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May 6, 2013 Town Meeting, Government by the People

by Paul Saulnier
May 7, 2013

Drama supporters influenced voters at the annual Town Meeting.

 

Operating Budget Comparison, FY13 to FY14

                                                          FY13            FY14            % Change

General Government                         1,922,469      1,924,530                .11

 

Culture & Recreation                            802,828         818,832              1.99          

 

Pensions & Benefits                           5,985,153      5,959,726             -  .42

 

Solid Waste                                      1,051,679      1,055,320                .35

 

Debt Service                                     5,742,524      5,623,896             -2.07

 

Public Safety                                     3,643,267      3,725,364             2.25

 

Local Schools                                  28,733,464    29,389,466              2.28

 

Keefe Technical School                         554,869         617,396            11.27             

 

Public Works                                    1,723,395      1,743,841              1.19

 

Water Department                            2,556,556      2,507,730             -1.91

 

ARTICLE 1.        To hear and act on the report of the Selectmen.

Accepted.

ARTICLE 2.        To hear and act on the report of the Finance Committee.

Chair of the Finance Committee Ken Szajda presented an abbreviated report. Trash fee to be eliminated in FY16. No improvement in state aid. Fixed costs continue to rise. Employee costs are 2/3 of the budget. OPEB will be funded by 1.5 million per year (paying off the benefits already accrued totaling 46 million dollars). Twenty-one budgets are under the guideline of 1.5% increase, and 7 budgets are over. Accepted.

ARTICLE 3.         to authorize the Town Treasurer, subject to the approval of the Selectmen, to sell property acquired through foreclosure of tax titles by the Town and other real estate.

 Add the Housing Trust to those notified. Approved.

ARTICLE 4.        to amend the Consolidated Personnel Bylaw Section 29, Job Classification Plan, by reflecting those revisions, deletions and/or additions to be effective as of July 1, 2013; Town Administrator)

Several changes introduced. Approved.

ARTICLE 5.        to amend the Consolidated Personnel Bylaw Section 30, Job Compensation Plan, to reflect the rates listed below, and the inclusion of any new rates resulting from reevaluation or new or revised positions to be effective as of July 1, 2013; or take any action relative thereto.  (Town Administrator).

Approved.

ARTICLE 6.        to raise and appropriate or transfer from available funds a sum of money for unpaid bills from prior years; or take any action relative thereto.  (Board of Selectmen).

Approved ($12, 548.00 from prior years).

ARTICLE 7.       to transfer from available funds a sum of money for the purpose of supplementing various accounts of the Town’s fiscal year 2013 annual budget, previously voted by the Town under Article 16 of the Warrant for the 2012 Annual Town Meeting and under Article 2 of the Warrant for the October 29, 2012 Fall Town Meeting; or take any action relative thereto.  (Board of Selectmen).

Indefinately postponed.

ARTICLE 8.       to authorize the Board of Selectmen to hold a public auction for the purpose of disposing of surplus departmental equipment; or take any action relative thereto.  (Board of Selectmen)

1986 Ford 350 Brush truck. Approved.

ARTICLE 9.       to authorize the Highway Department, with the approval of the Board of Selectmen, to use and expend sums received from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts as reimbursements under the Chapter 90 State Aid to Highways program for further construction, reconstruction and improvements, including surface treatments of approved public ways within the Town; or take any action relative thereto.  (Board of Selectmen).

Approved.

ARTICLE 10.           To see if the Town will vote, under the provisions of Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 44, section 53E1/2, as amended, to reauthorize the following revolving accounts for fiscal year 2014: 

1.         an ambulance fee revolving account into which shall be deposited receipts received as payment of fees for ambulance services and from which account expenditures for labor, materials, supplies and equipment associated with the provision of ambulance services in the Town may be made in an amount not to exceed $368,702; 

2.         a Council on Aging fee revolving account in an amount not to exceed $5,000; 

3.         a Composting Kit revolving account into which shall be deposited receipts received from the sale of composting kits and from which account expenditures for purchasing composting kits may be made in an amount not to exceed $3,000; 

4.         a Response and Recovery fee revolving account into which shall be deposited receipts received as payment of fees and reimbursements for response to natural and man-made emergencies and from which account expenditures for planning, response, recovery and mitigation efforts by Town departments may be made in an amount not to exceed $10,000; 

