Annual Town Meeting: An updated look at the Warrant

On May 4th and 5th, Southborough will hold its Annual Town Meeting. It’s time for an update on what’s on the Warrant.

At Town Meeting, Southborough voters as town legislature. Town Meeting voters appropriate money for the Town’s expenses (for the fiscal year July 2022 – June 2023) and authorize any borrowing for longer term projects. Town Meeting is also asked to vote on changes to the Town’s bylaws and other legal matters.

This Tuesday, April 12th, the Select Board is scheduled to sign the final Warrant. Some of the wording may be edited (and the budgets will be inserted) between now and then. But the list of Articles (topics to be voted on) is already final.

A couple proposed that were included as placeholders in earlier drafts this spring have been dropped and more Citizen Petition Articles were added. (Proponents of an Article could announce in advance plans to indefinitely postpone it on the floor, but all of these are expected to be in the printed Warrant.) The final count is 37 Articles. 

Many are administrative items that should be handled quickly. (The Town Moderator is likely to propose bundling some in a Consent Agenda.*)

The Budgets and Capital Expenses frequently (but not always) prompt some discussion or debate. I’ll cover those in more detail in a future post, since budgets aren’t yet final. (Collective bargaining agreements for Town union employees still need to be finalized.)

I can update that the latest projections were that homeowners will see a less than 5% tax increase next year. That is based on a 12% value shift model. It assumes home values continued to increase while commercial values decreased.**

(The actual overall tax increase was projected at under 2.5% causing an increase for homeowners less than 4.5%. But, again, union agreements to be finalized this month may increase the final figures.)

There are 14 other Articles that are likely to prompt discussion or debate. I’ve inserted links to related stories where appropriate.

17. Neary School Feasibility Study (click here)
25. Appropriation from CPA Funds – Restoration of Finn Tennis Courts
26. Easements for Reorientation of St. Mark’s Street (click here)
27. Amend Town Code – Noise (click here)
28. Amend Town Code – Trees (click here)
29. Amend Town Code – Scenic Roads (click here)
30. Amend Town Code – Trails Committee
31. Amend Town Code – Adoption of Rules and Regulations
32. Amend Town Code – Capital Improvement and Planning Committee (click here; Note – the overlap with Advisory was since addressed. This version includes that no board or committee may have more than one members serving on the CIPC.)
33. Regional School Stabilization Fund
34. Citizen Petition – Prevent Use of Public Funds to Improve Private Property without TM Approval (click here)
35. Citizen Petition – Amend Town Code – Accounting of Funding for Roads
36. Citizen Petition – Amend Town Code – Southborough PILOT Committee (click here)
37. Citizen Petition – Amend Town Code – Recall Bylaw

Between now and May 4th, I’ll be sharing more details on some of those and the Articles I’ve yet to cover.

In the meantime, you can see find the draft Warrant here. Just note that I expect some Articles’ language to be revised before the Select Board signs off on Tuesday night.

Of course, sometimes a debate breaks out on a topic that I didn’t foresee as controversial. The full list of Articles is below:

1. To Hear Reports
2. Acceptance of Monies from Contributors
3. Borrowing Authorization
4. Authorize Select Board and Supt. of Schools/Three Year Contracts
5. Amend the Personnel Salary Administration Plan
6. Rescind Authorized but Unissued Debt
7. Collective Bargaining Agreements
8. Adjustments to Fiscal Year 2022 Budget
9. Adjustments to Fiscal Year 2022 Water Budget
10. Fiscal Year 2023 Budget
11. Fiscal Year 2023 Water Budget
12. Annual Appropriation for OPEB Trust Fund
13. Appropriation from Free Cash – Sidewalk Maintenance
14. General Government Capital Items (Non-borrowing)
15. General Government Capital Items (Lease)
16. Newton Street & Main Street Water Improvements
17. Neary School Feasibility Study
19. Payment to Retirees for Accrued Leave Time
20. Facilities Maintenance Fund
21. Annual Authorization of Revolving Fund Amounts
22. Appropriation from CPA Funds – Administrative.
23. Appropriation from CPA Funds – Debt Payment for Burnett House
24. Appropriation from CPA Funds – Debt Payment for Library Façade Project
25. Appropriation from CPA Funds – Restoration of Finn Tennis Courts
26. Easements for Reorientation of St. Mark’s Street
27. Amend Town Code – Noise
28. Amend Town Code – Trees
29. Amend Town Code – Scenic Roads
30. Amend Town Code – Trails Committee
31. Amend Town Code – Adoption of Rules and Regulations
32. Amend Town Code – Capital Improvement and Planning Committee
33. Regional School Stabilization Fund
34. Citizen Petition – Prevent Use of Public Funds to Improve Private Property without TM Approval
35. Citizen Petition – Amend Town Code – Accounting of Funding for Roads
36. Citizen Petition – Amend Town Code – Southborough PILOT Committee
37. Citizen Petition – Amend Town Code – Recall Bylaw

The meeting will be held at Algonquin Regional High School for the first year. It is slated to begin at 6:30 pm on both Wednesday, May 4th and Thursday, May 5th. (If business is completed the first night, a second won’t take place. But officials are projecting that’s highly unlikely.) A date hasn’t yet been announced if the meeting runs to a third night/day.

