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89WVN #89: Latest on Town Meeting, School Committee

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  • waylandvoters2
    May 2, 2005
      Wayland Voters Network
      May 2, 2005

      Dear Wayland Voter,

      ANNUAL TOWN MEETING CONTINUES TONIGHT, MONDAY, MAY 2, WHS FIELD
      HOUSE, 7:45 P.M. If you need a ride, contact the Council on Aging,
      508-358-2990.

      The following report on last Thursday's Annual Town Meeting and
      what's likely to come up tonight was prepared by WVN editor Michael
      Short. It's followed by a report on last Tuesday's School Committee
      meeting by WVN subscriber Tom Sciacca.

      TOWN MEETING 4/28 AND 5/2

      When Annual Town Meeting resumes tonight, the first vote will be on
      appropriating $402,000 for two modular science classrooms at the High
      School.

      The article, No. 11, was moved ahead of others when voters approved a
      selectman's motion Thursday night to take the matter out of order. If
      approved, it would make another article unnecessary.

      Apparently, this temporarily resolves a disagreement that began when
      Superintendent Gary Burton notified WayCam that it would be evicted
      from a high school building, saddling the town with a contractual
      obligation to provide space for the local cable TV service. Selectmen
      met with Burton and WayCam officers, promising to work toward a cost-
      effective solution. As a precaution, selectmen proposed Article 2 in
      the warrant for the Special Town Meeting beginning on May 4, asking
      for $200,000 to move WayCam to another location.

      Burton ultimately agreed with the selectmen, but says WayCam will not
      be allowed to stay in its present location beyond another year.

      So if voters approve the first item of business tonight, the
      selectmen will pass over (withdraw) the $200,000 proposal.

      Surprisingly, a motion to extend last Thursday's session long enough
      to take up the science modular appropriation failed. Many of the more
      than 900 who attended the Thursday session might depart when school
      matters are settled, as has happened in the past. Dealing with
      Article 11 tonight could increase attendance at least initially.

      Before Thursday's Town Meeting ended, voters approved the $48.936
      million operating budget for fiscal year 2006, based on the tax
      override approved two days earlier at the polls. This will end the
      hiring freeze that affected all town departments except the schools.
      The $1.297 million capital budget was also approved.

      When TM resumes tonight, three articles likely to draw considerable
      debate put other officials at odds with selectmen and the selectmen-
      appointed Finance Committee.

      Articles 14 and 15 amount to the same thing, and presumably only one
      will be put to a vote. Assessors want to bring Wayland property
      assessments in line with state law and create a system to end
      inequities. Assessors point to houses that sold at up to 50 percent
      more -- and up to 20 percent less -- than the assessed value. This is
      not only contrary to law but tends to undermine confidence in local
      government. Assessors say the problem can be solved by spending
      $250,000 to conduct a full town-wide measure and list of all
      properties in one year. The FinCom argues that the expense is
      unnecessary because it would not increase the amount of tax dollars
      raised, it would only redistribute the tax base.

      Article 20, supported by Wayland water commissioners, would designate
      the Water Department as an enterprise fund under state law -- a
      status the state recommends to towns -- allowing the Water
      Department to retain reserve funds to maintain the town's aging
      system. In the past reserves have been treated as an enterprise fund
      in everything but name. This year the FinCom, perhaps for the first
      time in Wayland history, took $500,000 from those reserves to lessen
      Wayland's FY06 operating budget deficit.

      The FinCom argues that the reserves are "profits" generated by
      raising water rates to encourage conservation. On Thursday a voter
      questioned the notion of "profits." Water Department Chairman Bob
      Duffy rose to disagree with the FinCom, saying that conservation is
      only one of several factors.

      It has been asserted that in order to maintain Wayland's bond rating,
      the town needs to have water funds considered part of free cash
      rather than officially designated a separate enterprise fund. It's
      not clear if this is absolutely necessary. Bond rating services look
      at a variety of assets. When Article 20 comes up for action, voters
      may want to ask for clarification.

      One of the useful things about Town Meeting is that voters have the
      chance to pose questions to officials in a public setting. A few
      examples from Thursday night:

      -- Why does the warrant list $339,000 in current-year transfers
      (funds to pay bills before FY 06 begins) and you're now asking for
      $449,000? A. Late snowstorms hit too late to be included in
      calculations before the warrant went to press; AT&T is proceeding
      more rapidly than expected in its lawsuit to install cell phone
      towers, and these legal filings require rapid responses.

