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WVN #345: The budget and the bath house

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  • waylandvoters1
    Dear Wayland Voter, A million-dollar project to restore the town bath house is among the items on the May 11 town election ballot. This newsletter summarizes
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 28, 2010
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      Dear Wayland Voter,

      A million-dollar project to restore the town bath house is among the items on the May 11 town election ballot. This newsletter summarizes the ballot question, explains debt exclusions from Proposition 2-1/2, lists candidates and describes unusual "dual" election procedures.

      THE BUDGET AND THE BATH HOUSE

      As part of the election May 11, voters will see a $2 million debt exclusion override. What is this all about and how does this fit into town finances?

      If Wayland never borrowed any more money for anything, the total amount of debt would go down. But trucks get old and roofs leak and buildings need repair and new technology needs to be adopted. For that reason, every year we borrow money for new capital expenses.

      New debt is called "tax neutral" by the Finance Committee if paying the interest and principal (the "debt service") does not cause our tax bills to go up. FinCom aims to match expiring debt with new capital requests so that new debt service is tax neutral.

      Some of the new debt service is absorbed in the part of the budget that is constrained by Proposition 2-1/2. This debt is called "non-exempt". The part that is not under Proposition 2-1/2 is called "debt exempt". Debt exempt capital requests have to be voted on as an override. This is called a debt exclusion override.

      FinCom always has the choice of making new capital requests part of the budget and thus not exceeding Proposition 2-1/2. However, this might lead to more operational cuts or an operational override and/or new fees. For example, the water meter capital request will not be funded by the tax levy. Residents will recall that a new water surcharge was imposed a year ago. The Board of Public Works has yet to decide what the Fiscal 2011 water surcharge will be. The new water meter capital request will be funded by water user fees, not by property taxes.

      This year, FinCom has decided to make part of the capital budget debt exempt. The May 11 election will include a debt exclusion override that FinCom has said will be tax neutral. In fact, Fincom says that the override amount will be slightly less than the retiring exempt debt service.

      If voters reject the override, the amount of exempt debt service we pay would be reduced still further. However, even if the override is rejected, the high school building project debt service will still cause taxes to rise because the high school building project debt service is larger than retiring debt service.

      The May 11 debt exclusion override includes repairs for town buildings, a street sweeper, paving north cemetery roads, playing field renovations, a senior center feasibility study, technology for schools, a Greenways athletic field feasibility study and a bath house. The dollars requested for public safety building repairs predate the March flooding events and new, very extensive damage.

      Voters previously approved $550,000 for a new bath house. This year, the request is for another $570,000, making the project's total $1.12 million. This will include drainage work, a septic system, an accessible bath house, and a shallow "splash" area for toddlers.

      Voters must vote for all or none of these items. Legally, selectmen could allow menu voting, but their March 31 discussion and vote to place the question on the ballot did not include consideration of a menu override.

      At the April 14 League of Women Voters Candidates Night, FinCom member Richard Stack presented the Debt Exclusion Override. Stack said that items costing more than $100,000 and all building repairs were usually debt exempt and items costing less than $100,000 were usually not debt exempt.

      However, the two feasibility studies and the cemetery road paving in the debt exclusion override each cost less than $100,000. The senior center feasibility study cost was $35,000, the Greenways fields feasibility study cost was $30,000 and the cemetery paving was $75,000. On the other hand, the $850,000 needed for capping the landfill, another capital item, had been deemed non-debt-exempt and was not included in the debt exclusion override. So the proposed budget does not follow the $100,000 rule.

      At the League of Women Voters meeting, audience members had asked why citizens could not do menu voting on the debt exclusion override. Stack claimed that menu voting was not necessary since all of FinCom's meetings were open meetings and citizens could give input at those meetings. However, these January meetings are not well-publicized and are normally only attended by department heads who have made budget requests. The few residents who do attend find it challenging to follow some of the discussions because copies of detailed budget math under consideration are not available to the public.

      The cover page on the Powerpoint presentation shown to the League referenced a March 31 public hearing on the debt exclusion. The Selectmen's March 31 meeting agenda called it a presentation. The Selectmen's policy for Proposition 2-1/2 overrides specifically calls for a public hearing to be held AFTER the Selectmen vote to put a debt exclusion ballot question on the ballot. So far, a public hearing for the debt exclusion ballot question has not been scheduled.

      As Stack noted, about half of all budget requests make the final capital budget. FinCom received over $8 million in capital budget requests and only $4,315,000 made the final cut. Of these, $2 million in requests are included in the debt exclusion override. Stack said the debt service for one year on this amount would cost each household on average about $70. So if voters reject this override, their tax bills will be decreased by $70, but increased by the high school building debt service by much more than that.

      In response to another audience question, Stack and town Moderator Peter Gossels said that it would be possible to defeat the debt exclusion override at the polls on May 11 and then fund some of the items during the Town Meeting, using the town's free cash (savings account). Currently the FinCom is maintaining about 10 percent of the town's budget, or $6 million, as free cash. Thus the town could defeat the override but still vote at Town Meeting to fund the school technology request, for example, without any impact on new taxes.

