WVN #550: Capital budget, Dudley Woods plan approved
- Dear Wayland Voter,
Town Meeting Voters devoted nearly three hours to questioning but not essentially changing the proposed capital budget of $8.34 million, then sped through a last-minute language change that settled the future of Dudley Woods after much recent controversy.
TOWN MEETING RESUMES
THURSDAY APRIL 10
This newsletter reports on the April 7 session
Capital Budget Scrutiny
For centuries Town Meeting has been the place where every voter has the chance to ask questions and offer amendments. When the annual meeting resumed for the second session Monday evening, some school parents decried the traditional line-by-line consideration of the 33-item capital budget. One voter presented an amendment to take up all school-related items ahead of others in order to let parents get home earlier. (Town Meeting attendance tends to decline after school matters are settled.)
After arguments ending with an opinion from town counsel that articles can legally be divided for separate decisions, the amendment was defeated, 164-265.
Wayland’s procedure is time-honored but also time-consuming. Over the years residents have suggested ways to improve efficiency without abrogating voters’ rights. On Monday night one impatient voter asked why many matters couldn’t be discussed in advance. The warrant, including the Finance Committee report, reaches voters about two weeks before town meeting.
Several speakers recommended minimizing borrowing when possible because debt service has risen by 6%. Before the final vote to approve the budget, voters had proposed but failed to pass a number of deletions: $100,000 on Town Building windows, $800,000 on repairs included in a $2.8 million energy-saving package, $200,000 in cemetery improvements, replacing two dump trucks by leasing instead of borrowing $400,000, $250,000 for new middle school windows.
Officials usually had ready answers: at today’s interest rates it’s cheaper to buy trucks than to lease them; the school windows are water-damaged beyond repair; Wayland is running out of North Cemetery plots (but no numbers were available for plots in the South Cemetery) and access roads are needed to new areas.
But sometimes questioning produced a surprise: despite the words “design and install” in the warrant, the Town Building windows will only be designed and voters will be asked next year to approve another $1 million to purchase and install them.
Clearly, Town Meeting is the last chance to discover some things and try to change them. And some deletions will always be proposed. One example is an amendment to delete $50,000 for repairs at the Transfer Station. If a pending environmental appeal is successful the investment is wasted because the facility will have to close and relocate. But officials expressed confidence that the appeal will fail, and they assert that safety hazards must be addressed. Voters agreed with officials.
In any case, voters could have done research on budget line items in advance -- and also asked for evidence supporting officials’ claims -- if interactive means had been available (Imagine a website where questions are posted and answered) -- and if an accurate capital budget were posted online.
A warrant hearing is held by the selectmen before Town Meeting, but most of the March 26 hearing was consumed with text corrections and wording changes. In this year’s town meeting sessions the final form of motions sometimes isn’t known until the session is about to begin, and the wording is not shown on the large projection screen. Officials who had handed out errata sheets then announced errata in those sheets.
A last-minute change at the warrant hearing to have the $2.8 million energy proposal expended by the Facilities Department instead of the Permanent Municipal Building Committee resulted in an amendment to that motion to switch it back to the committee as originally proposed. Voters opted for the Facilities Department.
FinCom member Bill Steinberg told Town Meeting that the primary reason for the change from what was printed in the warrant was that the building committee does not have permanent staff. The committee charge posted on the town website, however, shows that the Facilities Director, who oversees the entire Facilities Department, serves on the PMBC as an ex-officio member. http://www.wayland.ma.us/Pages/WaylandMA_BComm/PMBC/index h
Decision on Dudley Woods After Decades
Procedural problems noted above were present when voters turned to four articles relating to 7.2 acres between Main Street (Route 27) and Dudley Pond. After Article 9 was introduced, Selectman Joe Nolan immediately read a just-completed amendment that was hailed by more than one speaker as a brilliant compromise reconciling competing interests. Article 9 will transfer all but the pondside Rocky Point to the Recreation Commission for passive uses. Most of the land is to be conveyed now, but four parcels will be transferred once $600,000 has been deposited in the Municipal Affordable Housing Trust Fund (Article 12). Trails and parking are planned. Rocky Point will be overseen by the Conservation Commission through Article 11.
The Surface Water Quality Committee was pleased that Article 9 will allow the possibility of a wastewater treatment system designed to lessen the phosphorus and nitrogen that nourish invasive milfoil on the pond. Property owners would decide on such a betterment. The system’s leaching field could be seen as a pleasant meadow-like addition to the woodsy area.
Jackie Ducharme, who lives nearby and campaigned for recreational status, hailed the article: “Today we can end the divisiveness over the parcels.” She also serves on the Housing Authority.
Articles 10-12 fell into place quickly after the amended Article 9 passed, 250-15.
So who is not pleased by the “compromise”? Advocates of affordable housing. Article 10 provides about $51,000 for affordable housing, but not at Dudley Woods. Article 12 creates an affordable housing trust to make it easier to act when an opportunity becomes available.
The only person to speak against Article 9 was Susan Weinstein of the Wayland Housing Authority, who said that advocates receive nothing that wasn’t already earmarked for affordable housing. Later she said the Authority enthusiastically supports Article 12.
Article 12 was the final vote of the session, 217-14, which ended shortly after 11 p.m.
-- WVN Staff
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Wayland Voters Network
Michael Short, Editor