      -- When the basement floor in the Public Safety Building buckled
      after heavy rainstorms, officials wouldn't let reporters -- the
      public's representatives -- see the damage. Why is the public denied
      information about something that is expected to become public in
      litigation in any case? (No response.)

      -- Some employee contracts have been signed and some have not. Don't
      you have to have a signed contract before you can ask the voters to
      appropriate money for it? A. The practice is to take the estimated
      costs of unsigned contracts into account.

      -- How can you hire somebody at a salary varying from the established
      range? If you're paying the police chief about $100,000, then
      shouldn't the fire chief be in the same range? A. Sometimes there
      are not enough good people at the lower end of the scale. You have to
      offer more.

      -- The town pays user charges to connect the Town Building to the
      waste water treatment plant, but it hasn't been connected yet. What
      if new buildings on or near the former Raytheon plant connect and
      affect the plant's capacity. Will money be returned to the town? A.
      The funds go to the Water Treatment Commission. Negotiations will
      continue.

      -- How many cell phones do town employees have, and are they
      necessary? A. Seven for police, four for fire, two for Highway
      Department emergencies, one for Park & Rec, none for assessors. No
      response from other departments.

      -- The state is auditing reimbursements (received over a period of
      years) to at least some of approximately 600 school building
      projects. Will we be audited, and could the state cut our
      reimbursement because we are an affluent town? A. There is no sign
      that we are being audited. We were very careful in submitting
      expenses. (Background: Superintendent Burton has expressed concern
      that the state might fail to provide all promised reimbursement.)

      -- Is the School Committee so autonomous that it can exceed town
      fiscal guidelines? A. Guidelines are presented to the School
      Committee as well as the Board of Selectmen. The School Committee
      does have the authority to sign union contracts. We strongly
      recommended a one percent salary increase for 2005, which the School
      Committee followed. But the 3.5 percent yearly raises agreed to for
      2006 and 2007 were higher than recommended.

      -- The way the budget is expressed doesn't show the total cost of the
      School Department, which seems to be about two-thirds of Wayland's
      budget. Why not? (Page 38 of the 2006 School Budget shows 55.9
      percent.) A. The figure has been fairly consistent at about 66
      percent for several years. Expenses for such things as health
      insurance are not shown by allocation to the school or other
      departments.

      -- Lincoln's school committee involved voters in its recent decisions
      and arrived at a detailed and transparent budget after several public
      meetings. All of this was done before the budget and override were
      put to the voters. Why not here? A. The Wayland School Committee had
      two budget work sessions before its final budget hearing, which were
      open to the public.

      -- Considering the instances of employee malfeasance in other towns,
      what's our policy on audits? A. There is an annual audit. (It is
      included under Contract Services, a $24,503 item in the 2006 budget.)

      -- The capital budget lists borrowing $200,000 for School
      Department "technology" and another $200,000 for building repairs.
      May we have more clarification? A. The list isn't here but we can
      provide it.

      -- So the $400,000 is for whatever it happens to be spent for? A. We
      have the list. It includes flooring and roof work. We'll make the
      list available.

      A voter who noticed a cutback in the number of wood collection days
      at the landfill made a motion to retain the present schedule, arguing
      that spending a small amount of money would prevent significant
      traffic and other public safety problems. The motion failed.

      WVN has invited lead petitioners of petitioners' articles to submit
      statements for publication. Statements on behalf of Articles 14 and
      20, which may be considered tonight, are below:

      ARTICLE 14 Appropriation of money for the Board of Assessors to
      analytically update revaluation services and install updated
      software, by petitioner Marcia Malmfeldt:

      The Board of Assessors seeks funds to collect data necessary to
      achieve the FAIR assessments that Waylanders have worked and voted
      for over many years. They want property assessments to represent fair
      market value for each Wayland property. Until that is achieved,
      money that Town Meeting spends is not apportioned according to fair
      market value, as the state requires. The Commonwealth allows
      borrowing money for data collection with TM vote and without a
      separate ballot vote.

      The 2004-5 Board of Assessors faced the first interim reassessment
      the state ever required. Without time to select, install and get the
      necessary work done on a new system, it used the former system and
      existing data.

      The BoA will have a new system but, for fair market value for all
      properties, the data for each property must be correct, complete and
      consistent. Unfortunately, this is not available until data is
      collected for each property. Assessments have been as much as 40% or
      more from sale price.

      The BoA team is dedicated to fair assessments. It needs data that
      represents today's dwellings. To get this there are duplicate
      articles in the Warrant, 13 and 14. Please come to Town Meeting and
      vote to get FAIR assessments.

