WVN Newsletter #221: Selectmen abandon DPW article
- 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
Still, anything can happen at a Town Meeting. For details see the
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
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
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
There could be interesting debate, possibly including
accusations of NIMBYism.
-- Michael Short
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Wayland Voters Network
Michael Short, Editor