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WVN Newsletter #221: Selectmen abandon DPW article

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  • waylandvoters1
    Dear Wayland Voter, Selectmen abruptly made a radical change in Thursday s Special Town Meeting, agreeing to set aside for now their controversial plan to
    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 6, 2007
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      Dear Wayland Voter,

      Selectmen abruptly made a radical change in Thursday's
      Special Town Meeting, agreeing to set aside for now their
      controversial plan to create a Department of Public Works. That
      doesn't necessarily mean the idea will go away.

      According to the agreement made at a Board of Selectmen
      meeting late Monday night, the selectmen will move to pass over
      Article 2. The motion is subject to debate, but if the only
      sponsors of a motion ask to withdraw it, voters are likely to
      agree.

      Still, anything can happen at a Town Meeting. For details see the
      summary below.

      Regardless of Article 2, the agenda still contains articles of
      considerable long-term importance, including the fiscal stability
      of the Water Department and a late move believed to be an
      attempt to stall or kill a housing project aimed at making it easier
      for town employees and other Wayland-connected people to live
      here.
      ----------------------------------------
      DATE: Thursday, Nov. 8, 7:30 p.m., High School Field House.
      Many of the nine articles are likely to generate little debate, and
      the meeting should last only one session. For background see
      the blue warrant booklet mailed to all households and available
      at the library and the Town Building. Other copies of the warrant
      will be available at the meeting. See WVN Newsletter #219
      (http://groups.yahoo.com/group/waylandvotersnetwork) for more
      on Article 2.
      -----------------------------------------
      DPW ARTICLE LACKING SUPPORT?

      The selectmen's article to create a DPW was controversial from
      the moment it was introduced. The Park and Recreation
      Commission and the Septage Committee opposed it, along with
      some members of the Road Commission and even the DPW
      study committee. Critics called the proposal a "blank check" that
      could cost the town more money without producing efficiencies.
      It would eliminate the checks and balances of elected town
      boards and greatly increase selectmen's power. Some saw it as
      a sneaky way of creating a town manager system without putting
      it to an election.

      Though selectmen and members of the Finance Committee
      called a DPW important to Wayland's fiscal health, they produced
      no fact-based estimates or timetables.

      At a hearing on the article in October, Town Meeting Moderator
      Peter Gossels noted ambiguities in wording, implying that the
      proposal wasn't ready for prime time.

      If voters decide to pass over Article 2 on Thursday, the selectmen
      will have until next spring and annual Town Meeting to shore up
      support for another try. The issue is unlikely to die.

      WHY 2 WATER DEPARTMENT ARTICLES?

      Articles 3 and 4 would affect the future of the Water Department.
      The first is simply a resolution that "water revenues should be
      used only for water uses without the formality of a water
      enterprise account." Water commissioners objected to being
      swept up in a DPW but ultimately agreed to something less than
      a separate fund. This resolution has the force of, well, resolve.
      As the Finance Committee explains: "This resolution maintains
      the budget flexibility for surplus water revenues to be used to
      fund town operating budget deficits or to reduce Proposition
      2-1/2 override amounts. However, it is not the Finance
      Committee's intent to draw on these revenues to balance the
      budget."

      The Finance Committee took $500,000 from water funds in 2005
      to help balance the budget. So the resolution evidently means
      that the Fincom won't do that again unless it does.

      The Water Department is self-supporting and must prepare for
      long-term maintenance. Unlike other services, it is not even
      available to every Wayland resident. Many towns have separate
      enterprise accounts, which can't be raided to address short-term
      problems in another department.

      That brings us to Article 4, "To establish Water Department
      Enterprise Fund," which was filed by petitioners. (The selectmen
      can reject a warrant article submitted by a town board or
      commission, but must admit anything filed by the certified
      signers of a petition.) A similar measure failed in 2005.

      Proponents argue that Moody's bond-rating service, in addition to
      the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection and
      the Department of Revenue, recommend enterprise funds for
      this kind of fee-based municipal service. An enterprise fund not
      only protects a department from being raided to aid the general
      treasury but protects against the town subsidizing rates.

      The Fincom argues against Article 4, saying that Moody's
      expects a certain level of reserve funds ("free cash") to enjoy the
      lowest borrowing rate. According to the Fincom, the enterprise
      fund would remove about $600,000 from "available resources,"
      possibly endangering the bond rating. The Fincom itself created
      this possibility by allowing free cash to decline, and Moody's has
      put Wayland on notice. (Many towns with the highest Moody's
      rating have enterprise funds.)

      The Fincom wants the flexibility to wheel and deal in difficult
      times. A No vote allows a short-term strategy but has
      longer-term risk for water users. (It's no secret that the local
      water system will need considerable work before long.) A Yes
      vote protects the long-term integrity of the system but lessens
      the town's short-term fiscal flexibility.

      NIKE HOUSING PROJECT

      A committee worked for years on a plan to use the abandoned
      former Nike missile site in North Wayland for affordable housing.
      Article 5 stems from that. The goal is to build 16 housing units
      clustered within a site that leaves 10 acres available for hiking
      and passive recreation, including a handicapped-accessible
      trail. (Eleven units would be restricted to families earning less
      than about $66,000 annually.) The project counts toward the
      state's requirement for affordable housing and thus helps to
      fend off outside bureaucratic intervention.

      The project calls for a subsidy from Community Preservation Act
      funds (the revenue from the extra one percent-plus added to tax
      bills and matched by the state). Affordable housing is a major
      specified use of CPA funds.

      Just about everybody involved supports the article: the Board of
      Selectmen, Fincom, Planning Board, Conservation
      Commission, Board of Road Commissioners, Housing
      Authority, Housing Partnership, Community
      Preservation Committee. So why are supporters worriedly
      encouraging voters to make a special effort to attend Town
      Meeting and vote Yes?

      Betsy Connolly, a former selectman who lives near the site,
      announced recently that she plans to introduce an amendment
      to the article. The purpose, she said, is to ensure that the
      recreation portion of the site is cleaned up at the same time the
      housing is built. But then it gets complicated, delving into
      funding. Supporters of the article fear that the amendment, if
      passed, would kill the article because the amendment seems to
      require action that cannot be taken at the Special Town meeting.

      Selectmen said on Monday that they'd make a commitment
      assuring voters that the site will be cleaned up regardless of the
      housing project.

      There could be interesting debate, possibly including
      accusations of NIMBYism.

      -- Michael Short


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      Michael Short, Editor
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