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Town Meeting, Part 2

by Nancy Farrell
May 6, 2015

Debate over employee health insurance and downtown traffic management sent Town Meeting into overtime and a third night.

ARTICLE 18.           To see if the Town will vote to raise and appropriate or transfer from available funds a sum of money for the Capital Expenditure Fund; or take any action relative thereto.  (Board of Selectmen)

Approved

ARTICLE 19.           To see if the Town will vote to raise and appropriate, transfer from available funds, or borrow a sum of money for the purpose of capital expenditures, including replacement and new vehicles and equipment, for the School, Police, Fire and Public Works departments, and authorize the Board of Selectmen to trade or sell used equipment toward part of the purchase price; or take any action relative thereto.  (Board of Selectmen)

Approved

ARTICLE 20.           To see if the Town will vote to act on the report of the Community Preservation Committee on the fiscal year 2016 community preservation budget and to appropriate or reserve for later appropriation monies from Community Preservation Fund annual revenues or available funds for the administrative expenses of the Community Preservation Committee, the payment of debt service, the undertaking of community preservation projects and all other necessary and proper expenses for the year; or take any action relative thereto.  (Community Preservation Committee)

Frank Chamberlain said that there are two new proposals to introduce and three housekeeping motions regarding the allocation of funds according to CPA rules. Chamberlain reported that $568,000 had been raised from taxes for the CPA.

Kristen Hedrick, Parks & Recreation, explained the motion to appropriate $54,000 for playground equipment at Stoddard Park for ages 3-5. The second new proposal is a request from the Housing Trust Committee for $250,000. Chamberlain said that the Housing Trust has made great progress in acquiring single family houses for affordable housing market.

John Varrell commented that historical preservation does not receive as much funding as other areas. Frank Chamberlain, who represents the Historical Commission on the Community Preservation Committee, said that there have been historic preservation projects funded from the CPA, including the siding at the Town Hall and a project lead by Jackie Dellicker to preserve and digitize Town records, some back to 1724 that were in terrible condition. Chamberlain said that there are more CPA-funded historic preservation projects coming up.

Jackie Dellicker commended the CPC for saving records as far back as 1724.

All five motions of Article 20 were approved.

ARTICLE 21.           To see if the Town will vote to raise and appropriate or transfer from available funds a sum of money for the Stabilization Fund; or take any action relative thereto.  (Board of Selectmen)

Approved.

ARTICLE 22.           To see if the Town will vote to raise and appropriate or transfer from available funds a sum of money for the reserve fund for the future payment of accrued liabilities for compensated absences due any employee upon termination of employment; or take any action relative thereto.  (Board of Selectmen)

Approved.

ARTICLE 23.           To see if the Town will vote to appropriate a sum of money from the Capital Expenditure Fund for the purpose of paying the remaining debt on the purchase of a Fire Department ladder truck; or take any action relative thereto.  (Board of Selectman)

Approved.

ARTICLE 24.           To see if the Town will vote to authorize the Board of Selectmen to seek special legislation substantially as follows:

AN ACT AUTHORIZING THE TOWN OF HOLLISTON TO CONTRIBUTE TOWARD HEALTH INSURANCE PREMIUMS FOR SURVIVING SPOUSES

Be it enacted by the Senate and the House of Representatives in General Court assembled, and by the authority of the same, as follows:

SECTION 1.   The town of Holliston is hereby authorized to pay one-half of the premium costs payable by the surviving spouse of an employee or retired employee for group general, or blanket hospital, surgical, medical, dental or other health insurance for a period of one year from the date of death of the employee or retired employee.

SECTION 2.  This act shall supersede any prior acceptance by the town of Holliston of the provisions of sections nine D, nine D1/2 or nine D3/4 of Chapter 32B of the General Laws.

SECTION 3.  This act shall take effect upon its passage; and raise and appropriate or transfer from available funds a sum of money for the purpose stated in the proposed special legislation; or take any action relative thereto.  (Board of Selectmen)

Jay Marsden advised against focussing on the personal issue of these Articles. This is essentially a policy issue, he said, and the Town policy for 50 years has been to allow surviving spouses access to the Town health plans, but premiums are paid by that spouse.

He said a yes vote on Article 24 allows for one year of health benefits for a surviving spouse. A no vote makes no change to current policy..

Michelle Zeamer said that this article isn't about an individual, it's about all retirees past and future. She suggested that we really need to focus on the financial aspect of these articles.

