May 2022 Town Meeting – Part 2: Behind the Vote Tallies
The earlier recap of Holliston’s May Town Meeting https://hollistonreporter.com/2022/05/town-meeting-takes-care-of-all-business-in-one-night/ provided the decisions made by the voters at the Meeting. Here is some “color commentary” to provide a sense of the discussions that led to some of the decisions.
Following moderator Mayer’s call to order, welcome, and request for a moment of silence for Ray Moloney, the meeting got down to business. There was a general wonder if the entire Warrant could be completed on one night. Well over the required 100 voters attended the meeting thanks, in part to onsite childcare provided by “Students Taking Action,” the student members of the Holliston Community Action Fund.
Those attending approved the participation of approximately twenty-five out-of-town residents who are Department Heads in Holliston. Next up was the acceptance of the FY 2021 Annual Report now posted on the Town’s website. The 153-page document can be found online FY 2021 Annual Town Report, or printed copies at several Town buildings.
Article 1 of each Town Meeting Warrant is a report from the Select Board. Chair Tina Hein’s message was, “Holliston is a good town with good people.” She thanked many in Town and beyond for their efforts to keep Holliston growing. Hein previewed the Select Board’s position on the FY 23 Operating budget (more later). Mrs. Hein ended by asking residents to consider volunteering to serve Holliston on elected or appointed Boards / Committees, directing those interested to the Town’s Talent database ->https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLScURmyFBaqsyb3RYZb_nm8S2vXB2DWdhYw8jC1tjiBI3Aw66g/viewform
Article 2 is the report of the Finance Committee. Chair Ken Szajda highlighted the Town’s recent bond rating upgrade to AAA “Stable”. The rating allowed the Town to save over $100,000 in interest on the bonds just acquired to finance the new water treatment plant at well 5. Maintaining the excellent rating was a theme during the FinCom report and discussion on the FY 23 Operating budget.
Articles 3 – 10 all dealt with cannabis industry – segregating cannabis review the Town receives / expends; and allowing delivery of cannabis products into / and out of Holliston. With the passage of Articles 7 and 8, the citizen petitioner moved to indefinitely postpone Articles 9 and 10.
Articles 11 – 26 were handled by voice votes on the Consent Agenda (Articles 11,12, 13, 14, 15, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, and 26) or as individual items.
Article 27, the FY 23 Omnibus budget drew the greatest discussion. The discussion was aided in large part by the “new look” of the department budgets located on page 46 of the Warrant (below). Note the three columns highlighted in yellow. The Town Administrator’s recommended budget is Level 2, the Select Board’s recommended budget is Level 3, and the FinCom’s recommended budget is Level 4.
Moderator Mayer moved through each department’s budget. Town Meeting voted on each Department’s budget as it was presented. When the Police Department’s budget was presented, Select Board Chair Hein proposed an amendment to the budget that would fund the addition of a 26th police officer. The Board’s position supported the Police Department’s third annual request to add to staff as the work of policing gets more complicated, as a priority for public safety. The Select Board proposed paying for the cost of the new officer by reducing the amount of money moved to the Capital Expenditure Fund (CapEx) in May – with a plan to add more to CapEx at the October Town Meeting.
HPD Chief Stone presented the rationale for increase in staff, citing the increasing complexity of calls and volume of calls for service.
Members of the FinCom and citizens spoke to the amendment’s pros and cons. FinCom members pointed to the financial policy adherence that helped gain our AAA rating. Some saw the urgency for adding an officer to manage the Department’s expanding workload. FinCom Chair Szajda committed that the FinCom would “work with Chief Stone and the Select Board to add the 26th officer in the near future.” The question became, not unlike managing family budgets, should funds be put into checking for current expenses, or stashed in savings for use later?
The voice vote on the amendment was inconclusive so Moderator Mayer called for a Hand vote. 65 voted in favor, 80 opposed – the amendment was defeated. The remainder of the Departmental budgets were approved as presented.
Articles 27 – 36 passed by Voice vote, including the acceptance of the interim report from the Comprehensive Long-Range Planning Committee (established at the May 2021 Town Meeting). The committee, now more melodically named, “Envisioning Future Holliston” has gathered some data from citizens and plans to collect additional information in an upcoming second survey. The presenters noted that Holliston’s Council on Aging has received grant funding to conduct a survey focused on Holliston’s age 55 + population. Seniors will be asked to complete both surveys to make sure elder services meet Holliston’s needs.
