Annual Town Meeting Passes $208 Million Budget
Also discussed, biking etiquette, speed bumps and the Heath School expansion
Last night's Annual Town Meeting brought the first nine of the 23 Warrant Articles up for discussion. Among the discussions brought to the floor, the 2012 Town Budget, which encompassed bicycle etiquette, speed bumps and renovations at the Heath School.
Fiscal Year 2012 Budget
Three-and-a-half of the nearly four-hour discussion were dedicated to a number of questions and issues on the Budget, which eventually passed on a majority vote, with only one vote against it.
The ninth warrant article described, in detail, a $208.6 million Town Budget for the upcoming year, which detailed a number of projects within, including a renovation to the Heath School, individual town Departments' budgets, and some traffic calming and bicycle access improvement items.
Marty Rosenthal, Town Meeting Member (TMM) of Precinct 9 had an amendment to set aside $12,000 for speed bumps in Stedman Street, after a Transportation Department's traffic calming initiative.
Said Rosenthal, "The fact of the matter is, the people on Stedman Street were not happy, they're still not happy."
Betsy DeWitt summarized the Selectmen's position on the amendment, "there is a long list of other projects for traffic calming. The Board of Selectmen chose not to support this amendment, because our opinion is that Stedman street is calm, while there are other streets in town that have not received calming yet. Therefore, the Board felt it is not appropriate to come in and basically earmark money for a project when other people who have legitimate projects may be unable to see those projects completed. "
Todd Kirrane, Adminstrator for the Transportation Board added that Stedman Street is scheduled to be evaluated later in the year, to see whether the traffic calming efforts have been successful. The amendment is worded such that the Transportation Board has to approve speed bumps before they will be installed.
TMM Kevin Lang, of Pct. 9 commented, "It will protect our children. I can think of very few things more important."
The $12,000 amendment was approved by a majority vote.
While on the subject of Department of Public Works improvements, the question of bicycle access improvements was addressed.
"If we're going to continue to support improvements for bicycles and spend public money on it, we also need to see substantial improvement in behavior of bicyclists as a group. If we want to make bicycling an important part of transportation mix--and I think we should--if bicyclists want to play with the big people, they need to act like it." Don Margolis, Pct 7 TMM.
A handful of comments echoed that sentiment, some even saying that Bicyclists are breaking more laws than drivers. Some commenters encouraged education of bikers about road rules, and signage for those who do want to ride.
"I think most cyclists do try to do the right thing, I'd encourage [people speaking against bicycle access improvements] to ride a mile in my bike shoes." Brian Freeman TMM for Pct. 8 added, "if I had a nickel for every vehicle I saw parked in a bicycle lane, I'd be able to retire at this point. Two wrongs certainly don't make a right."
Biking proved to be a thorny issue, with comments on both sides. The issue sounds like a battle between two sides, which the Transportation Board is working to quell.
Transportation Board member Josh Safer noted, "This entire conversation highlights need for these improvements... The entire agenda for these sorts of conflicts in an organized way."
Also presented with the budget is an expansion to the Heath School which will cost $8.5 million, and add more classrooms to accomodate the new students. Student population has increased by over 750 students since 2006, and projections estimate that it will increase by 416 students in 2015.
Superintendent Bill Lupini commented, "we've seen dramatic increases in our enrollment over the last number of years, particularly in 2004."
The building design presented at the Town Meeting includes a number of green additions, and attempted to preserve the achitectural appearance of the existing Heath school.
Funding for the School addition was approved in a 184-2 vote.
Warrant articles six covered several tax exemptions for the elderly, surviving spouses, veterans and the blind. Selectmen Jesse Mermell noted that these exemptions have been renewed annually for the last 25 years--now 26 years, as it was unanimously approved last night.
Said Mermell, "the cost to town is relatively minimal, about $55,000 a year, but this allows us to make living in Brookline just a bit easier for some of our most vulnerable residents"
Article seven would change the tax exemption guidelines to allow more people to take advantage of Elderly Tax Exemptions by lowering the age of eligibilty to 65 instead of 70. Advisory Committee member, Michael Traister, TMM Pct 10, noted that these guidelines are similar to those in surrounding towns. The article was voted favorably by a unanimous body.
Collective Bargaining allows the Town and the various unions which represent Town workers to negotiate their contracts and arrive at fair agreements for both sides. There are five contracts incorporated into the Second Warrant Article, of which Town Meeting approved two unanimously. The remaining three are still to be negotiated.
One of the contracts hinted at extra Summer hours for one of the Library branches. TMM Harry Kriegman, Pct. 14 asked about a $7/hr incentive, saying it "seemed excessive." Sandra DeBow, Human Resources Director for the town, explained that this represents between half and a third of Library staff's regular pay, and provides incentive for staff to volunteer to work on Sunday, when the library would otherwise be closed.
Compensating Balance Agreements
Article three allows the Town to enter agreements with banks for lower interest rates in exchange for keeping a certain balance in that account. Selectman Dick Benka said the Town Treasurer entered into one of these arrangements, which has been a beneficial arrangement. This article, passed unanimously, allows the Treasurer to enter into further Compensating Balance Agreements.
Measurer of Wood and Bark
The first Warrant Article feels like it has traveled through time to make it here today, but Measurers of Wood and Bark are appointed each year to this day.
"It's always presented as an anachronism, and one that reminds us of our Colonial past." Stanley Spiegel, Precinct 2 TMM, and Advisory Committee member noted, "This is not optional. this Article in fact is mandatory."
Massachusetts General Laws, in fact state that every town must appoint a measurer of Wood and Bark. DeWitt commented that in Colonial days, the Wood and Bark Measurers may have effectively been the Consumer Protection group.
DeWitt explained, "If you ever have questions about a cord of wood, or some other item if you buy something in the store and you're not sure that they've given you fair weight, these are the people who would come and check it for you."
The fourth warrant article covered special appropriations and unspent balances from the year before. Included in that was a $3 million bond authorization which was rescinded by unanimous vote. The bond was set for corrective action at the Newton Street landfill, Selectman Betsy DeWitt explained that a favorable bidding climate and $1 million from the State meant that not all of the money was used. The result of this work is Skyline Park.
Prior Year Bills and 2011 Budget Adjustments
Warrant articles Five and Eight, dealt with bills or adjustments related to last years financial activity in the town. The town had nothing for either warrant, and a no action vote was passed unanimously.