Dear Wayland Voter,
Wayland's first Sunday afternoon Town Meeting drew 572 voters,
at least for a while, and finished all 23 articles in less than five
hours. The budget was approved as written. Other articles
carried less financial weight but pointed to underlying concerns
about town procedures and addressed environmental issues.
As often happens, voter questions turned up information that
might otherwise go unnoticed.
$53.14 MILLION BUDGET APPROVED
The $53.14 million no-override operating budget for Fiscal 2008
approved on April 29 allocates $28.72 million for schools, by far
the largest category. Public safety spending totals $5.12 million.
The Finance Committee noted that 98 percent of budget
increases will pay for added costs for health care, pensions and
utilities. The committee hopes to find future savings in retiree
health care, employee contract negotiations, more-efficient town
operations, greater commercial tax revenue and perhaps
declining school enrollments.
Steven Glovsky, who in town elections five days earlier lost to
incumbent selectman Michael Tichnor, failed with a motion for
Town Meeting to subtract 5 percent from the budget across the
board to avoid new debt. Some voters said the town should do
more to reduce energy consumption.
Voters approved $2.7 million in new debt for capital expenditures
including repairs. When questioned, FinCom Chair Cherry
Karlson acknowledged that some repairs will not last as long as
When one voter asked why Wayland needs $100,000 to repair
the nearly new public safety building, Selectman Tichnor said
the town hopes to recover that cost with litigation against the
architect on grounds of defective design.
Asked why Wayland plans to spend $735,000 replacing
windows at the Happy Hollow school when a school may be
closed, School Committee member Jeff Dieffenbach replied that
enrollment may not be declining, and even if a closing becomes
necessary, Happy Hollow is unlikely to be the one closed.
Asked how many windows taxpayers are getting for their money,
nobody had a ready answer.
After the votes for the budget and Article 6, which allocates
$300,000 to pursue a high school rebuilding or renovation plan,
nearly half the voters noisily departed. It should be said that there
may be no quiet way for that that many people to clamber down
from the bleachers. This is becoming a regular feature of Town
MANY QUESTIONS ON SELLING LAND
Article 14, on selling surplus town-owned land, produced a long
series of questions, proposed amendments and ultimately a
time-consuming counted vote, the only one of the day. The
questioning seemed to catch the Board of Selectmen by
surprise and pointed to underlying voter concerns about the
board's thoroughness and communication.
Selectmen faced a barrage of queries: the size of the parcels,
frontage, septage, the possibility of building on some of the
parcels or combining parcels, and whether the Housing
Authority or 40B affordable housing developers might be
interested in them. Some voters suggested that the selectmen
should answer these concerns in the printed warrant instead of
waiting for questions at Town Meeting. As one resident put it,
"People deserve to know exactly what can be done" with the land.
One of five parcels in the article must be sold to proceed with
an affordable housing project at the former Nike missile site.
Questions led to an amendment to drop the other four; it failed by
The article passed with another amendment, which instructed
the selectmen to take specific action reserving land near the
housing project for a conservation trail and buffer zone. That
should have been done already under a 2006 Town meeting
vote, the resident making the amendment said.
Selectmen Chairman Joe Nolan argued that the amendment
was unnecessary, which led to a little cross examination from
Moderator Peter Gossels.
"Why wasn't it done?" Gossels asked.
"It was our intention," Nolan replied. When Nolan said he
considered it a moot point, Gossels said, "I don't think so."
This article consumed more time than any other, mainly
because voters didn't have enough information.
TOWN OFFICIALS' COMMUNICATION
Like the land-sale article, Article 18 suggested less than ideal
communication by town officials.
The article seemed straightforward: Transfer Wayland's pension
fund money from the Middlesex Retirement System, which has
been mired in bad publicity about investigations of
mismanagement, conflicts of interest and lagging returns.
Wayland wants to put the funds into the state's much larger and
better-performing system. (Employees are entitled to their
specified pension regardless of the performance of the fund, but
a better performer costs taxpayers less in contributions.)
Still, a resident speaking on behalf of the employees said the
move caught them by surprise and upset them. Town officials
said the change had been discussed for two years, aired at
meetings, publicized and printed in the Town Meeting warrant.
Though most employees don't live in Wayland, presumably
their unions were aware of the impending change.
Selectman Tichnor promised consultation and a "transparent
process" in adopting the new system and said the town is "very
sensitive to the issue of communication."
Selectman Doug Leard, a former fireman, supported a failed
amendment to delay the change until a special committee
comprising town officials and union representatives studies the
Whatever the level of communication so far, it seems that
employees are unhappy.
A petitioner's "resolution to protect Wayland drinking water"
breezed through without opposition, even though no town body
except the Board of Health endorsed it and only Selectman Alan
Reiss spoke in favor of it.
The resolution encourages the Board of Water Commissioners
to create an action plan to implement state recommendations to
protect the town's water. Sounds innocuous enough, doesn't it?
The water commissioners didn't take a position on it, but when
one person said he wanted to hear what the members thought,
Chairman Joel Goodmonson came to the microphone. He said
the three commissioners felt it inappropriate to take a position
on something that they would be called upon to implement. But
he added that they would respond favorably to the resolution.
