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WVN #244: Contentious end to Town Meeting

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  • waylandvoters1
    Dear Wayland Voter, The third and last Town Meeting session ended like the first, divisively. On April 10, 14 and 16 the selectmen and Finance Committee
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 21, 2008
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      Dear Wayland Voter,

      The third and last Town Meeting session ended like the first,
      divisively. On April 10, 14 and 16 the selectmen and Finance
      Committee prevailed in every contested article, though
      opponents debated at length and tried to overturn the
      controversial Article 5 vote to create a Department of Public
      Works and a powerful town executive.

      The first session ended with the DPW decision, leaving
      opponents unhappy. They had introduced considerable evidence
      casting doubt on relatively vague assurances that the new
      department would save money some years from now and serve
      residents better than the current three departments overseeing
      roads, water, parks and recreation. Park And Rec
      commissioners were annoyed at predictions that a DPW would
      somehow provide better playing fields. In fact, commissioners
      said, the Finance Committee had shot down Commission
      plans.

      Toward the end of the April 16 session, opponents took
      advantage of a parliamentary procedure to ask for
      "reconsideration" of Article 5. Such a motion, which would force
      a new vote on the article, requires a two-thirds majority and must
      be based on significant new information not available when the
      article was passed. By this time, the crowd had shrunk greatly
      from the 700 who had voted on the article the previous Thursday.

      When a Park and Rec commissioner was in position to move for
      reconsideration, Selectmen Michael Tichnor walked to a group
      in the bleachers and spoke with Cynthia Lavenson of the activist
      group SOSWayland. Craig Foreman of the Wayland Boosters
      and Kim Reichelt of WaylandeNews, subsequently spoke with
      the group as well. Several people immediately took out
      cellphones, presumably to summon reinforcements to vote
      against the motion. Some selectmen were seen using
      hand-held electronic devices.

      After a half-hour of debate that ended Town Meeting on a
      discordant note, the motion failed. Opponents produced no
      information that wasn't available to voters on April 10, though
      they drew fresh arguments from the selectmen's handout at that
      session. This gave opponents the chance to renew allegations
      that there was flimsy evidence of cost savings and that the town
      would lose valuable volunteer dedication and expertise.

      BUDGET AND SCHOOL CLOSING

      At the April 14 session, voters still upset over what they saw as
      a flawed and casual process in choosing to close part of Loker
      School tried to amend Article 6, the omnibus $60.4 million
      Fiscal 2009 budget, to delay the closing for a year in order to do
      the thorough study called for in the School Committee's
      published procedures. This also failed, but not before
      opponents had one more chance to attack the School
      Committee's process and question the estimate of saving
      $300,000.

      The capital budget of $2.335 million drew persistent questioning
      that forced the selectmen to explain the allocation of $600,000
      for the Public Safety Building, the sixth time the town has been
      asked for money to repair the five-year-old building. This has
      added 50 percent to the cost, said one questioner, Road
      Commissioner Anette Lewis. Selectman Joe Nolan explained
      that the new money will replace part of the roof and most of the
      siding but won't be directed toward the basement, which floods
      because of the high water table. The town is suing the architect,
      alleging design flaws. Legal fees so far are in the neighborhood
      of $250,000.

      When asked about $290,000 for school repairs, School
      Committee member Jeff Dieffenbach acknowledged that a new
      boiler at the Middle School is being litigated.

      SEPTAGE FACILITY

      Wayland and Sudbury have jointly run a treatment plant for more
      than 25 years with the aim of providing economical disposal to
      households in both towns.

      Members of the septage facility board jousted with the FinCom,
      which seeks more reporting and expects progress on meeting
      revenue projections. Board members argued that the facility
      already reports to the towns, has no debt, supports itself by fees
      and should remain open as a benefit to residents of the two
      towns. The $889,000 appropriated by voters won't come from tax
      revenues.

      The selectmen have yet to fill a vacancy on the joint septage
      board.

      When you have your septic system emptied, one member
      recommended to residents, be sure the pumper goes to the
      Wayland/Sudbury facility.

      WASTEWATER PLANT

      The existing treatment plant at the former Raytheon property
      must be replaced to accommodate the planned Town Center
      housing/shopping/office development. The Wastewater
      Management District Commission asked to borrow up to $5.2
      million to accomplish that. Some voters said there was no need
      to approve more than $500,000 now for engineering and
      design. The plant hasn't yet been approved by federal and state
      environmental authorities. But Commission Chairman David
      Schofield said there had been "fairly contentious meetings" with
      the developer's attorneys and argued that approving the full $5.2
      million would demonstrate good faith to Twenty Wayland. Voters
      approved the borrowing.

