WVN# 401: Town Meeting petitioners successful; officials' record mixed
- Dear Wayland Voter,
Petitioners uniformly succeeded at the 2011 annual Town meeting. Town officials weren't so lucky.
Also in this newsletter: Sudbury selectmen decide against shared transfer station.
The 2011 annual Town Meeting was a success for citizens who introduced articles by collecting petitioner signatures. Voters approved two of the four and passed over the others because their goals had been achieved in other ways.
On the other hand, as reported in WVN #400, the Finance Committee wasn't successful in persuading voters to rubber-stamp its capital plan. Further:
At the final session on April 11 the selectmen failed a third time to get control of the decommissioned Wayland-Sudbury septage treatment plant.
And despite unanimous endorsement by the selectmen, FinCom and the commissioners themselves, voters refused to dissolve the Waste Water Management District Commission. Debate on the WWMDC included allegations of suspect behavior and a murky picture of the situation.
-- Paying for urgent repairs of water pipes at the intersection of Routes 30 and 27. Article 7 was passed over as redundant because voters had already decided in Article 6, the budget article, to use free cash rather than borrow as the FinCom recommended.
-- Restating the Fiscal 2011 school budget to take advantage of information in the recent Abrahams report pointing to questionable accounting and opportunities to save money. The Finance Committee unanimously endorsed Article 8, which asked $30,000 to produce a report establishing Fiscal 2011 budget-to-actual school expenditures. School Committee member Shawn Kinney argued that adopting recommendations in the Abrahams report could save more than $1 million annually.
-- Authorizing local voting rights for permanent resident aliens. Proponents of Article 23 noted that a few jurisdictions in other states allow voting in local elections. Wayland joins Amherst, Cambridge, Brookline and Newton in passing legislation aimed at providing local representation to go along with local taxation. The measures require approval by the Massachusetts Legislature. Resident aliens with the right to vote locally would also be able to run for elected local office.
-- Making water rates more equitable (Article 25). Water users had complained that residents who used the least were hit with the highest charges. By the date of Town Meeting, the petitioners saw a plan for achieving greater water fee rate equity and fairness adopted by the Board of Public Works, and moved to pass over the article. Because of billing cycles, changes will not be reflected in water bills until September.
Control of the Septage Facility
After failing to win approval at the spring and fall Town meetings in 2010, the selectmen introduced Article 17, again seeking $130,000 to buy out Sudbury's interest in the decommissioned facility. Various uses for the Route 20 property and building had been floated vaguely (redevelopment as something entirely different, leasing it to a wastewater disposal firm). But the selectmen said they couldn't make plans unless the town first owned the property outright.
On March 29 the situation was complicated by the disclosure that the selectmen had secretly been considering using the facility's leaching field to process wastewater from the town's new treatment plant being built at the site of the Town Center Project. See:
The two sites are nearly a half-mile apart and separated by the Sudbury River. On top of that, it was later disclosed that a large part of the leaching field is located in Sudbury, to the surprise of the Selectmen, town attorney and town administrator.
Selectman Joe Nolan moved to pass over the article, saying that more study is needed before creating specific proposals and bringing the matter back to town meeting. (At the two previous Town Meetings voters had decried the lack of specifics.) The motion generated questions and comment before voters approved dropping the article.
John Dyer, a member of the former Wayland-Sudbury Septage Committee, which administered the facility, called for a restoration of trust between officials. Sometimes officials "think they have all the right answers," he said, and fail to give complete and accurate responses to questions.
WWMDC Still in Business
The Waste Water Management District Commission, which operates a treatment plant serving about 30 business, municipal and residential customers, is replacing its aging plant to be able to serve the planned Town Center mixed-use project and meet the requirements of the negotiated settlement of the appealed 2008 federal discharge permit.
Article 18 sought to begin transferring the duties of the WWMDC to the Board of Public Works, which was formed in July 2009 to consolidate several town departments.
The idea seemed simple: Place all water-related matters under the control of one elected board, thus doing away with a commission appointed by the Board of Selectmen. Greater accountability to the voters, and perhaps more efficiency.
Voters didn't see it that way. An hour of debate was followed by the only standing count of the three sessions, the well-received free trial of electronic voting having ended the day before. The measure was defeated, 106-88. Why?
Werner Gossels, a member of the former Wayland-Sudbury Septage Committee, argued that the BoPW is dominated by the town administrator and lacks independence. (The DPW director reports to the town administrator, not to the board.) BoPW members denied that, saying the board would provide greater transparency and accountability.
(Residents may recall the December transfer station experiment to operate just one facility on two Saturdays for both Sudbury and Wayland. The BoPW was unaware of the town administrator's and DPW director's plan. The idea was abandoned before noon on the first try when the experiment failed, upsetting customers waiting on long lines.)
Other voters argued that having volunteers serve on the WWMDC is a valued way for bringing other voices into town government.
Some argued that the change could increase taxpayers' exposure to liabilities even though the $5.6-million plant will theoretically be supported entirely by user fees.
Then there were questions about the status of the land "swap" between the town and the Town Center developer, Twenty Wayland, to locate the new plant. Was the land really taken by eminent domain? Commissioner Fred Knight said agreements with Twenty Wayland and Raytheon still must be "ironed out." Construction of the new plant began on the new land parcel two months ago, according to a presentation at the WWMDC's latest meeting.
There were questions about the role of Town Administrator Fred Turkington, who has been negotiating with lawyers, engineers, state officials and the developer while keeping the WWMDC in the dark. See:
Voters may not have been able to conclude very much from the debate except that some things are not going well.
For clues as to why the wastewater commissioners want to leave their post, you can get an idea of how the WWMDC works by viewing the April 6 WWMDC meeting at which the three commissioners are greatly outnumbered by lawyers, town employees, consultants and representatives of Twenty Wayland:
-- WVN Staff
SUDBURY REJECTS CONSOLIDATING TRANSFER STATIONS
After taking the public pulse several times, Sudbury selectmen voted at their April 12 meeting to terminate the merger experiment of its transfer station with Wayland's. The two towns were looking to see if money could be saved by consolidating the two facilities. Nearby Route 20 locations and methane gas may be all they have in common, according to diehard fans of each.
Public comments received in both towns during this experiment reflect how customers are not willing to give up what they have nor comply with different regulations. Sudbury offers senior discounts and more discrete sorting of recyclables. Wayland offers bulky waste disposal for a one-time fee and the convenience of commingled recyclables.
At the April 4 Board of Public Works meeting, Wayland's DPW director informed his board that the merger was all but dead in the water, and he is not going to work on it anymore. BoPW member Mike Wegerbauer reported that sticker sales are up this year now that the "pay as you throw" program has encouraged more recycling and lowered costs for many users.
Residents in each community seem very fond of their own facility. Each location has its own distinguishing features, political culture and conveniences. The debate likely will continue over which location offers better quality items at the "put & take" areas.
-- WVN Staff
PUBLIC HEARING: TOWN CENTER DRAFT SEWER CONNECTION PERMIT
The Department of Environmental Protection has scheduled a public hearing for Thursday, May 19 from 5 to 7 p.m. in Wayland Town Building concerning the Town Center developer's draft sewer connection permit. Public comment on this matter has been extended to May 20.
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Wayland Voters Network
Michael Short, Editor