Select Board Meeting Part 2: The Rest of the Business

While the photo above shows the entire Board present, the meeting was reconvened by Vice Chair Cronin in Mr. Ahronian’s absence. There was some speculation that the Chair would arrive late with frosting from the swearing in celebration on his face – looks clean in this picture.

Board member Tina Hein shared her insights from visiting the Thistle Dew Farm property along with 10 others who heeded the invitation. Not only is the farm a piece of Holliston’s agricultural heritage, it is 28 acres of green space that will positively impact our climate resilience.

Vice Chair Cronin highlighted the swearing in ceremony for four Holliston Police officers. Holliston was recently ranked the 8th safest community in MA according to a poll published in a local newspaper.

Town Administrator, Jeff Ritter, reported that an anonymous donor had offered $100,000 towards the Thistle Dew Fair acquisition – more details when they become available. The Holliston Veterans community will observe Veterans Day on Monday, November 11th with a parade, remarks at Town Hall, followed by a luncheon.

Aislinn Weaver of Woodland Street had a public comment regarding the very successful Trunk or Treat that was held this past Saturday evening at the Miller School parking area. She reported that the number of attendees and the number of ‘trunks’ this year exceeded previous years – this despite the EEE threat. She hopes that the Board will keep this success in mind in the future.

Other Board business included approving:

  • the weekly warrant (bills) that totaled $1,497,598.11;
  • meeting minutes from three previous executive sessions and three recent public meetings
  • to submit a grant application for building a walkway and crosswalk that connects the Rail Trail to the Woodland St educational complex

The Board is seeking citizen input regarding the Animal Control Operations Plan. Those with input should submit those thoughts to Jeff Ritter.

The bulk of the meeting’s time was spent reviewing the motions related to each of the 20 articles on the Special Town Meeting warrant.

Ben Sparrell, a member of the Finance Committee provided input regarding where funds would be drawn from if approved. He also advocated that the Town own any data that is derived from any studies approved. Also, Town Counsel, Kate Feodoroff, provided input about appropriate wording and exhibits for use at next week’s Town Meeting

After thorough discussion, the Board approved the wording of the motions.

All registered voters are eligible to vote at the Special Town Meeting. This is one of the opportunities we have to have our voice be heard / counted.

Chris Cain

4 Comments

  1. Daniel Alfred on October 23, 2019 at 8:46 am

    While not fully discussed in this article, it did allude to certain studies that are included in the Warrant that the Finance Committee voted against (and where the funds could come from should Town Meeting decide to fund the projects). If you watch the Select Board meeting, there was much greater discussion. I would like to add a Fincom member’s perspective to this. Quick disclaimer, my views are my own and do not represent the committee’s although the votes on the studies were 6-1 for unfavorable (oppose) action, of which I was one of the six. On October 8th, the Fincom voted for unfavorable action on the following warrant articles: ARTICLE 8: WATER ASSET MANAGEMENT PLAN UPDATE; ARTICLE 10: DPW FACILITY FEASIBILITY STUDY; and ARTICLE 11: SIDEWALK PRIORITIZATION PLAN. The Select Board are in-favor of all of them. I did not vote against these study articles because I do not believe that the issues and projects to be studied are not important. Rather, I voted against them because the town simply does not have the money or tax payer buy-in to pay for all of the work simultaneously (if at all) that they will likely recommend. Holliston residents will see an extraordinary amount of capital spending being proposed over the next several years. People have recognized that there is a significant amount of debt that will be paid off from prior debt exclusion overrides. This means that as the debt is retired, tax bills will decline. There are some that believe we can and should just automatically go back to the tax payers and request debt funding for projects in at least a similar amount as is rolling off (though it is certainly going to be somewhat more). However, the proposals currently being discussed would cost far in excess of the amounts rolling off and even in excess of what I believe the tax payers would be willing to bear.