      Previously, at the March 31 Selectman's meeting, the final figures for the debt exclusion ballot question had been discussed. FinCom had originally requested $2,350,000 total. Most of the discussion was over the proposed $920,000 for the bath house at the town Beach. The selectmen voted to reduce the bath house request by $350,000 to $570,000, making the total new debt exclusion override ballot amount $2,000,000.

      The bath house

      Two years ago, town meeting appropriated $550,000 to the Parks and Recreation Department (now recreation only) to replace the bath house at the Town Beach. The current bath house is rotting and has basement floods. Several attempts at patching these problems have been made over the last few years. Rotted wood doors, frames, siding and beams were replaced on the bathhouse over the past four years. The building continues to deteriorate. Nancy McShea, recreation director, says the building receives 2-3 feet of water in the garage, under the building, during just about every rain storm. Beach use has declined dramatically in the last four years, partly due to the poor condition of the bath house, as well as rain and milfoil in he lake.

      In addition, McShea says, the Recreation Department has "Mickey Moused" the accessibility of that building for wheelchair and handicap users. Years ago the department closed off stairways in the building to allow the same level of access for everyone. This results in users having to leave the building, go outside and reenter the building when moving from the bathrooms to the changing area. They also need to walk through the lifeguard office to enter the changing areas.

      However, the previously allotted $550,000 was not enough for the planned replacement, because drainage had to be fixed and a new septic system installed. For Fiscal 2011, an additional $920,000 was requested which would have made this a $1,470,000 project. This would have allowed replacement of current facilities, fixing the drainage, installing the new septic system, and would have also added a year-round function room with room for 110 seats and a splash pad for non-swimming children. (A splash pad is an area where jets of water squirt up.)

      At the March 31 Selectmen's meeting, the $350,000 function room component was eliminated, bringing the current request to $570,000 and the total cost for the beach renovations to $1,120,000 instead of $1,470,000. Some site work for the planned function room would still take place, since that may be added at a future date.

      According to McShea, the function room would have been used for events such as bar and bat mitzvahs, engagement parties, weddings and baby showers, corporate events, family reunions, and various parties. The Recreation Department anticipated that between rental income and new programming opportunities, this year-round function space could generate $40,000 a year for the first two years after construction and $44,000-$46,000 annually thereafter. The Recreation Department had committed to $30,000 of revenue to offset the cost of the function room every year until it had been paid off. Several selectmen at their March 31 meeting expressed support for such a facility, with the hope that it could be added next year.

      -- Betty Salzberg

      DUAL ELECTION-- TWO CHECK-INS

      Wayland is holding a "dual" election Tuesday, May 11. Because there are two elections being conducted at the same time, state election laws require each election to have its own voting list and individual ballot, Town Clerk Lois Toombs explained.

      This means voters need to check in twice, once for a Wayland election ballot, and once for a state ballot to elect a state senator.

      Voters also need to check out twice, once for the town, and once for the state, and then place their ballots ONE AT A TIME into the scanning device that has been programmed to handle the two elections.

      When checking in and out, voters need to give their name and address.

      Voters have the option of voting in only one election if they prefer.

      If you have questions, please call the Town Clerk's Office at 508 358 3631. The Wayland ballot may be viewed at http://www.wayland.ma.us/townclerk/Specimen%20ballot2010.pdf

      The local Wayland election ballot has an override question at the very bottom on a debt exemption of $2 million, although the dollar amount for this new capital spending is not specified on the ballot. There are also three contested races. The debt exemption question reads: "Shall the Town of Wayland be allowed to exempt from the provisions of proposition two and one-half, so-called, the amounts required to pay for the bond issued in order to (i) purchase school technology equipment, (ii) repair and improve municipal buildings and facilities, (iii) fund feasibility studies for athletic fields and senior services space needs, and (iv) purchase a street sweeper?" The town's debt schedule may be seen at
      http://216.20.5.172/accounting/index.htm.

      Contested Wayland Races
      (Candidates listed in alphabetical order)

      Selectmen: John Bladon, Donald Bustin

      School Committee: Beth Butler, Shawn Kinney

      Board of Public Works 2 year (2 seats): Christopher Brown, Shawn Fennelly, Jonathan Mishara

      Uncontested Wayland Races
      Board of Public Works 1 year: Thomas Abdella
      Board of Public Works 3 year: Eric Knapp, Michael Wegerbauer
      Housing Authority: Susan Weinstein
      Library Trustee: Anne Heller, Thaddeus Thompson
      Planning Board: Colleen Sheehan
      Commissioner of Trust Funds: Jared Hobson, David D'Orlando
      Recreation Commission: Asa Foster, Robert Virzi
      Board of Assessors: Susan Rufo
      Town Clerk: Lois Toombs
      Board of Health: Arnold Soslow

      State Senate Election
      Democratic candidate: Peter Smulowitz
      Republican candidate: Richard Ross

      - Molly Upton

      OPEN HOUSE AT NEW WATER TREATMENT PLANT

      "Only Tap Water Delivers" is the theme of Wayland's celebration of National Drinking Water Week, May 3-10.

      The town's new Baldwin Wells treatment plant is up and running. The Wellhead Protection Committee encourages residents to visit a Department of Public Works open house and tour the plant at 101 Old Sudbury Road (Route 27) from 9 to 11 a.m. on Saturday May 1. You'll find tips on smart water use and have the chance to buy rain barrels.

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      Michael Short, Editor
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