The background of the resolution is important. By all accounts,
Wayland once enjoyed a reputation for excellent water. But by
1999, chlorination was required. In 2002 the state Department of
Environmental Protection (DEP) issued a consent decree
mandating a reduction in water usage. In 2005 there were
coliform and fecal coliform violations, and high sodium levels
were reported. Breakdowns in the aging system seem to be
more frequent, as are complaints of brown water. This year the
DEP called for an end to harmful practices within 400 feet of the
Happy Hollow wells near the high school. (Bus parking, among
things the DEP wants stopped, still exists. And at Town Meeting
Jeff Dieffenbach of the School Committee said there's no
change in plans to repave the high school tennis courts, which
extend into the protected zone. He said he didn't know what the
DEP thought about it.)
Aside from problems that earned Wayland a place on the DEP's
list of violators, the Water Department has management
problems. The superintendent was fired more than two years
ago and hasn't been replaced. Other employees have left. When
the Wayland Boosters proposed installing artificial turf on
a field that drains into the Happy Hollow well system, Chairman
Goodmonson said he saw no problem; the DEP decided
otherwise. Wayland apparently created a wellhead protection
plan at one time, but it seems to have been lost.
Earlier in the session, another environmental message came
from Jackson Madnick of the Surface Water Quality Committee.
"We need your help to stop using lawn care chemicals in
Wayland," Madnick said. According to Madnick, four-fifths of the
chemicals may wash away from the lawn and can harm ponds
and rivers up to a half-mile away. He recommended
top-dressing lawns with free compost from the Wayland landfill.
The Boston Red Sox use compost to avoid chemicals at Fenway
Park, he said.
Article 19 was an example of reasoned, respectful debate
among neighbors and other residents. The article, ultimately
passed as presented, will allocate $22,000 for a study of how to
mitigate the flooding that periodically isolates roughly 250
people in 60 households along Pelham Island Road. For up to
two weeks at a time, residents have to rely on trucks to ferry them
across the Sudbury River. Speakers, most of them "islanders,"
were divided. Some arguments for the study: It has never been
done; it might influence the state to replace the Pelham Island
Bridge with one high enough to clear floodwaters (the present
bridge is a partial dam and can cause flooding upstream);
property values in the area may fall, raising the tax burden of
others; health and safety are genuine issues, the police and fire
chiefs endorse it. Some arguments against: Health and safety
risks are the same as in decades past; you don't need a
$22,000 study to tell you that the only way to avoid flooding is a
levee or dam, which would be very expensive, environmentally
unsound and probably not permitted along the federally
protected river; National Guard trucks are still available, and even
if they weren't the town could better spend money by buying
In contrast to argument at some recent Town Meetings, no
insults, no bullying, no scowling.
OPEN SPACE -- BARGAIN PRICE
Voters enthusiastically accepted Article 22, allocating $211,000
from Community Preservation funds (no tax effect) to buy seven
acres adjacent to Hamlen Woods from the family of the late Ken
Moon, a longtime conservationist. Sudbury Valley Trustees, a
non-profit organization that buys land to save it from
development, added $24,000 to meet the purchase
price, and will take responsibility to maintain its protected status.
The town's contribution to the purchase amounts to about
$30,000 per acre. Former Conservation Commission Chair
Megan Lucier noted that the going price for Wayland real estate
is about $400,000 per acre.
SEPTAGE PLANT SECURE -- FOR NOW
Voters rejected an attempt by FinCom member Bob Lentz to
amend Article 8 to prevent the Wayland/Sudbury Septage
Treatment facility from using $51,000 in retained earnings (fees
collected in advance) to meet its budget of $939,000. The facility
not only handles septage from the two towns but competes for
business elsewhere and is self-supporting. Septage Committee
members disagreed with Lentz' contention that it may lack
sufficient reserves to close the facility if that becomes necessary.
(The state may one day require expensive improvements.) If the
plant is closed, Committee Vice Chairman Blair Davies warned,
"it will never be built again."
ONE ARTICLE RULED OUT OF ORDER
Of the 23 articles, 22 passed and one was ruled out of order.
Article 17 asked voters to rescind last year's vote requiring
retired Wayland employees to enroll in Medicare Part B (at
considerable cost), which lessens the taxpayers' contribution to
supplementary health coverage. Moderator Gossels ruled it out
of order because state law requires municipalities making that
change to wait at least three years before reconsidering.
Moderator Gossels said that as far as he knows this was the
first Wayland Town Meeting ever held on a Sunday. (Several
other Massachusetts towns have adopted weekend dates.) The
change was an experiment recommended by a committee that
studied ways to make Town Meeting easier to attend. Early
comments to WVN are mixed. Here are a few:
-- We often have to be away on weekends.
-- I saw people who hadn't been at recent Town meetings.
-- Maybe the session should end after four hours. Better to come
back the next night instead of rush.
-- School parents bailed out after the articles they cared about,
just the way they did at night meetings.
What do you think? Please let WVN know, and the selectmen
and the moderator
if you care to.
-- Michael Short
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Wayland Voters Network
Michael Short, Editor