*The Moderator can propose that Town Meeting agree to vote on a set of listed Articles under one vote. If any voter chooses to hold any of the items, it would be pulled out for separate discussion. (Moderator Paul Cimino regularly uses this method.) In days prior to Town Meeting, look for a proposed list to be posted on the Town’s website.

The same method is used for voting on the Operating Budget for the Fiscal Year (Article 10). Only specific budgets that voters or officials ask to hold are discussed. The remaining budgets are approved under a single vote.

**Last year, the Town didn’t foresee that changes in appraised real estate values would put a larger tax burden on homeowners. As a result, the increases determined in the fall were higher than tax projections made at Annual Town Meeting. To avoid a repeat scenario this year, the financial model used to calculate average homeowner’s tax increases assumed that the shift in property values by class would increase by 12%.

Updated (4/8/2022 1:20 pm): I mistakenly recalled that Moderator Paul Cimino had proposed the Consent Agenda method. He was the Moderator when it was adopted in 2018, but not the author of the Article.

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Vote NO on Easements
7 months ago

VOTERS: Please carefully read and understand each of the warrant articles proposed for this years town meeting. Please VOTE NO on Article 26. No to granting easements on a matter that should have come before the voters in the first instance for AUTHORIZATION, no matter what you hear otherwise. Spend public taxpayers money on private landowners property?? NO. Don’t ask for legal authorization from the rightful owners of public property, the taxpayers, BEFORE launching ahead and doing the work first?? VOTE NO.

This is OUR meeting, the citizens meeting. Not a meeting for BOS or Advisory who are asking for your permission, authorization AFTER taking it away from you first. Send the message: NOT OK. Vote this down. And please vote YES for the Citizens Petitions that come AFTER Article 26, that address these illegal spendings that are being swept under the rug. Also, it is time to hold BOS and Advisory accountable for rewarding, defending, and covering up wrongful spending, benefiting St. Marks, and likely desecration (with no proper examination) of a Native American burial ground. Sickening. Do not reward these bad actors and bad actions, no matter what bad legal advice you will hear. The attorneys are the worst offenders. VOTE NO. Thank you.

Committee Votes on Easements
7 months ago

The Select Board voted unanimously (5-0-0) to support this article permitting “after-the-fact” easements. Whereas, five Advisory members voted to approve and two voted against (5-2-0). Voters in this town should really consider the precedent involved here and what a yes vote means. Agree with Vote NO! It should be voted down on principle alone.

NO VOTE on ARTICLE 26
7 months ago

All residents should VOTE NO on Article 26, for the reasons stated above. Fully agree with the above comments. This sets a crazily dangerous precedent and absolutely should not be allowed by voters.

The current situation on the triangle behind the library is dirt the BOS and Advisory obviously seeks to sweep under the rug with as little attention as possible to the clear illegal aspects of the situation, I.e. the depletion of the town road budget and spending Chapter 90 funds illegally (restricted by law to public improvements) on privately owned St. Marks land.

This BOS was just found guilty of violating Open Meeting Law yet again. See the Attorney General’s website for the admonishment letter. New town counsel wasted your tax dollars in a lame and non-credible attempt to defend the BOS that failed. This group should be turned into the state and fired for advising to attempt to uphold illegal positions.

In summary, BOS, Advisory, and bad legal advice from inept counsel have zero credibility, and all have contributed to this ludicrous fiasco. You can’t spend Chapter 90 taxpayer money on private land. It’s illegal. VOTE NO!! Don’t reward these turkeys who don’t read the law and don’t care about VOTER AUTHORITY over this matter by stealing it from you in the first instance.

Kathy Cook
7 months ago

I wanted to add a little color to Beth’s post as far as estimated YOY tax increase. There are certain other factors beside the actual passed budget that influence the final tax rate. The final tax rate is set later in the fall. Some of those factors are within the control of the Select Board; others are not. The factors that are under the control of the Select Board include the use of ARPA funds to offset parts of the proposed budget such as the Board of Health proposed budget. The increased work done by the BOH the past two years due to the pandemic ( which is significant) has resulted in a significant increase in the cost of that department. Rather than make that cost permanent now – ARPA funds could be used to offset the entire increase instead of just a portion of the increase. Advisory supports the full offset until we can determine what the permanent structure of the BOH should look like post pandemic. The State is providing significant financial incentives for towns to consider the regionalization of certain services. Advisory wants regionalization studied first before the BOH budget is permanently increased.

Second the Select Board can influence the town finance team to use more local revenue in its rate setting. There is plenty of room to do that. Advisory has been advocating for this for a while.

Another factor that will influence the final tax rate that are out of local control is the annual state aid allocated mostly for public education. Advisory is sending a letter to Senator Eldridge next week advocating for additional state aid for fiscal 23 beyond that included in Governor Baker’s proposed budget. The state has a lot of funds available currently.

Advisory will include more detailed information in its annual report to Town Meeting.

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