Ken Szajda also spoke about the need to focus on the financial aspects of this issue, commenting that he would be happy to participate in fundraising to help any one. Ken said that he knows it is difficult to put aside the emotional side of this. He is in his fifties and has three daughters. He works for a Fortune 500 company. If he died prematurely, his family would not get anything from his employer. It is not a typical situation, but he plans for that case.  He noted that there has been 13% increase in cost of benefits this year. The cost of benefits is killing everything in this town. We have to look at these articles from a strictly fiscal standpoint.

Diane Cassidy asked whether it is possible to put a cap on it? "If we can do it, why, why not? We've dug deeper for other things.in this Town. We can do something really awesome for our Town," she said.

Ken Szajda explained that it is the State statutes that restrict the Town from limiting the benefits to surviving spouses. 

The petitioner for Articles 25 and 26, Denise Moore, wife of recently deceased Holliston Police Lieutenant Shawn Moore, spoke about her and her husband's families' roots in the town and of her deceased husband's long and dedicated service to the town. "You guys need to do the right thing," she said.

John Gagnon spoke about recently learning that the Town did not provide health benefits for surviving spouses, neither for his friend, Shawn Moore, nor himself. John has worked for the Town as a firefighter and an EMT for many years, but his recent health crisis made him realize what this might mean for his family.  He hoped that the Town Meeting would find a way to support their employees with these Articles. 

A Beatrice Lane resident, hoping that some solution could be found, said that we are talking here about helping someone out.

Jay Marsden said that it is the State that makes the all or nothing requirement. "If there is deal making to be had, Article 24 is the way to go."

Denise Moore asked how long the legislation in Article 24 would take.

Pat Duffey said that she doesn't want to not help someone who needs help.

Andy Porter, referring to his years of service on Town boards, said, "I blew it." He said that there had been opportunities to deal with these issues in the past. He recommended that we not send these articles to "the great black hole of indefinite postponement."  He said, "Doing the right thing costs money," adding "in my humble opinion, I don't think we can afford to say no."

Wilson Snyder suggested subsidized life insurance for Town employees so that not only surviving spouses, but other family members would have support in the event of a death.

Ken Szajda said that there have been attempts to Increase our life insurance benefit for Town employees, but that we cannot do that by law. He suggested that, if it is legal, this be included in Article 24, . He suggested that Articles 25 and 26 should be taken off the table. He does not agree with Andy Porter who said that we are kicking the can down the road on this. He wants to find another answer.

Doug Foss made the point that this has become a personal matter for a financial decision. "We have be realistic about what it is going to cost. We don't have answers to these questions. We have to keep the personal issues out of the discussion," he said.

Article 24 was indefinitely postponed by a vote of 157 to 73.

ARTICLE 25.           To see if the Town will vote to accept the provisions of section 9D3/4 of Chapter 32B of the General Laws and provide that the Town pay an amount up to one-half of the premium costs payable by the surviving spouse of an employee or retired employee for group general or blanket hospital, surgical, medical, dental or other health insurance, and raise and appropriate or transfer from available funds a sum of money for this purpose; or take any action relative thereto.  (Board of Selectmen)

A Yes vote would commit the Town to paying 50% of health care for surviving spouses forever and represents an increase to OPEB of $1.8 million. A No vote would make no change to the current policy.

John Beck said that it doesn't make sense to him that we should be taking on this kind of commitment. Fiscally we are not in the position to take this on, he said. He recommended that we vote no to postponement and flat out vote no on Articles 25 and 26.

Pam Zicko asked whether this includes past employees. I hope we vote this down, she said. Ken Szajda answered that yes, it would apply for past employees.

Gary Dunn commented that the trend is to reduce spousal benefits, pointing out that UPS is dropping coverage for spouses.  He said that Fortune 500 companies are not doing what we are doing here in little Holliston. This is not what is happening in corporations or in other municipalities. 

Mark Schultz asked what the recommendations of the FInCom are.

Josh Santoro said that indefinite postponement means we don't care. He asked how much will it cost. Ken Szajda, referring to the difficulty of estimating increases health care costs and numbers of people needing them, answered that "It will cost what it will cost."

Gary Dunn suggested that by indefinitely postponing, we can deal with the human issue.

The vote to indefinitely postpone Article 25 failed.

Jay Leary said that the cost of this would be $23,800 for this year for the six surviving spouses. He answered Doug Foss' question that the number refers to people currently accessing Town health benefits as surviving spouses. .

