WVN #267: Voters reject money articles
- Dear Wayland Voter,
Special Town meeting voters said No to two measures involving money but showed unquestioning support for voter-sponsored articles involving long-range planning and environmentally sound and customer- friendly use of the landfill.
Article 12 on the Nov. 12 warrant -- to borrow $650,000 for automated water meter reading -- was backed by the watecommissioners, the Board of Selectmen and the Finance Committee.
Voters asked probing questions about the sketchily outlined plan, and ultimately the measure failed to draw the required two-thirds majority.
The water commissioners' idea was to install electronic devices on all water meters so the town could read the meters remotely and send bills every month instead of every six months.
Wayland's Water Department is operating under a consent decree and is under pressure from the state Department of Environmental Protection to reduce average per capita use. In the past couple of years usage has hovered between 80 and 95
gallons per person per day; the state standard 65.
The theory is that monthly billing would encourage householders to realize how much water is wasted in residential system leaks and used for lawn watering.
The measure was presented as revenue-neutral even though the town would pay off the debt over 10 years, including interest of up to $120,000. The proposal assumed that less manpower would be needed and the town would no longer have to
forgive certain payments because of long-undetected leaks.
Voters questioned the financial assumptions and analysis. What about the extra $18,000 in annual postage? Why not draw on the commissioners' reserve fund of more than $1 million? If the goal is to reduce water usage, why not regulate it? Given
Wayland's history of project prices creeping upward, will $650,000 really do the job? What will the interest rate be? The Town has not borrowed since las January, when the interest rate was 4%.
Voters may be skittish about taking on new debt during the greatest international financial crisis since the 1930s. In any case, they found officials' responses to questions unpersuasive.
The only other negative vote came on Article 8, to increase the charge when the treasurer sends tax delinquency notices. It wasn't the amount of money that was controversial, but rather a principle.
The Board of Selectmen asked for an increase from $5 to $30. As with the water meter article, officials seemed unprepared for questions and had to consult others before answering.
One voter's question resulted in the disclosure that the town sends delinquency notices "almost daily."
A voter rose to oppose the article, saying that people who can afford to pay taxes on time presumably do so, and that an increased charge discriminates against those who are already in difficulty.
The town shouldn't be expected to make a profit on such fees because "the town is here to serve the people," he said.
Another voter noted that the measure has a disproportionate effect: A resident might owe an excise tax of, say, $25 and be hit with a penalty of $30.
In the only counted vote of the evening, the measure failed, 105-73.
TRASH DISPOSAL COSTS
Voters approved Article 11, which transfers $188,000 from unappropriated funds to make up a budget shortfall for the landfill (now transfer station), but there was considerable discussion and skepticism.
Knowing that the landfill would reach capacity last summer and the town for the first time would be forced to pay to have waste hauled away, the Board of Health raised the annual sticker price more than 30 percent to $320. At the higher price,
fewer stickers were sold than previously, and extra money is needed to cover the $272,500 disposal contract with Waste Management Corp.
Some voters wondered whether they should in effect reward poor planning.
What happens if we vote No, one asked. Do we default on the contract with Waste Management? Answer from the Board of Health: We reduce the operating budget and transfer less waste. That answer raises further questions, which weren't pursued.
One voter wanted to know whether the senior discount would end in the next fiscal year as had been suggested in a Memo. Answer: There is no plan to do that.
Underlying the discussion was the fact that Wayland rates are among the highest in the state. Some towns subsidize waste disposal as a service considered beneficial to the entire town. Wayland relies on users, including the schools, Housing
Authority and town buildings to cover costs. Current financial results, even though the transfer station has fewer employees than an active landfill, suggest that more work needs to be done to create a viable system.
For the rest of the articles, though, it was generally smooth sailing.
Under Article 18, a temporary 11-member committee appointed by the town moderator and eight boards and committees will take a fresh look at the Master Plan, which the Planning Board accepted four years ago.
The genesis of the petitioners' article was dismay in the Pinebrook neighborhood over a shopping mall proposed for the 10-acre site of the defunct Lee's Farm Market, across from Luigi's Restaurant on Route 20, and in Cochituate at the prospect
of an imposing cookie-cutter CVS replacing several small businesses.
