During the , the discussion of budget was put off because of the late hour. The plan was to pick it up again in a special meeting scheduled for last night. Budget took up the bulk of the evening meeting with newly re-elected Selectmen Dick Benka and Nancy Daly. The Board also re-elected Nancy DeWitt as the Board Chair.
The budget for Fiscal Year '12 was the focus of the discussion. There were some remaining items which the Advisory Committee had voted the night before. What was presented last night contained four differences from the previous version: School Budget, Group Health, Planning and Community developmentand Bike Access improvements.
"Those four changes all net out to be zero." noted Assistant Town Administrator Sean Cronin.
In order to balance the School budget, some of the money was taken from the Group Health budget and placed back into the School's. Combining that with the reduction of 10 full-time employees, the proposed School budget is now over $75 million. Cronin noted in a memo that this is $3.3 million more than the 2010 budget.
The reduction in Group Health was recommended because State Aid figures have not yet come in, and the recent surge in oil prices has not yet been calculated and factored in to the budget. When the numbers come back, an amendment can include them in the budget.
In the area of Planning and Community Development is the role of a Commercial Areas Coordinator position. The role acts like a liason for commercial businesses as they move into and work in Brookline. Prior to the Advisory Committee's meeting, the position was only going to be funded through Dec 31, and not into next year.
“I'm very happy to see the Advisory Committee has changed its position on [the Commercial Areas Coordinator] job. It is very hard to do business in Brookline. People get charged Newbury Street rents, but it’s not Newbury Street. It’s an uphill battle. I’ve heard that this position and this department have served that well," said Selectman Daly
Some money was taken out of the Capital Improvements Projects $50,000 request for bicycle access improvements, and the $1960 figure was put back into sidewalk repair funding. $30,000 was taken from the $660,000 requested for the Billy Ward playground and put into tree replacement and removal.
The Budget is listed as a Warrant Article for the May 24 Town Meeting, when it will be voted on. The Board of Selectmen unanimously voted "favorable action" on the Budget, showing their support for the plan presented.
Another of the Warrant Articles before the Board tonight was the Traffic Calming Procedures proposed by Article 19. According to petitioner Hugh Mattison, Town Meeting Member and resident of 209 Pond Avenue, the Transportation Board has been proposing traffic calming initiatives without following the Design Review process put forth in their own Policy.
“Mattison’s complaint is a very small minority," said Sandman. He referred to the concept of "the tyranny of majority," which describes someone who feels actively oppressed by the majority rule of a group.
Sandman also indicated that the Neighborhood system the TB has been using instead has not only expedited the process, but allowed for a wider range of input.
Selectman Benka brought up the Appeals process, noting that it takes 20 signatures to appeal a decision like that of the TB, but it only requires 10 signatures to bring something to Town Meeting.
“I'm not convinced warrant article is the correct way to address a specific project, instead of through an appeal as laid out in bylaws," commented Benka.
When the Board put the question of favorable action to a vote, it passed despite one negative vote from Benka.
Michael Burstein, a Town Meeting Member, presented his warrant article on the use of robocalls during political campaigns. He referenced it becoming an issue after having twins, who were sometimes awoken by auto-dialers calling indiscriminately at night. On one occasion, he says he recieved four identical calls in one night.
For the Board, the issue was one of free speech. Political speech is protected under the First Amendment, and this measure could be seen as an attempt to muzzle that First Amendment right.
Selectman Ken Goldstein noted, "I hate robocalls, but it’s political free speech. I'm not inclined to support regulation. It’s the price that we pay, getting annoying phone calls."
Selectman Jesse Mermell explained that there are other ways robocalling can be used. Robocalls could be placed to a political candidate's supporters informing them of an event, for example. She also noted that it doesn't seem all that different from a candidate calling a number of houses and using the same script over and over.
"I don’t see how using technology makes it unacceptable. I think candidate should make the decision at their own peril.” Mermell added, "It is a personal objection, it allows candidates to be lazy."
She went on to call robo-calling "a substitute for real campaigning."
No action was taken on this Warrant Article, with the board split three to two: Both DeWitt and Benka voted against the "no action" determination.
The Board did approve, unanimously, a minor tweak to Article 7, an article designed to adjust the Elderly Tax Exemption guidelines. The word "computation" was replaced with "determination" to fall more in line with State Statues.
A minor tweak was added to the . In order to add a useful piece of information to the existing Article, the Board had to vote to waive notification time for this addition. As Town Meeting is only a couple of weeks away, allowing for the standard time for notifications would delay this Warrant Article to beyond Town Meeting.
The Board closed with a quick discussion of the Home Rule legislation, Warrant Article 21, to remove Brookline from the Norfolk County government. The article had been presented at a previous Selectman's meeting, but Selectman Goldstein spent eight iterations of the document working on the wording of the piece.
The motivation behind the article is that, according to Daly, Brookline derives only a small amount of benefit and pays a disproportionate amount to the upkeep of the Norfolk County government. Neighboring Newton, part of Middlesex county, does not pay county assessments.
Daly says the resolution is unlikely to pass at the State level. She added that it could act as a message to the State Legislature and to other communities that something does need to be addressed.
DeWitt added "Collaboration with other municipalities is absolutely critical."
The Board voted Favorable Action, 4-1, with only Selectman Mermell voting against the resolution.
"This is not the appropriate way to address the issues," Mermell noted, I'm not voting for this reolution not on merit, but on the tactic."