Town Meeting Hat Trick: Live Blog

We’re here at the third installment of Town Meeting, after a quick and dirty detour through a special Town Meeting. Rep. Will Brownsberger is giving us an update on the budget picture at the State level and, of intense interest to those here, the local aid picture for the Town of Homes. Long and short: Belmont has done really, really well in the last three years when it comes to local aid (thanks, Will), but that the Town shouldn’t expect the party to continue. That includes close to $1.8m in additional state aid for FY 2012, including restored SPED circuit breaker funds and a much lower reduction in Chapter 70 aid (2.9% versus a projected 15% cut). Facts worth noting:

  • Belmont has spent around $1m of its own $$$ to fund the redesign of Trapelo Road. Trapelo Road redesign is very highly rated road project state-wide. Transport planners think we’re awesome! Woot.
  • Massachusetts already spends close to $.50 of every $1 on health care costs with 1 in 5 residents in the State on Medicaid. (Did I hear that right?)
  • Federal funds are up in the air for next year, including healthcare reimbursements from the Feds and money for transportation.
  • Municipal plan design reform: allowing the mayor or selectmen of the municipality to change a municipality’s health cae plan design or enter the Group Insurance Commission (GIC) without entering into collective bargaining. Will backs it – doesn’t think it will be a raw deal for municipal unions.
  • Funding education, police, fire. “Issues of regionalization” will become more urgent in the coming years. Agreed on that. Go to for more information!

UPDATE: We’re now hearing a report out from the Ad hoc Subcommittee on Town Meeting Communications. Bullet points:

  • There’s an inconsistent level of detail about issues.
  • TM members don’t really have enough time to consider issues up for discussion.
  • Its not easy to address complex issues that can’t be addressed in one sitting

There are a bunch of suggestions:

  1. Open and close Warrant in January instead of March
  2. Star Annual Town Meeting in May so as not to conflict with school vacation.
  3. Encourage precinct caucuses
  4. Institutionalize separate budget and non-budget Warrant briefings
  5. Schedule annual Community Forum to address vision issues.
  6. Increase the use of electronic communications with Town Meeting members – e-mail and Website to include background information on Warrant articles.
  7. Create Moderator appointed standing committee to improve information for Town Meeting members (print materials, electronic, etc. A resource for TM members).
  8. Identify and clarify process on how TM can obtain more information on a topic and keep that topic alive so that TM members have all the information they need to make a proper decision.
  9. Implement a TM member orientation handbook. Revise and distribute it to TM members.
  10. Organize a TM Member Association to handle things outside of TM.

There’s a written report (I’ll try to post it on B2). Thanks TM Communications Subcommittee!! Great work.

UPDATE: Articles 14 and 15: Ralph Jones is explaining why we should agree to take 0% interest loans from MWRA for sewer and storm drain line improvements in town. Just smiles on this one. Both motions are approved unanimously. Thanks, MWRA. I think your tap water tastes yummy!

UPDATE: We’re now on to the next item: Article 11 – revised motion authorizing expenditure from the town’s Revolving Fund. Ralph Jones, Chairman of the Board of Selectmen, is now explaining some last minute changes to this – $300,000 for the town’s Ambulance service will come out of the Capital Budget. Filing fees for Wetlands Protection – these fund administration and enforcement of the Wetlands Protection Act. This is confusing. I guess we don’t need to vote on this because its required by State law and there’s a separate fund to hold these accounts – this shouldn’t be part of the Town’s revolving account.

UPDATE: Article 6 – Appropriating $22,500 to provide non-contributory pensions for eligible employees of Town Depts…this concerns a single Town employee. Its approved unanimously.

UPDATE: Article 7: Appropriate $5.04m to provide contributory pensions and expenses in connection with Chapter 32 of MGL…Barbara Hagg, Town Accountant is speaking. The town’s pension is around 52% funded. Mark P. of BOS is saying it will be fully funded by 2028. Question from the floor: given that we’re behind – what did we pay in the past and what do we project we’ll pay over the next 10 years, given that our pension obligations won’t be fully funded. Barbara said she doesn’t have a 2010 actuarial study on this question. The amount we’ll have to shell out will increase 4.5% year on year, and we do new actuarial studies every couple years to see if our numbers are getting off course. This could be a big hit to town budgets in years to come, but there’s no way to know for sure. Its put to a vote and passes unanimously.

UPDATE: Angelo Firenze of BOS is introducing Article 8 – asking for approval of $532,410 for the repair, improvement and construction of highways within the Town. It is put a vote without any question and passes unanimously.

UPDATE: Ralph Jones of BOS introduces Article 5 appropriating funds to pay elected officials. Only two of these folks: the Town Clerk and Town Treasurer make any real money – $72,499 for the clerk and $89,145 for the Treasurer. The total assessment here is $185,586. There’s some interest here, as there’s a proposed amendment from the Warrant Committee to knock the Clerk’s salary down from $72k to $62k. BOS recommends approval of this. Ouch! Now Liz Allison, Chair of WC is speaking. TM allocated $60,000 last year. The 62,000 is a 4% increase. The Warrant is requesting a 20% increase and WC is calling bulls**t on that, it appears. Roy Epstein of WC is now addressing TM…Long and short is that average salary across similarly sized towns for Town Clerk is $60k. Also: TC gets a $2,500 stipend for sitting on the election board. Mass Municipal Association data also suggests a salary figure in the low $60k figure. Town Clerks Association data – which also tracks years on the job and total compensation (i.e. stipends). WC says when you correlate by size of town and years of service (in Belmont’s case: 2 years), the number is $65,000. Hmmm….doesn’t look good for Ellen!

Don Mercier is up to ask how big the Town Clerk staff at comparable towns. Good question!! Roy says they only considered full time clerks. Comparability of the office – Roy called around to different towns to ask about similarity of the job and seems satisfied that this is an apples:apples comparison in terms of job description and staffing. The discussion quickly gets heated, as defenders of our Town Clerk challenge the effort to knock down the salary level. Folks against this are saying 1) Ellen’s doing a great job (hard to argue), 2) Its a tough job – fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay 3) $72k is a living wage – this whole discussion is unseemly and not the way to do this, even though we can. I think folks like the idea of controlling salary growth, but singling out the two positions that TM actually controls isn’t going to accomplish that and the WC isjust  looking small and mean here. You’re a small, mean committee, Warrant Committee!! 😉 Mark P of the BOS is saying that the BOS is pursuing a top-down salary review of non-elected employees. Question: Town Clerk and Treasurer: how does oversight of those positions compare to non-elected town employees.

UPDATE: Oh G-d, this is such a flog. The motion passes by a narrow margin. I voted against it – Clerk should be appointed, not elected, same with the Treasurer. WC is trying to make a “point” here with this $10k salary increase – thereby missing the large “point” altogether.

UPDATE: Article 12: $150,000 transferred from the sale of cemetery plots. Passes unanimously. RIP.

UPDATE: Article 10: These are big $$ transfers from Sewer and Stormwater Enterpise Fund for water and sewer functions. These are fully funded from water and sewer rates – $5m and $7m. These are self sustaining funds, paid for by fees.  Both items pass unanimously.

UPDATE: Article 9: (Last one of the evening): Sum of $2m appropriated for public safety, public works, maintenance, etc. This is a dog’s dinner of different items – a boiler at BHS. Snow plow replacements, sidewalks and pavement management, networking equipment for the BPD, etc. etc. Site improvements: tennis court resealing. Hopefully we don’t go down a rabbit hole on this one.