. Per current State Law, it’s a conflict to have a member of Advisory be a member of a standing committee. This is what you are NOT being told in the warrant or the above article.

Article 23 ALLOWS the Moderator / ADVISORY TO RESTRUCTURE FROM 9 TO 7 PERSONS) AND ALLOWS CAPITAL PLANNING TO BECOME A STANDING COMMITTEE. Membership on both Advisory and Capital Planning committees is NOT currently allowed by State Law, for good reasons!! Checks and balances, independence of process and your protection!!

• On reduction of members, you’ll hear all kinds of excuses.
• It operated fine until the current moderator STOPPED appointing 9 people, in violation of current bylaw. You never hear any discussion of that. You do hear discussion of persons “who think alike” which misses the point of independence of the committee and diversity altogether.
• The current structure of 9 persons helps the town maximize a diversity of persons and ideas, as it should be and has been historically.
• By State Law, Advisory members cannot belong to another committee (only an Ad Hoc committee) for State mandated CONFLICT OF INTEREST reasons.
* “Advisory” (effectively the town’s finance committee) cannot serve on a committee whereby they are voting on CRITICAL matters AND then making recommendations to the Town on HOW TO VOTE. ADVISORY Committee is supposed to be a SEPARATE COMMITTEE and ACTING and ADVISING IN THE BEST INTEREST OF THE TOWN, objectively and in an arms-length manner, SEPARATELY from any committee, including CAPITAL PLANNING!!
• For an example of COI: See this link to My S.B. article and comments on the brouhaha over ARTICLE 23, where a CAPITAL COMMITTEE MEMBER voted to authorize BOS to sell property TO HIMSELF(?!!) – see the comments on conflict of interest. The Article made it to ARTICLE 23 — then BOS ran for the door. The Article is now tabled by BOS until the fall as “not ready.” Do you think?

Voters, you have to ask yourself, how is it this RFP goes out, has one bidder(WTH?), the bidder is a MEMBER of the Capital Planning Committee, and THEN the process is for BOS to take it to town meeting floor. To ask the voters permission, about their money, after the fact. BTW, speaking of money and budgets, there is NO budget book this year. The only apparent resource is the 2020 Annual Report — Got Budget?

South Union Building sale headed to Town Meeting (Updated) (mysouthborough.com)

4 Petunia May 21, 2021 at 3:53 PM

I will agree with the content (not the tone), of the comment above regarding Advisory. It has been a patent abuse of position by the moderator to neglect his responsibility and duty to appoint the appropriate number of members to Advisory. One wouldn’t be wrong in presenting that appointing members of committees is the more important of the moderator’s two responsibilities.

5 Al Hamilton May 25, 2021 at 9:23 AM

When I was on Advisory I did a review of the State authorizing laws regarding Finance Committees. I do not recall any such State restriction on Finance/Advisory members being on other committees. However, Town By-Laws (which are laws just like any other) does restrict this behavior.

It is very important to maintain separation of powers. The BOS, School Committees, Planning Board, Library Board etc are executive bodies. They are charges with operating their respective bailiwicks, spending tax monies authorized by Town Meeting, and developing requests for future spending and taxes.

Town Meeting and the Advisory Committee are part of the towns legislature. They do not operate, spend, or develop requests for funding. They review requests for spending/taxes and approve or modify or deny those requests. Advisory’s role is to advise Town Meeting and it’s members should not be involved in developing budget/tax requests.

There is a regular and understandable desire by Advisory member to “get more involved” particularly when the could be of significant value to the executive. I felt that on many occasions. This desire must be repressed. “He who serves 2 masters serves neither well”. Advisory must remain independent and beholden only to Town Meeting..

The best that might be done is to appoint an Advisory liaison to Capital Budget. That liaison must be non voting and should recuse themselves from voting on Capital items when meeting with Advisory.

6 Another Conflict of Interest May 21, 2021 at 1:00 PM

Here’s another Conflict of Interest situation – how can Chelsea Malinowski, a member of the BOS and the BOH use her position on the BOS to call for a Special Town Meeting in the Fall of 2021 specifically to address a budget increase for the BOH?!?

Yes, special town meetings can be initiated by town’s BOS bodies, however when a member of that BOS is also a member of another board seeking an increase in funding does it not seem an abuse of position for that BOS member to advocate for a Special Town Meeting?

Like everyone else – either get your budget in ON TIME or WAIT TIL NEXT YEAR!!!

A Southborough Special Town Meeting to consider modifications to the BOH budget (called for by a BOS member who is also a BOH member) is inappropriate at best and an example of corruption otherwise.