Article 25 failed 0-233

ARTICLE 26.           To see if the Town will vote to raise and appropriate, transfer from available funds or borrow a sum of money for the purpose of adopting MGL Chapter 32B Section 9D for the purpose that it will “pay one-half of the amount of the premium to be paid by the surviving spouse of an insured employee or a retired employee for hospital, surgical, medical, dental and other health related insurance continued as provided in section nine B”; or take any action relative thereto.  (By Petition)

Andy Porter looked to the Selectmen and the Finance Committee for an earnest promise to roll up their sleeves and find a solution. He recommended an indefinite postponement, saying that the petitioner,  Denise Moore, has the right to make her argument at the Fall Meeting.

Jay Marsden recommended against indefinite postponement, advised voting no to Article 26 and using Article 24 to resolve the issue.

Article 26 was defeated.

ARTICLE 27.           To see if the Town will vote to raise and appropriate, transfer from available funds or borrow a sum of money for the purpose of roadway and streetscape improvements, including traffic signals and engineering costs, in the downtown area; or take any action relative thereto.  (Board of Selectmen)

Kevin Conley introduced Maureen Chlebek of traffic study authors, McMahon Associates, to give a recap of alternatives on the table.

The much anticipated article submitted by the Selectmen for their proposed improvements downtown caused many residents to question the concepts and the presentation.

The consultant presented a brief overview of the two alternatives. Several residents commented that the presentation was either too technical or not informative. The Selectmen countered that they have had numerous public meetings on the proposals so everyone should have been knowledgeable.

Maureen Chlebek said that the firm has revisited the plan and found more parking places. She reminded everyone to keep in mind that this is a 10% design plan.

David Ullenbruch recommends to indefinitely postpone this article. Questions brought up at Fall Town Meeting have not been addressed. "It is killing downtown businesses by taking away parking places. It seems like the Selectmen really want these lights, and we don't need to give it to them. Why do you want to destroy your downtown?" he said.

Jay Leary gave history of attempts to solve this problem. Including Mary's Downtown VIsioning. Multiple traffic studies. What the BOS wants is to make a decision, he said.  Under the scope that was proposed, is this something we want to move forward with? We would like to take some action. Article 27 asks for money for engineering. He hopes we make a decision on this matter. 

Mark Schultz asked if someone could, "explain this to me like I'm a six year old."

Geoff Zeamer recommends not to vote on something that is not specific.

Stacy Raffi, remembering a lesson of measure, measure, measure, then cut, recommended taking the time to figure out what we want.

Jay Marsden recommends not nibbling at the edges of the plan. The question is how can we improve the safety? Regarding safety, parking and traffic flow, he suggests we look to the engineers.

Mary Greendale said that that the Board of Selectmen did not engage the public. The Downtown Visioning Survey identified a wish to preserve the look of the downtown. She is not against traffic lights in the downtown. She quoted from a study of walkability in downtowns that "Smooth traffic has made our downtowns places that you can get to, but when you get there there's nothing there." The Visioning Committee recommended not to narrow the sidewalks. Mary Greendale used the downtown traffic modifications of Westwood, Medfield and Wellesley to illustrate how a differing visions in each of the towns manifested.  Wellesley did it right: wide sidewalks and traffic limited to two lanes. "It must have cost a lot of money, she said, but if this is what we want there are knock offs -- for everything. What look are we looking for?  She suggested that we think about what is going to make the businesses happy, very happy. I don't want to lose momentum. Let's not wait any longer to make the streets safe. She would like to create a committee to work on this. But, she said, let's help pedestrians, first. She suggest signs with flashing lights. We already have the signs they just need $8000 - 12,000 for wiring. 

Bill George, former Holliston Chief of Police, was involved in the 1995 one. He suggests that we need to keep to the eye of the tiger -- traffic lights.

With much discussion, into overtime, Article 27 was amended to form a committee made up of various town board members and townspeople to come up with a plan, or, at least, a vision for downtown. And in the meantime, to improve pedestrian safety in the Washington and Central Sts. intersection, flashing signs, paid for out of the Department of Public Works budget, will alert drivers to pedestrians in the crosswalk. Article 27 as amended was approved.

Town Meeting continues, tonight, same place, same time, 7:30pm at the HHS Auditorium. See you there.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Comments (3)

No lights? Didn't the town spend money on a study? Whats next?

- Bob | 5/7/15 5:09 PM

I couldn't agree more with previous poster. Thank you, Ken, you are appreciated!

- Sue A. | 5/7/15 3:40 PM

I am so, so grateful that we have Ken Szajda. He is the voice of rational, fiscal responsibility. He understands the costs, and the rules, and calmly and patiently explains things over and over again. Kudos to Ken.

- A fan | 5/6/15 6:12 PM

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