5.         an abutter’s list fee revolving account in an amount not to exceed $5,000;

6.    a Building Inspection revolving account in an amount not to exceed $50,000;

7.    a Town Hall revolving account into which shall be deposited receipts received as payment of all fees for rental of the Town Hall facility in an amount not to exceed $25,000;

8.    a Senior Center Van Services revolving account in an amount not to exceed $10,000;

9.    an Agricultural Commission programs revolving account in an amount not to exceed $10,000;

10.    a Sealer of Weights and Measures revolving account in an amount not to exceed $3,000;

11.       a fluorescent bulb recycling revolving account into which shall be deposited receipts received from recycling fluorescent bulbs in an amount not to exceed $3,000; 

12.       a banner revolving account in an amount not to exceed $5,000; 

13.       an accident fee revolving account into which shall be deposited receipts received as payment of fees for motor vehicle accident investigations and from which account expenditures for investigating motor vehicle accidents may be made in an amount not to exceed $5,000; 

14.       an inoculation revolving account in an amount not to exceed $20,000; 

15.       a passport revolving account in an amount not to exceed $5,000;

16.    a cost of prosecution account into which shall be deposited receipts received as payment of fees for court imposed penalties and from which account expenditures for the costs of prosecution may be made in an amount not to exceed $30,000; and

17.    a nutrition revolving account into which shall be deposited receipts received for nutrition programs at the Senior Center in an amount not to exceed $10,000;
provided that expenditures from said accounts shall require the approval of the Board of Selectmen and expenditures in excess of the amounts stated shall require the approval of the Board of Selectmen and the Finance Committee; or take any action relative thereto.  (Board of Selectmen).

Approved.

ARTICLE 11.   to authorize the Board of Assessors to grant an increase of twenty percent (20%) to all exemptions from property taxes excluding those granted under clause 18 of section 5 of Chapter 59 of the Massachusetts General Laws for the fiscal year commencing July 1, 2013;.  (Board of Assessors)

Approved.

ARTICLE 12.  to amend the interest rate per annum from 8% to 6% on tax deferral for homeowners 65 years or older, pursuant to the authority contained in Chapter 136 of the Acts of 2005, thereby amending said clause 41A;  (Board of Assessors)

Aproved.

ARTICLE 13.    to accept the provisions of section 51 of Chapter 184 of the Acts of 2002, amending the income requirements under Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 59, section 5, clause 41C, or take any action relative thereto.  (Board of Assessors)

Accepted.

ARTICLE 14.     to authorize the Board of Selectmen to institute a fee for curbside rubbish collection and disposal services; or take any action relative thereto.  (Board of Selectmen)

 

A fee of $80.00 proposed. Question about the reduction from $120.00: if remained the same, would it save a teacher? The reduction represents a $120,000 reduction in revenue. The final decision is up to the Selectmen. Motion to keep the current rate ($125.00). That motion defeated. Several people spoke to the issue. The $80.00 proposal accepted.



ARTICLE 15.     to raise and appropriate or transfer from available funds to meet expenses and outlays to Town departments, salaries of Town Officers, sundry and miscellaneous but regular expenditures, for a Reserve Fund, Conservation Fund, Stabilization Fund, and to appoint trustees or caretakers or authorize the Selectmen to appoint caretakers of the cemeteries of the Town not otherwise provided for, for the ensuing year; or take any action relative thereto.  (Omnibus Budget)

Lisa Galeaz-Weber of the School Committee Budget subcommittee spoke of the funding for the athletic trainer, a reduction of $100.00 for the performing arts fee, athletic supplies and math tutoring.

Nancy Baron spoke in favor of fully funding Brian Hickey's position in drama verus 3/4 time because he will have to leave. "The quality of the performances and the program will die", according to Baron.

Mark Schultz commented on the cut in salary will cause him to leave. His salary "is a spec of dust" in the school budget. A motion was made to add $19,835 for the 1/4 position.

Brad Jackson said that there are not enough students signing up for drama classes to support a full time teacher. Mark made a motion to add  $19,835 for personal services, funds to come from the surplus fund ($60,000 balance).


