Select Board Continues Budget Discussions
The Holliston Select Board met on Monday, February 27, 2023. Chair Ben Sparrell convened the meeting at 7:00pm to attend to a full agenda.
Governance Committee Update / Report
Below left, Governance Committee Chair Sam Tyler and GC Member Hayley Fetrow (to Sam’s right) were supported by GC Member Len Engel who joined via Zoom to present the Committee’s report. A three-page summary and a detailed thirteen-page report were produced by the Committee. The reports can be viewed here -> Governance Committee 3-page and 13-page report links The longer report contains links to twenty-five reference documents.
The Select Board, following up on a discussion begun in November 2022, noted the extensive research done by the GC in the past 2.5 years and thanked the members for their diligence. Each member of the Board expressed disappointment that the Committee’s work has not yielded the desired improvement in Holliston’s governance. The discussion continued with exploration of next steps. Mr. Tyler lobbied for the existing Committee to continue its work through June of this year to rework recommendations for by-laws review. Mr. Ahern belongs to the MA Municipal Management Association (MMMA), a group that can provide guidance on developing by-laws and charters.
Ultimately, the Board voted unanimously to accept the report, disband the current Governance Committee effective immediately, and authorize Mr. Ahern to pursue next steps after consulting with the MMMA.
The FY2024 Water Rate Hearing was opened at 7:35pm for the purpose of setting the rates / fees for the coming fiscal year. Below, DPW Director Sean Reese (back to camera) and Deputy Director (Highway) Robert Walker (below left) were present to discuss the DPW related budgets.
Mr. Reese led off with the proposed FY 24 Water Department budget: $3,399,681. Director Reese pointed to the increase in costs related to chemicals and energy as the drivers of the budget increase. Reese also pointed out that since the new water filtration plant has gone, virtually no calls come in related to dirty water.
Mr. Reese and Town Administrator Ahern presented two rate / fee options for the Board to consider.
- 2.5% rate increase for all usage tiers; $75 / quarter infrastructure fee; and approximately $450,000 from water retained earnings to fill the shortfall.
- 8% rate increase for all usage tiers; $65 / quarter infrastructure fee; and no supplementation from the water retained earnings.
Following a thorough discussion, the Board voted unanimously for Option 1 above.
The Water Rate Hearing was closed at 8:10pm. Mr. Reese was asked about the planned water meter replacement project. Mr. Reese and Facilities Manager James Keast are still shopping for options and are close to releasing a Request for Proposals to find a vendor to work with.
FY2024 Budget Reviews:
- Snow & Ice (01423): $250,000 (0.0%)
- Motor Vehicle Fuels (01499): $185,000 (37%)
- DPW Highway & Grounds (01420): $1,746,281 (4.85%)
- FY2024 Economic Development Committee (EDC) (01182): $51,000
EDC Chair John Drohan (below) supported Mr. Ahern’s introduction to the EDC’s recent receipt of a presentation and report from the Metropolitan Area Planning Council (MAPC). The EDC will meet later this week to review the report and discuss what actions are most appropriate for Holliston. The presentation can be seen here -> https://drive.google.com/file/d/1hBuz9ZBdBZQ_x53GVlLZYTzqkPyUL0yY/view
- Budget to Revenue Summary – Mr. Ahern presented an update on the revenue projections for FY 24.
Mr. Ahern will produce his second pass at his recommended budget this Thursday, March 2nd.
- Mrs. Hein:
- Wants to coordinate SB capital budgeting with the School Committee at an upcoming meeting.
- Town Hall will be opening at 9:30 am on Tuesday (TODAY)
- Mr. Cronin:
- Updated the Board regarding a meeting he and John Drohan had with a cannabis grower in town regarding how the grower sees Holliston.
- Noted the passing of Sylvia Stickney
- The Capital Sub-group of FinCom and Select Board members, with input from Finance Director Chris Heymanns and Town Administrator Ahern are working on a strategy to fund sidewalk repairs, new sidewalks, and a DPW facility over a several year period. The plan would allow space to add in funding for school needs.
- Mr. Sparrell:
- He will hold his monthly “Select Chat” at the Sr. Ctr. this Friday (3/3) at 9:30am. All residents are welcome to this casual conversation.
- Public: None
Warrants: The Board unanimously approved the payment of the weekly warrant totaling -> $1,774,162.40
Comments from the Town Administrator:
- The Woodland Street bridge was closed following a MassDOT inspection which was confirmed by the Town’s engineer on the project. During this past week pre-emptive signage was installed. The new signs are intended to alert drivers sooner before / farther from the closure to the detour. Now it looks like the bridge (which was planned as the second part of the Factory Pond dam rebuilding) will now take place as soon as all approvals are received, with the dam renovation happening later.
- Blair Square project moving ahead on schedule.
- 9 Green St, construction bids are due March 22nd. Project completion in early June 2023.
- Town Meeting articles are due into the Town Administrator / Town Clerk by 4:00pm on Monday, March 20, 2023.
Quarterly Update on MRI Recommendations for Fire/EMS
- Policy development – The Board approved the draft benefits related policies developed by the Human Resources department for use with Holliston Firefighters / EMT’s.
