89WVN #89: Latest on Town Meeting, School Committee
- May 2, 2005Wayland 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,
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
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
-- 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
-- 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
-- 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
-- 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
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
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.
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Wayland Voters Network
Margo Melnicove and Michael Short, Editors