Many residents spoke passionately about the drama program and its impact on students and the town as a whole. It was pointed out that even if the funds are approved, the School Committee is not required to spend it on this position. The amended article was approved and the funds added to the school budget.


ARTICLE 16.    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, Highway and Water departments and the Senior Center, 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)

$49,000 for a truck for the Water Department added and $48,500 for fire department brush fire truck. Approved.

 ARTICLE 17.   to act on the report of the Community Preservation Committee on the fiscal year 2014 community preservation budget and to appropriate or reserve for later appropriation monies from Community Preservation Fund (Community Preservation Committee).

$100,000 for purchase of 23 acres of land for open space preservation off Highland Street belonging to Northeastern University.

Anne Marie Pilch spoke about so-called Warren Woods. It connects to 1600 acres of conservation land, creating a wildlife corridor. The article was approved but before Frank could present the second part of the article, Dan Alfred, as a resident and not a Finance Committee member, asked for a reconsideration of the drama position funding.

Dan was criticised for bringing it back to the floor as we all noticed many of the residents left after the vote. Moderator Kevin Clancy cautioned residents not to make personal attacks on Dan who was exercising the rights of any resident attending town meeting.

After several people spoke on the issue again, the motion was defeated.

Town meeting ended with approval of spending $13,000 for the restoration of Civil War veteran's memorial and grave stones.

 

Posted in Politics, Local Lore, Comings/Goings.

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Comments (16)

Also in addition to the fees, the sports kids have to at most pay $600, but if the fees for the arts were $200 then if someone takes part in all 3 musicals ($600) and Act 2, Harmonix or T-Tones, and Jazz Band it would come out to a total of ($1200). If you bring it down to $100 then someone can take part in everything and still only end up paying $600 likes the sports kids. Also the sports fee pays for fields and buses etc... while the jazz band and harmonix Act2 etc... pays only for the teacher...other than that we pay for everything ourselves.

- Drama Student at HHS | 5/8/13 6:46 AM

To the first comment written by John. Even if we the students are all very talent which we are, Mr Hickey is the reason we are pushed to do our best. he is the one who encourages us, and picks on everything we do wrong. With someone else we might not get pushed to do our best, or we may not even realize the small things we are doing wrong. Mr. Hickey is really the reason why we are so talented. We are trained by an amazing amazing man and I would like to thank everyone who voted in his favor at the TM. thank you

- Drama Student at HHS | 5/8/13 6:43 AM

I was surprised no one asked why we needed to increase the athletic trainer to full time while reducing the drama teacher...could the trainer be a 75% position and keep the drama teacher at 100%??

- Joanne | 5/8/13 6:10 AM

I want to be a teacher "Mad and upset". I am going to college for it. I am not saying that teachers shouldnt get raises. I am very interested in learning more about the problem that Mr. Szadja talked about at the town meeting on Monday because if it continues at it is it will destroy the entire school system. It is starting with the arts and a cut to math. Soon it will begin to impact major sections of the school curriculum if he is correct. I am going to do my best to learn more about this issue because I care deeply about Holliston High (probably more than I should) and would like to fix the problems that are afflicting it.

- Andrew Mades | 5/7/13 7:06 PM

To mad and upset, Andrew did not say that there should be no more salary increases for teachers, but he did suggest that the amount of each increase should maybe be decreased. Workers for the town only received a 1% increase this year, and LOTS of other townspeople got no raise, maybe even a pay cut or job loss. Why do you state that your salaries are not to be messed with? Why are you more special than those in town who pay taxes and maybe just can't afford your increase due to the fact that they got no pay increase themselves? You seem to have the attitude that an arts teacher is some kind of lesser being than those who teach other subjects, that you can patch their salary together by scrimping on pencils. Teachers do indeed find themselves acting as mentors, parents, friends and even therapist, but don't think this is unique to your profession. Workers in all walks of life often end up in the same situations...it's part of being a human.

- parent and taxpayer | 5/7/13 7:04 PM

Andrew what you just said is so so sad.. if I read you right you are saying we have to NOT give raises to the teachers??? I have been a teacher for years. . my job includes being a teacher, a therapist,a mentor,a mother, father,friend.... and these are just a few of the "other jobs" I did as a teacher.. . our salaries are not to be messed with, It angers me to think that your statement "renegtiate the teachers contracst .... lower amount of increase... Really walk in a teachers shoes and then come back and write what you did....Maybe you should look at the waste of paper, pencils,heat etc in the schools. .start there and you will have enough to supply an Arts teacher....