      ARTICLE 20 Water Department enterprise fund, by petitioner Ed Lewis:

      Many have been under the impression that the Water Department has
      been an enterprise fund long ago. Actually, it has been treated as
      such under the former financial officer that retired at the end of
      2004. He segregated the water reserve funds in the town cash reserves
      under his control. Now the Finance Committee has started tapping the
      various reserve funds for general obligation tax needs starting this
      fiscal year by promoting a provision to take $500,000 from the water
      fund and continue the process in the following years. The town
      citizens should have the final authority on this matter. Under the
      Mass. General Laws 44 section 53F1/2, the Water Department is
      supposed to have reserves for at least ½ years' operation in advance
      plus monies to cover the cost of replacing or repairing the most
      expensive piece of equipment. Even though we are not needing the
      funds this year, it will be mandatory to conserve and reposition all
      funds possible to add a filtration plant to take out the iron and
      manganese particles in the water system which are causing gray water
      plumes more often lately. This membrane filtration process will cost
      $5 million, our largest expenditure on record.

      Therefore it is necessary to protect our revenues just as much as
      Wayland citizens protect their costs and expenditures of the Water
      Department by questioning and voting their approval in each year's
      town meeting. This year's warrant #20 for an official "enterprise
      fund" for the Water Department has been proposed. Some citizens
      believe the water fees and all other local taxes go into the same
      pot, so there is little reason to change anything. However, citizens
      can continue to deduct local taxes, but not water rates, on their
      federal taxes; a big difference.

      Also, the finance committee believes the enterprise fund would hurt
      Wayland's bond rating in future finances because the cash reserves
      would be less since the water reserves wouldn't be included. If the
      town leaders take the water reserve funds to spend, the reserves
      would not be there anyway.

      Finally, if the citizens are not happy with the Water Department
      performance, they have the final voice in voting out a commissioner
      each year, since one is up for election every year, unlike the
      Finance Committee, which are appointed.

      SCHOOL COMMITTEE 4/26

      This meeting of the School Committee was scheduled for Tuesday
      evening rather than the customary Monday so that the SC could hear
      the results of the override ballot question put to the voters that
      day, and respond if necessary with a discussion of Town Meeting
      strategy. While waiting for the results to become available the
      committee met with several student leaders from the high school in
      its annual attempt to understand what's on the minds of its charges.

      The discussion ranged widely, from gay-straight relations to feelings
      about snow days to attitudes about stability. (It's "a normalcy for
      things to be unstable" in her post-9/11 world, said one student.) She
      and others displayed some concern when the discussion turned to the
      new student user fees being implemented next year as part of the
      school budget, which is increasing by 5.7% over the current budget.
      These fees will be $125 for sports and $50 for other activities. "It
      takes away" from participation in a club to have to pay these fees,
      she said. "Athletes are more justified" because of the expense of all
      the uniforms and equipment, she added. Another student pointed out
      that "lots of clubs are based around community service," and wondered
      whether it was fair for her to have to pay to do community service.
      She pointed to membership in SADD, which helps students avoid alcohol
      and drugs, as another example of an activity which will now cost
      money to join.

      In response, School Committee member Jeff Dieffenbach admitted
      that "we were thinking of chess club, not community service" when the
      committee approved the superintendent's fee proposals.

      At this point Business Manager Joy Buehler returned to the meeting
      room with the news that the override had passed. After a collective
      sigh of relief the committee turned to Town Meeting preparation based
      on its proposed budget. Superintendent Gary Burton announced that
      five companies had walked through the high school in preparation for
      quoting on the proposed modular science labs to be voted on in Town
      Meeting. With respect to the issue of Burton's eviction of WayCam
      from the high school, he reported that he had agreed with Executive
      Secretary Jeff Ritter that WayCam could stay, though not longer than
      a year, if the science modular article passes at Town Meeting.

      As this was the last night of service for chair Lori Frieling and
      member Fred Knight, the group agreed that vice-chair Heather Pineault
      would act as SC chair until the next regular meeting in mid-May.

      Burton and Buehler reported that there was only one bidder for the
      school bus contract, at $348K, which is just under budget. However,
      the contract includes options for the SC to renew twice at the same
      price. The committee voted to approve the contract.

      Pineault reported that she had spent a day at the State House
      lobbying for more state aid. She heard encouragement for everyone to
      write to legislators to ask them to push for increased local aid.
      Burton reported that State Senator Scott Brown thinks there is a
      possibility of getting some reimbursement for circa 1990 school
      projects, as supposedly approved long ago.

      Thank you for reading this WVN newsletter. Please forward it to your
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      Wayland Voters Network
      Margo Melnicove and Michael Short, Editors