WVN #467: Officials take positions on Special Town Meeting Articles
- Dear Wayland Voter,
The big items voters will decide at the Special Town Meeting on Oct. 3 involve financial transparency and protection from the sort of large-scale NStar tree-cutting that enraged residents over the summer.
It's an unusual meeting in that citizen petitioners introduced all but one of the seven articles.
As the date of the unexpected meeting approached, town boards and committees met to discuss and take positions on them. See below.
TOWN MEETING BASICS
Wednesday, Oct. 3, 7:30 p.m.
Wayland High School Field House
Doors open at 6 p.m.
WayCAM will broadcast live.
A summary of the articles is in WVN Newsletter #466:
Particularly for those new to Wayland town meetings, a glossary of terms is at:
OPEB Redux at the Finance Committee
In public comment at the Finance Committee meeting on Sept. 24 several citizens said OPEB (Other Post-Employment Benefits) should be funded by a Current Year Transfer, requiring a separate vote of Town Meeting, rather than just being a line item in the general budget. This is the substance of Article 5 in the Oct. 3 Special Town Meeting. The FinCom had already voted not to support Article 5, and lead petitioner Donna Bouchard had sent an email to the committee, copying the selectmen, asking them to reconsider.
OPEB pays for anticipated costs of health and life insurance contributions or other benefits for current and future retired employees, their spouses and eligible dependents. It does not pay for pensions for retirees nor for benefits for current employees.
The article is a result of disclosures that for years millions of dollars have been funneled into that account with little oversight and no clear authority. Some citizens say residents have been overtaxed to keep the fund growing.
Bouchard pointed out several irregularities she had recently discovered. In particular, the special act which established the idea of an OPEB trust was not passed until Nov 17, 2010.
However, she said, Wayland had reserved $3.8 million in an OPEB account prior to the passage of the act. Bouchard claimed that was not authorized. She also asserted that putting money from the general fund into the OPEB trust (when there was one) would appear to require a town meeting vote to transfer the money, pursuant to G.L. Ch. 44 §33B(b).
An email from town counsel Mark Lanza argued that state law "does not require a town meeting vote to transfer or appropriate other funds that are made available for deposit to the OPEB trust," contradicting Bouchard's assertion.
FinCom chairman Bill Steinberg agreed that more transparency is needed for citizens to understand OPEB finances, now bundled with other items under the single line item "insurance 32B" in the omnibus budget, which also includes benefits for current employees. In the fiscal year 2013 budget request in the 2012 annual town meeting warrant, Insurance 32B was more than $8 million. FinCom comments in the 2012 Special Town Meeting Warrant indicate that "the Finance Committee commits to present the proposed OPEB contribution (if any) as a separate line item in the budget". However, the FinCom has voted unanimously to oppose Article 5, which calls for a separate warrant article.
In addition, Steinberg agreed that more detail might be appropriate in other areas of the budget, in particular the Department of Public Works, which might, for example, separate road maintenance from other items. He proposed talking about what items to expand in meetings next February.
Article 4 is a non-binding resolution to provide more detail in the budget. FinCom members indicated that they agreed with the spirit of this resolution. The printed warrant does not contain a FinCom vote on the article, but their recommendations and unanimous vote in support are posted on the town website:
Preliminary discussion also occurred at the meeting about providing guidelines to departments for the Fiscal 2014, but no guidelines were issued.
In recent years, each town department has been given general guidelines in a memo from the finance director, such as asking for a level budget except for contractually mandated salary increases and changes in utility costs.
After giving guidelines, FinCom normally looks at the proposed department capital and operating budgets and approves or disapproves parts of them. The FinCom plans a meeting at 6:30 p.m. on Oct. 3 at the high school before the Special Town Meeting convenes. The posted agenda includes discussion and possible vote on the FY14 budget guidelines, response to an open meeting law complaint and an executive session.
There are three newly appointed members of the FinCom, Carol Martin, Steve Lesser and Nancy Funkhouser.
-- Betty Salzberg
After the Sept. 27 selectmen's warrant hearing prompted very few questions from the audience, the Board members then met to discuss each article for the Oct. 3 Special Town Meeting and voted their positions (Joe Nolan absent).
Though petitioners weren't always successful in winning support, "I support the spirit of this article...." was a common lead-in as officials offered advisory opinions, whether ultimately pro or con.
The warrant hearing and selectmen's discussion are at WayCAM's Video on Demand:
Article 1 BoS voted unanimously (4-0) to defer taking a position until the Oct. 3 STM. Petitioners are still considering their options for this NStar-inspired tree-clearing bylaw. The Planning Board prefers deferring the article until the spring. But with the upcoming Jan. 15 warrant deadline, petitioners worry if town officials will have enough time to draft a preferred and effective alternative.
Article 2 BoS voted unanimously to recommend support for this Utility Herbicide Application bylaw from the same Wayland-based petitioners as Article 1. (Board of Health also supports.) Comments attributed to town counsel in the published warrant will no longer apply because the petitioners have revised their motion so that the article wording is consistent with the law. Proponents seek to establish a local process that will ensure the utility complies with existing state and federal laws regarding the use of chemical herbicides, while protecting the town's sensitive resources.