- Mad and upset | 5/7/13 3:47 PM

I was at the posted and public meeting held by the FinCom before Town Meeting, in the High School Library. It was conducted in hushed tones and was very difficult to hear what was being said and who was doing what. There were no chairs for the public and some of the Committee sat with their backs to those few of us there. Ken hates criticisms about transparency, but that was no way to conduct a meeting. And if you want to know what transpired, you'll have to wait for the minutes to be posted which been taking upwards of there months to do. There's just so much to do to make sure the public is prepared for Town Meeting. Right now, it's just not working.

- Bill Dowd | 5/7/13 2:55 PM

It is good that the drama position was not cut. But we had to take the money from elsewhere again. The school budget has been squeezing the other town departments for years and we need to fix it. as Mr. Szadja said last night the town needs to work to renegotiate the teachers contracts and lower the amount of increase each year. The salary rise of the school staff is rising faster than the town has the ability to pay them. The drama position is safe this coming year and maybe the next but if we do not fix the underlying budget problem then this problem will keep getting worse.

- Andrew Mades | 5/7/13 2:11 PM

Paul, the process that led to the agreement took place in open, posted SC and Fincom meetings that were held in the HHS library immediately before TM. The discussion was not held behind closed doors. To be clear, my reference to the agreement had nothing to do with the specifics of the SC's plans; I was referring to the fact that the SC and the Fincom had come to agreement on a budget number for FY14 that both boards had voted to support. We reached agreement without any discussion of cuts/restorations since (as I pointed out last night) those are entirely SC decisions. I mentioned that the agreement details would be revealed when we got to article 15 because I myself did not have them--the SC informed me that they would present details of their deliberations when we got to article 15. As for the process, we have avoided these situations in the past because we have been able to reach agreement prior to publication of the annual report. In this case the money was not there at the publication deadline and we were only able to make adjustments after we got very last minute numbers from the state concerning the local aid picture for FY14. It was certainly not my preference to take it to the last minute as we were forced to do this year.

- Ken Szajda | 5/7/13 1:05 PM

Ken mentioned in his presentation that the FinCom and School Committee worked out a budget in a meeting just before Town Meeting that they could agree on. I know this happens on many budgets every year but this is the first time that I, as a tax payer, felt left out of what is usually a very transparent process. Ken said more than once that we would all find out about the agreements when Article 15 comes up. With all the drama over the drama program,this is especially disconcerting. I suggest that these sessions be avoided in the future so that we all know where the budgets are before TM opens.

- Paul | 5/7/13 11:44 AM

Mark, I would take up the fee issue with the School Committee, but from what I saw on TV last night, they are virtually powerless, so why bother. When looking at the cost of running an athletic season vs an after school drama program, let's not forget to include the $90k salary of the drama teacher, since that primarily the reason he's there, and not to teach drama courses which have low enrollment.

- John | 5/7/13 11:02 AM

John, I too left town meeting sad and angry last night, but for entirely different reasons. I don't think that any one of the parents or students who spoke last night even hinted that they had no faith in the students of Holliston. They passionately spoke about wanting the best for our students, and they believe that we have that already with Mr Hickey. I'm kind of surprised that the topic of the raise that our school committee gave to the superintendent didn't come up. Here is a portion of what was written in the paper in Sept of 2011: Posted Sep 21, 2011 HOLLISTON - Worried that Superintendent Brad Jackson would look for a job elsewhere because he isn't paid enough here, the School Committee has increased his salary 12 percent. The board's decision followed months of study that determined Jackson's pay was less than market value. "We want to do what's fair and what the superintendent deserves," School Committee Chairwoman Erica Plunkett said yesterday, acknowledging that the decision could prove controversial. "We're charged with looking after the district the best we can. He's a talented superintendent and he's very marketable." The school committee used the argument that Dr Jackson might be considered "irreplaceable" The taxpayers of Holliston had absolutely ZERO input into this decision because it was made in executive session behind closed doors. That 12% raise translated into roughly $20,000 per year. We're now two years down the road from that and in my opinion, that's a decision that may be contributing to the erosion in the school budget. Last night when several residents questioned why the trash fee was being reduced, arguing that by keeping it the same, perhaps cuts to the schools could be lessened, the Selectmen mentioned that the School Committee had some supposedly late-breaking good news, that we shouldn't rush to keep the trash fee @$125, because the school committee had some new plan. We all bought that, then come article15, and the school committee let us all down. I'm sad and angry because the taxpayers of Holliston deserve more honesty and respect. I know far too many people in this town who won't bother coming to Town Meeting because they don't feel like they have a voice.