7 Kelly Roney May 22, 2021 at 9:37 AM

As legally defined and morally defined, there’s no conflict of interest here. You just don’t like the action. Object to that.

8 NO TO STANDING COMMITTEE May 24, 2021 at 10:24 AM

Sorry Kelly, no one agrees with you. Morals? Where are the morals in VOTING on important items on Capital Planning Committee and then turning around and telling the Town voters HOW to vote on the matter while sitting on Advisory. This is the very definition of conflict of interest — legally and morally.

Check out the Mass Municipal Association publication posted on Advisory’s own website, PAGE 4.
https://www.southboroughtown.com/sites/g/files/vyhlif1231/f/uploads/mma-finance-handbook-17oct2017.pdf

The town floor overwhelmingly squashed Article 32 and 33. Article 32 was defeated outright. Article 33 was indefinitely postponed and pushed right off the floor by the voters as flawed and wrong. By attempting to reduce the number of Advisory seats from 9 to 7 seats, Article 32 is seen by many as an attempt to consolidate power of “like” voices, and as a result lacks independence and diversity. One has to be deaf, dumb, and blind to miss that. It’s right in the MMA Handbook. The committee has always historically run just fine until recently, where the current moderator has broken the existing bylaw by not filling the seats.

By the self-admission of Advisory, Article 33 was not written correctly and someone tried to amend with the “fix” loophole and failed. The point is this: Advisory must be independent of Capital Planning and recommendations from that group. Period. If it wasn’t a CONFLICT OF INTEREST, there would be NO REASON for the warrant articles asking the voters for PERMISSION.

They are looking to take away vital voter rights on independence of committees and in turn are actually fostering ripe conditions for CONFLICTS OF INTEREST. As an aside, one member of Capital Planning just voted to authorize BOS to effectively sell the building to HIMSELF!!– and he was the sole bidder with a favorable price for a Town owned property. Think it can’t happen? Think again.

The most disappointing part of this is town counsel and the smile-in-your-face “fixers” who WILL NOT and DO NOT point out all of the above. Where is a discussion of the pros and cons. You only hear the “fixer” side of the equation which takes away the rights of the voters. Just one more important reason for changes in these positions as soon as possible. It is so contrary to the best interests and the will of the voter taxpayer residents of this town.

9 Kelly Roney May 24, 2021 at 5:00 PM

Hey, NO TO, get off your high horse. You’re raging against something I didn’t even comment on. Obviously, I was commenting on Another’s claim that Ms. Malinowski’s service on two boards was a conflict of interest. Obvious, but you missed that context.

P. 4 of the link you posted, by the way, has zero relevance to any of this discussion. You imagine it does, maybe because you imagine that everyone (except me) agrees with whatever your interpretation of anything is. The roles of members of various boards are not a conflict of interest just because you imagine that no one person should be on more than one board. Did you object to Dan Kolenda serving on two elected boards?

10 Tim Martel May 24, 2021 at 3:42 PM

Kelly, I agree with you.

11 Kelly Roney May 24, 2021 at 5:41 PM

Thanks, Tim. NO TO’s comment was completely foolish.

12 NO TO STANDING COMMITTEE May 25, 2021 at 3:23 PM

Kelly, with all due respect, your comments are misguided and reflect your own misunderstanding. (And as for commenting on “something you didn’t even comment on”– the matter presented was just one recent example of a conflict of interest—and has nothing whatsoever to do with you or your comments–so you might dismount your own ego horse.)

Page 4 of the Mass Municipal Handbook (and the handbook content itself) has EVERYTHING TO DO WITH THIS MATTER. More importantly, the entire town floor does not agree with your view and rejected Articles 32 and 33. Everyone can’t be wrong! Please review Al Hamilton’s good and succinct comments above. He is spot on.

His view reflects the view of many, including myself, and certainly the rest of the voters who rejected Articles 32 and 33. It’s all about maintaining independence and that is described well in the Handbook, posted on Advisory’s own website. All voters should take a careful read of this good, well-written handbook — that includes Advisory, Town Counsel, and Marty Healy–who were all so disappointingly contrary. Thank goodness the entire town floor saw right through the commentary — and hopefully will take a good look at the Handbook and its excellent guidance to all municipalities.

13 Matthew May 24, 2021 at 4:47 PM

I typically don’t reply to posts but this one has gotten under my skin! Here’s what I see, there was an open elected position on the Board of Health, I only saw one name on the ballet by the way. Ms. Malinowski stepped forward to help address a concern she had repeatedly expressed, prior to being elected, in Board meetings and shared by Advisory of how best to use money from the Cares Act and explore options before hitting the tax rate. I would ask that instead of complaining and arm chair quarterbacking, why not step forward and serve as I have if you see an issue or concern. I get so frustrated to see those that volunteer their time and energy be bashed consistently on here. While you are entitled to your opinion, the number of votes received at the ballot box for Ms. Malinowski tell a different tale.