- Auxiliary position development – Four auxiliary roles have been defined: Fire Life Safety Educator, Accountability Officer, Safety Officer, and Training Officer. These auxiliary roles are best defined as people who “do not pick up hoses.” At the same time, auxiliary roles allow those with institutional knowledge to continue to serve the town.
- Assistant Fire Chief / EMS Director position development – The Board reviewed a preliminary job description for this new full-time position.
- Warrant Article Regarding Age Limit (MGL c. 32) for Deputy Mark Dellicker. The Board voted unanimously to add an article to the May Town Meeting requesting an exemption to the mandatory age 65 retirement for members of the fire service. The exemption to the State statute would allow Deputy Dellicker to remain active up to age 70 (if he submits a written request to the Board for the exemption) and passes a physical examination annually.
Board Business: The Board took the following actions:
- Mr. Ahern advised the Board that an irrigation system will be installed as part of the Blair Square project to hydrate the green space and plantings at the Iraq / Afghanistan monument. The cost will be covered by public donations.
- Awarded the contract for Washington Street Sidewalk Reconstruction in the downtown area to PJ Albert, Jr. Inc. in the amount of $279,410.50.
- Accepted a $400 donation from Superette patrons to the Senior Center Nutrition Fund
- Approved the event permit for the Walker Wedding at Blair Square May 4, 2024, with reception in the Upper Town Hall.
- Approved the minutes of the January 17, 2023, meeting.
Other Business: None
The meeting adjourned at 9:49pm. Now we know a full agenda equals about a three-hour meeting. More budget / Town Meeting discussions next Monday.
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It is unfortunate that Ms. Hein (directly) and Mr. Cronin (by inference) chose to blame the failures of the Governance Committee on “The Finance Committee” rather than acknowledging that it was not the Finance Committee but majority votes (not even close) of Town Meeting that rejected the GC’s work. The fact is, Town Meeting felt that the articles presented by the GC to Town Meeting were not right for Holliston. “The Finance Committee” only officially opposed one of the GC’s 6 or 7 Articles. Individual members of the Finance Committee did speak to issues with other articles presented, as is their right as town meeting members, but it was made explicitly clear that they were not representing “The Finance Committee.” To blame the Fincom for the failures of the GC is not only an insult to those who attended Town Meeting (and non-fincom members who spoke against these articles) but it also fails to hold accountable a committee that simply did not do a good job taking feedback and doing the work that they were charged with doing. I hope that any future iteration of governance work, be it by a Charter Commission (elected by the voters) or a blue ribbon panel (appointed) will have different leadership and be more inclusive and open to listening to the feedback of the community rather than just charging forward with their own preconceived notions of what should be changed in our governance structure.
Note: while a member of the Finance Committee, these comments are my own and as such do not represent “The Finance Committee” or any other members.
In regards to the Deputy Chief age exemption warrant article, the MGL is in place for a reason. It is true there are several municipalities that file home-rule petitions during the legislative session that ask for a single individual to stay past 65. However, this mostly occurs for a few reasons: this person has a skill or knowledge that can’t be found elsewhere in the department, or in much smaller towns than Holliston, when there is truly no one to take their place if they retire at 65. The HFD has a VERY “deep bench” of talent in their fire officer ranks (4 Captains & 3 Lieutenants to be exact). Men who are experienced, certified and qualified to step into Deputy Chief’s shoes. What message does this send to them? What does it say about the much touted succession planning we’ve heard the Fire Chief mention multiple times? Were any of these qualified officers even asked if they wanted to be Deputy Chief? I cannot imagine they are happy about this. Also, similar home-rule petitions to extend fire or police chiefs have taken anywhere from 4 to 14 months from submission to get signed by the governor. That is a timeline I’m very uncomfortable with not having a Deputy Chief in town, as the Fire Chief himself is extremely busy both in and out of town.
At this juncture, I can’t vote for the age exemption warrant article without solid logic as to why one of the current officers could not be appointed to permanent Deputy or see an actual succession plan. I would voice the same to Rep.Arena-Derosa and Senator Spilka’s offices.
Four auxiliary positions in the Holliston Fire Department “do not pick up hoses”approved when we have more employees in our Fire Department than Wellesley which has 53 employees which serves a town of nearly 29,000 residents.
We need paramedics not employees in our fire department that do not pick up hoses.
I would like to thank the Governance committee for reviewing our town government structure and making recommendations. A review hadn’t been done in about twenty years. A review is healthy for any community, and your many hours of volunteer work are certainly appreciated by residents who have a better understanding of town government because of your work, and report. Residents do not always vote for recommendations from
committees, and boards. At the end of the day the voter decides what they want. But the Governance committee should be measured with getting information out for residents to think about for the future. Weather recommendations are accepted by the residents is secondary. The review was to help bring transparency on how things are done in town, and the process. The committee accomplished that! The recommendations by the committee may be passed by voters or not at a later date. Thank you to the Governance committee for many many hours of volunteer work. Thank you, Mark Ahronian