Article 3 BoS voted unanimously to oppose. (Board of Health also opposes.) The Board of Health will be prepared to speak against this article at town meeting, finding it conflicts with Article 2 and could create hardships for the town to enforce. Selectmen Chairman John Bladon criticized the Framingham-based lead petitioner for acting when he did for "apparent political reasons" instead of waiting for the annual town meeting.
Article 4 BoS voted unanimously to recommend support. (FinCom also supports.) This article prompted the longest board discussion. (WayCAM recording elapsed time 00:35:35.) At first, some selectmen sounded reluctant to support the article. When Town Administrator Fred Turkington pointed out that the FinCom ultimately had voted to support Article 4, a non-binding resolution, based on constructive dialogue with the lead petitioner about the level of budget detail sought, the tide then turned to full BoS support.
Article 5 BoS was split 2-2 on a motion to support funding OPEB by a separate town meeting warrant article. (Tie vote means the motion does not pass, FinCom also opposes.) This article still generates the strongest pushback from some selectmen and the town administrator. (WayCAM elapsed time 00:51:45)
Selectman Steve Correia said he could see using a separate warrant article to fund OPEB, and why Weston and other towns may do so, but not by amending the town code to accomplish the desired transparency. Correia stopped short of completing the comparison. In Weston and other towns, taxpayers had not suddenly discovered and complained about a unique-to-Wayland worded special act that enabled the transfer of millions of "surplus" taxpayer dollars into an OPEB account by the town administrator without voters' awareness or approval.
Petitioners say that a separate warrant article ensures that voters consider and decide each year how much is appropriated towards OPEB, and that having FinCom's comments and recommendation published in the warrant for a separate article provides greater transparency.
Article 6 BoS voted unanimously to recommend support for a zoning bylaw change to Wayland's Conservation Cluster bylaw even before the Planning Board finished its public hearing and voted its position. The Planning Board's Sept. 24 public hearing is continued until Tuesday, Oct. 2. The town planner reported that the motion will be amended, deleting the unclear last sentence about setbacks from the proposed new language.
Article 7 BoS voted unanimously to take no position. Framingham lead petitioner Steve Hakar had just arrived and was invited to answer the board's questions about his resolution calling for ending unfunded mandates. (WayCAM elapsed time 01:11:30.) Chairman Bladon said it seemed like a feel-good resolution that does not accomplish anything. Neither Framingham nor Sudbury approved this petitioners' article at their recent special town meetings.
OPERATIONAL REVIEW COMMITTEE CROSSES THE FINISH LINE
On Sept. 24, the original five members appointed to this committee met briefly for the last time. They approved meeting minutes and the content of a final report to the Town. They agreed to provide a handout at the Oct. 3 Special Town Meeting and to submit the report for publication under Hear Reports in the 2013 Annual Town Meeting warrant and in the 2013 Annual Reports.
The May 2010 Town Meeting authorized establishing the committee to oversee a financial management and review process of school and town accounting by an independent consulting firm.
Petitioners originally proposed that the ORC would report its findings and recommendations to the 2011 Annual Town Meeting and then disband. The process took longer than expected as school administrators retired, The Abrahams Group started to find irregularities, and petitioners needed to seek funding for the FY11 Restatement at a subsequent town meeting. The term of service of the ORC was extended several times so it could complete its work.
Committee members agreed it was important that the ORC public record be retained on the town and school committee websites. A comprehensive summary of the committee's work and links to pertinent committee documents are available here:
-- Linda Segal
Monday, Oct. 1
375th Anniversary Committee, 7 p.m.
Audit Committee, 7 p.m.
Board of Public Works, 7 p.m., Public Safety Building
Tuesday, Oct. 2
Council on Aging, 5:30 p.m., agenda includes feasibility update by Bill Sterling for a new COA facility at Town Center.
Board of Assessors, 7 p.m., agenda includes update on Full List & Measure, overlay release of surplus and FY14 overlay forecast
Planning Board, 7:30 p.m. continued public hearing for STM article 6 (Conservation Cluster zoning bylaw amendment) and proposed new Conservation Cluster development at 151 Plain Road. Public hearing for the proposed redevelopment of Finnerty's property & abutting residential parcels has been postponed - again - until October 16
Wayland School Technology Task Force, 7 p.m., High School Library Media Center. Open membership. This committee advises the school administration on use of technology in the schools.
Wednesday, Oct. 3, 7:30 p.m. - Special Town Meeting at Wayland High School Field House
These boards/committees plan to meet before town meeting begins:
Finance Committee, 6:30 p.m.
School Committee, 7 p.m.
Selectmen, 7 p.m. http://www.wayland.ma.us/Pages/WaylandMA_MeetingsCal/S01984A94-01984AC2.0/BOSAgenda10032012.pdf
Board of Health, 7 p.m.
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Wayland Voters Network
Michael Short, Editor