14 NO TO STANDING COMMITTEE May 22, 2021 at 1:15 AM

Petunia, so glad we agree on something, as I almost never agree with your content or tone. This moderator abuses the power of the position in many ways, and he should not be allowed to do so. He recently did not invite BOS to attend the annual dress rehearsal of Town Meeting. How is that for arrogant and unprofessional behavior? Disrespecting our own elected officials.

He also very inappropriately dissed the outcome of Citizen Warrant Articles, telling presenters that their article will not pass. At prior Meetings, he allows his buddies to speak multiple times, hogging the floor with their message, while leaving residents standing unheard, cutting off comment. He is deemed by many as inappropriately manipulative of town meeting process. He has neglected the basic duty of office and violated town bylaw by not appointing new committee members. Now this obvious conflict of interest on Article 33. All good reasons to vote no on Article 33. And find a better candidate for moderator next year. The Town deserves better.

15 trow da' bum out...(?) May 25, 2021 at 7:38 PM

If you feel so strongly, then you need to run for the position of Town Moderator – or convince someone else to do so. (It’s called, “put up or sh*t up.”)

Whenever I have voted in local elections, I see Mr. Cimino’s name running unopposed each time!

Another consideration is most (all?) of the appointed roles in town government are made by our Town Moderator. The position carries significant influential power – that few people seem to realize! How long has our current Moderator been in the role?

…food for thought…

16 beth May 26, 2021 at 8:29 AM

You are incorrect in stating that “most (all?) of the appointed roles in town government are made by our Town Moderator”.

The Moderator is only responsible for appointing all of the seats to the Advisory Committee and Personnel Board, plus 3/5 of the Public Works Planning Board. (The other two PWPB seats are appointed by the Planning Board.)

The Board of Selectmen is the one that assigns by-far most of the appointed roles. The Town website lists 37 committees under their appointing authority – but some of those are currently inactive. In addition, they appoint people to individual roles in Town Government, like Constable and Veteran’s Agent.

As for how long he has been in his office, Paul Cimino has been moderator since 2017. He ran unopposed that year and each year since.

17 Al Hamilton May 26, 2021 at 8:32 AM

The Moderator does not appoint most of the roles in town government. He appoints members of the Advisory Committee, Personnel Board, and I believe on occaison appoints some members to a few other committees. The BOS, by far, appoints the most members to committees including Historic, Community Preservation, Economic Development and others the list goes on and on (https://www.southboroughtown.com/boards)

18 Another Conflict of Interest May 24, 2021 at 11:44 AM

I completely agree with the comments above regarding the Moderator. And here is an after thought and observation from Town Meeting. Why can key members of committees also serve as “Tellers” at the meeting? Critical votes that required a physical count by Tellers included some members of Advisory and others who may have an interest in such articles passing. The St. Marks clock tower vote passed by ONE vote. The Tellers conducting the visual count by my observation included committee members who have also gone on record in their various committees as members of St. Marks. But the Moderator permitted them to count critical votes by walking the crowd at Town Meeting? Can’t we find enough unbiased volunteers in the Town of Southborough to serve as Tellers? Thankfully, the Moderator removed some (but not all) members of Advisory from counting the vote about the article impacting their own committee. I saw some private citizens doing their own counts and for good reason. We need to do better.

19 Kelly Roney May 24, 2021 at 5:58 PM

The appointment of two tellers for each section in open session of Town Meeting prevents cheating. Their independent counts must match or they do them again until they do. Honestly, we live in an age when people who don’t know how things work and what processes are in place to prevent cheating assume they wuz robbed whenever they lose a vote!

In a democracy, everybody loses sometimes, and nearly everybody wins sometimes. That’s the way it is. No one is always in the majority. I know I’m not. A few cranks are always outvoted, but only a very few.

20 Al Hamilton May 25, 2021 at 9:02 AM

I have on a few occasions served as a teller. It is important to note that each section is counted by 2 tellers and they have to agree if they do not then they count again. While I was on the losing side of the St Marks tower vote I have no reason to believe that the count was not accurate.

21 beth May 25, 2021 at 4:17 PM

You seem to be missing again that Kelly Roney was referring to a different comment about the Board of Health and Board of Selectmen – not related to the Advisory Committee Article.

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