When “ARTICLE 37. CHANGE TO ACCESSORY BUILDINGS AND STRUCTURES (V-A); LOCATION OF DISTRICTS (II-B); DEFINITIONS (I-E) – SPONSORED BY: Planning Board To see if the Town will vote to amend the Zoning By-Laws at Sections I-E, II-B Location of Districts, and V-A Accessory Buildings and Structures to update several definitions and performance standards and to update zoning map interpretation standards,” came up several questions were raised. The number of such buildings and practicality of limiting the location came up. A Voice vote was inconclusive for the 2/3 majority needed to pass; a Hand vote was called. The vote tally was 30 in favor; 50 opposed. Article 37 was defeated.
Articles 38 – 40 were presented and passed by Voice vote.
Article 41, a Citizen’s Petition to expand the size of the Select Board from 3 – 5 members was ruled Out-of-Order by Moderator Mayer. Mr. Mayer shared Town Counsel’s opinion and his own research on the propriety of having Town Meeting vote on a By-law change to accomplish this change. Changing the size of the Select Board requires a Special Act of the State legislature. Mr. Mayer encouraged the petitioner and the Governance Committee to follow this path for a future discussion / decision.
Once again, Moderator Mayer conducted an efficient and effective meeting maintaining respectful civil discourse throughout. When the meeting adjourned well ahead of the 11:00pm curfew, it was amazing how much had been accomplished in a relatively short time.
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One item that unfortunately did not get as much recognition at Town Meeting as it likely deserves was the funding of the creation of a Grounds division within the DPW. As important as what this division will mean to the maintenance of our fields and parks (and it will, over time, dramatically increase the look and usability of these assets) was the process through which this initiative went to become reality and eventually the top priority of the Select Board. The process should be a case study in how local government can efficiently and effectively effectuate a significant change to improve the services for its residents.
The creation of the Ground division started last summer with informal dialogue amongst town employees and elected officials with a formalized working group formed by the end of the summer. This group worked diligently over the ensuing months to create a detailed plan of work needs and to reach an MOU with all interested parties in work prioritization as well as resource needs. The group was led by our TA, Travis Ahern (also his initials) and was comprised of representatives from boards and departments all across town including John Cronin from the Select Board with Sean Reese from DPW; Shaw Lively and Mark Frank from Parks; and Cynthia Listewnik from the School Committee with Susan Kustka and Keith Buday from School Admin.
The working group also consulted with the Finance Committee liaisons (Vin Murphy, Mark Whittaker, and myself) throughout the entire process so that we could ask questions, bring up any concerns, and generally have a better understanding of the potential ask, well in advance of any official ask. Prior initiatives landed on the FinCom’s desk at the last minute and made it challenging if questions arose that late in the budget cycle. The entirety of this new process was efficient and should be used as a guide for future significant Town initiatives. This does not mean that there will always be the funds to support projects done like this, but it certainly will make it easier to understand what is being requested and it will ensure that the only hold up is prioritization and funding.
Personally, I think the Town’s approach and response to the mental health crisis would benefit from a similar approach. There have been numerous asks for mental health resources from different departments in town but there has not been an overarching plan of attack. A new working group of impacted town departments could be created to work on a town wide plan to address mental health and present a unified request for any funding needs. It’s been shown that this can be done with the Grounds division. I personally think it could be used well to tackle another important issue facing the town.
Congrats to all on a spirited and efficient May, 2022 Town Meeting!
Shame on the Finance Committee for not being flexible enough to help find funding for a 26th police officer – repeatedly requested – in a $67 million budget. While last-minute changes are always challenging, my take on the response by the FinCom was more to protect their “image” and too bad about public safety.
Mr Malone, I’m sorry that that is your impression of the Finance Committee’s recommendation to Town Meeting. The FinCom does not make recommendations in a vacuum. We weigh every request within the context of the financial stability of the town. There are many long term projects in our future, projects which the Select Board has said are a priority. The justification for our recommendation, along with the information presented by the Select Board, were given to Town Meeting. Ultimately the decision, as it always is, was made by the residents attending Town Meeting. If the FinCom has any “image” to “protect” it is that its members are, as required by Holliston bylaws, completely independent. We are elected not appointed. We are not allowed to serve on any town boards/committees/commissions to ensure our impartiality in our decision making. I am a member of the Finance Committee but I am speaking for myself.