    My position, and what I based my votes on, is that the Select Board needs to do a better job prioritizing what they feel are the Holliston’s needs while working in conjunction with the other constituencies and boards in town. At the Fincom meeting on October 8th, I suggested to representatives from the Select Board that they should form a town-wide asset prioritization committee to come up with a plan. We do not need studies to do this. While costs are very important data points for these decisions, this proposed committee could generate rough ballpark ideas of cost to use in their work. For example, Medway just completed a new DPW facility for ~$15 million. While Holliston’s might be slightly more or less, this seems like a good number to with which to at least start. Other potential projects include a new High School (many of these have been built recently that can be used to estimate costs), new or refurbished Library (same argument), increased water main replacement, sidewalks, etc.

    Regarding the Waste Asset Management Plan Update (water main replacement study), we just had a study done 7 years ago. So, before spending more money on a new one, I would like to know why the old one is all of a sudden invalid just because the Select Board wants to accelerate spending? Regardless, we can reasonably assume that spending won’t go down materially just because we are doing three miles a year not one. If one mile of water main costs $1 million now, its really not hard to say that a good guestimate for three miles is about $3 million. And if the water rate payers are paying $300 a year to fund one mile, it’s a pretty solid further estimate that this will go up to $900 a year (unless the Select Board decides to try and put it in your taxes, but either way it will cost $900 a year per rate payer). As for sidewalks, a quick Google search even gives you the ability to estimate sidewalk cost and, guess what? It’s not cheap. By my VERY rough estimates, it could be upwards of $250,000 a mile or more and I am sure that an asset prioritization committee could easily get a free per mile cost estimate for new sidewalks. I don’t think that anyone is saying that these are not important and worthwhile projects. We want to have clean and clear water. We want to be safe (and in many areas, we just want to be able to walk) while walking down the road. But when you add the costs of all of these projects up, it is simply an incredible amount of money. So, before we throw a whole bunch of money ($165,000 as proposed by Select Board) to “study” every project that we can think of, why don’t we come up with a plan for what we want to do first and then study those things now and not risk more stale studies and wasted tax payer dollars.

    Link to the Finance Committee Report: https://www.townofholliston.us/sites/hollistonma/files/uploads/fincom_report_for_october_2019_tm-1.pdf

  2. Mary Greendale on October 24, 2019 at 8:56 am

    Regarding the studies, how do you set priorities for projects without the studies in-hand to tell you want needs to be done and how much it will cost? The studies are critical in my view. We will have to compromise on what we do. We cannot do it all – not all at once and maybe not at all in some case(s). But I want the information/data before being asked to set priorities.

  3. Daniel Alfred on October 24, 2019 at 11:24 am

    As I stated in my previous comment, rough cost estimates are not that hard to make by doing a little free work (calling other towns, using the internet, etc). These estimates are certainly useful enough to start the conversation about prioritization. As far as the Water Asset Management Plan, as I said, we had one done 7 years ago. Before we throw another $75,000 at that, I’d like to know how a plan for assets that don’t move needs to be updated after just 7 years. I get that the Selectmen want to accelerate the replacement of the pipes, but common sense would tell you that you can do this using the old plan but just do 3 miles a year as opposed to 1. When we asked for details, we were not really provided with any concrete answers. We also have a lot of collective knowledge within Holliston; people who work in industry for example. Before throwing $165,000 at studies that we know we won’t do the work suggested for all of them, it seems only prudent to use our free resources first, prioritize based on a set of intelligent assumptions, and then study the issues that the committee and town believe are most important and affordable. Personally, I feel that right now there is this perception amongst many in town that we have a lot of extra money floating around. I am not sure where this perception came from, but it is simply inaccurate. This is especially true considering all the future spending that we are looking at doing. Let’s do this right and be smart with the hard earned tax payer dollars.

  4. Liz Theiler on October 31, 2019 at 5:22 pm

    Good to see Daniel Alfred as a member of the finance committee understanding that Holliston should look at less expensive methods of obtaining information.
    Yes, the town should be careful spending hard earned taxpayer money. Also time to consider those on a limited income or retired.

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