- parent and taxpayer | 5/7/13 11:01 AM

John, it not a matter of faith in the kids. This is a one teacher program. The loss of this teacher effectively kills the progrom until another teacher is found. The problem is that no one wants 75% of a job. Why replace a good employee if it can be avoided? The amendment is funded from the projected surplus. School sports are increasingly limited to only the most talented kids. Not all of the drama is the acting. There are other ways to be involoved (set design, staging, etc ) There is noacting requirement. Every effort is made to include EVERY child, no "talent" needed only desire. Regarding fees, you should take that up with the school committee. My understanding is that most sports incur higher costs than plays (equipment, uniforms, fields, insurance, officials and more). Also the theatres are changing admission to cover the costs (or at least a good part of the cost). There is a difference, but again that should be addressed by the School Committee.

- Mark Schultz | 5/7/13 10:17 AM

John- The discussion that is happening here is not about who the teacher is, but the presence of a full time teacher. While those involved in the drama department seem to have an affection toward Mr. Hickey, I believe that they would be content to have a full time teacher/director/mentor, regardless of who that person is. While the students will remain equally as talented, without the presence of a full time teacher, there will not be an outlet for those students to practice their skills. Just as the absence of a football coach would hinder the progression of a football team, the lack of a "drama coach" will not allow the drama program to continue to achieve at the same level.

- Michael | 5/7/13 10:14 AM

I think it is unfair to say that parents have no faith in the kids. The fact is, the kids need a leader that pushes them to strive for more than they think they are capable of. The current teacher does that very well and has a track record to prove it. What you are suggesting is analogous to putting a group of students in a room where they learn calculus on their own. Or an English class where students figure out how to write books on their own. Or a hockey team that wins the chapionship knowing that the school system doesn't think what they are doing is important. Brian Hickey doesn't think he is irreplaceable, the students and the Holliston residents do... and that says a lot. The possibility of raising the performance arts fee can't be compared to an athletic program because the fee is per performance. There may be 3 or more performances throughout the year so it is very likely that drama students pay more per year. That said, the school committee entertained the idea of raising the fee to 200 which i would have supported. I was not privy to the details of the agreement the fincom and school committee came to right before the town meeting last night and I'm npt sure we will ever know why they made the decisions they did. It will be a real tragedy if the school committee doesn't fund this program with the money that was added to the budget. If they choose to spend it another way despite the wishes of the majority of voters, it will be a real slap in the face to the residents.

- Rob McKeown | 5/7/13 9:37 AM

Last night's Town Meeting, and in particular, the long discussion surrounding the Drama teacher, made me both sad and angry. I was sad that so many of those who spoke in favor of our current drama teacher had absolutely no faith in our kids. To a person, they all said that if this teacher leaves, it will "kill the program". I'd like to think that our kids are talented and resilient enough that if another drama teacher was hired (at a salary of mid 60k - not too shabby) that our kids would continue to put on great performances. I see this at my job a lot. Employees start to think they are irreplaceable. That's when it's time to replace them. No one, without exception, is irreplaceable. The meeting also made me angry because here I am, paying upwards of $1000 a year so that my kids can run cross country, play soccer, softball, track etc… Why is the athletic fee $200 and the after school drama program not? How is that fair? And my expenses don't stop at the fee. There are cleats, gloves, pads etc… Several speakers compared the drama program to athletics last night, saying they are equally important. I could not agree more. Not everyone can hit a curve ball and not everyone can perform on a stage. So why aren't the fees equal? Seems logical to me that if we increase the after school drama fee to an equitable $200, then the amendment passed last night would be funded .

- John | 5/7/13 8:10 AM

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