Petitioners argued that other towns have shown that property values are maintained when there is rational, pro-active planning rather than simply reacting to every proposal that comes before the town.
Let's stop "the slow creep of divisive surprises," said one petitioner.
TRASH DISPOSAL AND COMPOSTING
Article 1 is a resolution prodding the Board of Health to create a pay-as-you-throw system for trash disposal at the landfill, now a transfer station for waste being trucked trucked to an incinerator.
The Board, which had been criticized for moving too slowly, supports the idea. The Board will hold an informational meeting on Dec. 9 at 7:30 p.m.
The resolution also recommends home composting, which the Department of Environmental Protection estimates can reduce the amount of waste to be removed by up to 24 percent.
For information on composting and inexpensive composters, see http://www.mass.gov/dep/recycle/reduce/composti.htm%c2%a0
2. Allows Wayland to match the state's $900 property tax break for some seniors.
3. Transfers landfill employees, property (exclusive of the land) and funds to the Department of Public Works when it is created next year.
4. Authorizes easements on town-owned land for road-widening aimed at managing traffic on major roads at the projected Town Center commercial-residential project.
5. Allows the Town Center developers to use 12,000 square feet authorized as part of the residential component to be used instead for office space on the second floor of commercial buildings. This could increase town tax revenues slightly. (A
hint of today's residential market: New condos at the Natick Collection are not selling well.)
The residential component will remain at 100 units. Large-scale changes in the plan would require new zoning, officials told voters.
6. Clarifies regulations for large-scale earth moving on private property.
7. Updates town regulations on disposal of surplus property -- not including real estate -- to allow the threshold to match state regulations with no future action by Town Meeting. What happens when the town wants to dispose of, say, an old
truck? It will normally be advertised in the newspaper, officials said.
9. Meets state requirement by designating the Board of Road Commissioners to issue permits for excavating trenches on private land.
10. Establishes a trust fund for employee benefits, as is required by law.
13. Allocates $50,000 from Wayland's Community Preservation funds to maintain the 1881 railroad freight house on Concord Road, near the Library. Wayland is one of the few towns where old passenger and freight buildings remain usable and in
their original locations.
The freight house is used for storage by the library and the Park and Recreation Department. The restored Depot, across the street, is a non-profit boutique.
14. Allows $15,000 for Park & Rec to plant shade trees in various locations. The money is part of a settlement with the developer of Wayland Commons. The developer is paying separately to replace illegally felled trees near the 40B housing project
on Route 27.
15. The Conservation Commission passed over (withdrew) the article, saying that as written it wouldn't solve the problem of professiona dog walkers exercising large numbers of dogs on conservation land.
This is a big issue with residents living near or using the land. The ConCom hopes to have a comprehensive article ready for annual Town Meeting in April.
16. Increases dog license fees (for example, $15 for an annual license rather than $10). A voter moved to amend the article to give jurisdiction to the Board of Health rather than the Board of Selectmen. The amended article passed with no
17. Creates a penalty of $100 per day for violations of regulations for Conservation Commission lands. Why is this non-criminal bylaw needed?
As a member of the ConCom explained, some people use motor vehicles and non-permitted bikes, build bonfires, remove native plants, dig for artifacts (in violation of state law), dump landscaping waste and even steal vegetables from
In the absence of a penalty, such people tend to respond to reprimands with "quite rude retorts."
19. Passed over. The article would have allowed the town to buy property at 41 River Road which is under litigation. Action isn't possible because there isn't an agreement on the price.
And the whole meeting was over in about two hours! Registered attendance was 242.
WHY NO LIVE TELECAST?
Town Meeting was held at the Middle School because renovations at the High School field house are behind schedule. The gym lacks cable connections for live broadcasting, so WayCAM broadcast the meeting four times on the following Friday and
The selectmen wanted WayCAM to provide the cabling at a cost of about $2,000. WayCAM said the money wasn't in its budget. The School Department had no interest in providing the cable for what might be a one-time use.
In the past the selectmen had paid up to $15,000 to hire professionals for live broadcasts. In times like these, should anybody be complaining about saving a little money?
-- Michael Short
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Wayland Voters Network
Michael Short, Editor