      Though Twenty Wayland has agreed to pay 70 percent of the
      cost of the new plant, one voter said the payment terms -- 4.5
      percent over 20 years -- were unusual and too generous. This
      arrangement essentially provides financing at low municipal
      bond rates, rather than much higher commercial rates
      applicable if Twenty Wayland paid the town immediately.

      IMPROVING ASSESSMENTS

      Article 15 argued that spending up to $250,000 for a "full list and
      measure" of all properties would give taxpayers confidence that
      assessments are equitable, and do this at a particularly good
      time because the assessment criteria have changed.
      Furthermore, it was argued, the payback time would be two or
      three years if the number of abatement payments declines to
      levels seen in other towns. Assessors gave back $215,000 to
      property owners in 2006, $262,000 in 2007 and $193,000 so far
      this year.

      The FinCom argued that there are no supporting data, the full list
      and measure might not identify the problems, and the number of
      abatement requests (929 in the past three years) is declining.
      Voters rejected the article.

      The FinCom has recognized "the perception of inaccuracies
      voiced by some residents" and allocated $40,000 for a
      consultant to look at the system. Though this might delay a
      comprehensive solution, it could go a long way toward
      addressing the problem if the process is thorough and open.

      (Molly Upton, a WVN contributor, was the lead petitioner of the
      article. WVN has reported on numerous assessment errors.)

      CAPITAL FACILITIES PLANNING

      Article 18 argued for a capital planning committee drawing on a
      variety of expertise to create a "clearing house" that would
      "depoliticize the planning process so the same criteria are
      applied fairly to all projects." Citing completed projects mired in
      litigation and repairs (see the budget and school section above)
      the argument is that volunteer experts in such fields as
      architecture, engineering, project design, and environmental and
      health concerns could work with town boards and employees to
      create a 10-year plan for major projects.

      The FinCom argues that it recently created a draft Capital
      Improvement Plan to deal with projects large and small.
      According to the petitioners, the FinCom has a heavy work load
      already. No other town surveyed has a finance committee that
      also serves as the capital facilities planning group, said the
      lead petitioner, former Selectman Linda Segal. FinCom
      members would be welcome on the planning committee.

      The FinCom didn't address a central point of the article, bringing
      to the process specialists in fields other than finance.

      Opposed by the selectmen, FinCom and SOS, the article failed.

      NEW TOWN POOL

      Voters were enthusiastic about Article 19, a proposal to replace
      the decades-old town swimming pool. Voters had questions,
      and some neighbors opposed it, but this public-private venture
      is the only available plan to replace the pool, which is scheduled
      to close next year.

      The selectmen will be given the power to sell or lease the
      property to the non-profit Wayland Community Pool corporation .
      (See www.waylandcommunitypool.org for more information and
      drawings of the proposed eight-lane facility.)

      Details are lacking, and there could be problems with building
      on the existing pool site. The plan is to pay for the new building
      and pool with donations and debt and operate with fees paid by,
      for example, school and other organized swim groups, plus
      individual memberships. The roof can be partly opened to attract
      summer users.

      A voice vote drew the two-thirds majority required for an article
      involving a land transfer.

      IMPROVING TOWN WEBSITE

      Voters approved only one article submitted by petitioners but
      opposed by the Finance Committee: a committee to
      recommend improvements in electronic communication with
      residents. The lead petitioner advertised it as a "no-brainer"
      decision: no power, no money, no staff time. The committee
      would gather ideas from other town sites, ask Wayland
      residents what they'd like and make recommendations which
      the selectmen can deal with as they see fit.

      The FinCom said it would recommend approval only if the
      committee reported to the town administrator. The petitioner,
      former selectman George Harris, said it would be
      unprecedented to do that. Reporting to a town employee
      would remove the committee from public scrutiny under the state
      Open Meeting Law. The motion passed after the FinCom
      declined to argue against it.

      Four members will be appointed by the town moderator, three
      by the Board of Selectmen. If you're interested in serving, contact
      Moderator Gossels or the Board.

      In the mean time, you can see Town meeting results at
      www.wayland.ma.us

      -- Michael Short
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      Wayland Voters Network
      Michael Short, Editor
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