Select Board Gets Briefed by Holliston’s State Legislators
On Monday, March 20, 2023, (the day Spring arrived in Holliston) Select Board Chair Ben Sparrell called the meeting to order at 7:01pm. Without further ado, Mr. Sparrell launched right into the first order of business.
Legislative Update – Senate President Spilka and Representative James Arena-DeRosa
In the image above, Senate President Karen Spilka (bottom right) and State Rep James Arena-DeRosa met with the Select Board and members from the Finance and School Committees to provide an overview of FY 23 legislative accomplishments / funding that benefits our town and a look ahead at FY 24 State support for Holliston.
Senator Spilka began her remarks by expressing condolences to the families of the two young people, Joshua Taylor of Holliston and his female passenger from CT, killed in Saturday night’s car crash on Highland Street.
Several members of the community were able to join / participate in the meeting using Zoom. The Senator is very confident that the existing guidelines for use of remote participation for public meetings will be continued before the current extension expires on March 31, 2023.
Spilka was quick to point out that the Governor’s proposed FY24 budget is just that a proposal. She does not see State funding to municipalities going below what is in the initial proposal. State revenue is projected to increase by 1.6% – not quite as much as last year. Holliston received several million dollars in State funds last year and could receive in FY 24.
All together, Senator Spilka has directed over $1 million for infrastructure improvements in Holliston. She is helping to expedite the repair of the Woodland St bridge. She enumerated about $425,000 worth of earmarks / bond funds brought to Holliston through her actions this past year.
The Senator reviewed the State’s $4 billion ARPA grant. The large sum of money has been apportioned by legislative action into several areas. Various State agencies are developing procedures for municipalities to access funds from the allocated funds. Spilka offered her staff, Karen Adelman-Foster was at Monday’s meeting, to help direct the Town leaders to the right agencies to request State ARPA funds. There was some discussion about if, and how much, ARPA funds are available directly from the State. It appears that the legislative “buckets” hold virtually all of the $4 billion. There might be some unexpended funds as the program deadline arrives in 2024.
A $3.6 million Economic Development bill passed late last year. The Senator said, “there is a lot of grant money available to all communities in the Commonwealth.
The Senate President is excited about the upcoming legislative season and hopes that permanent tax relief will be passed this year. Funding for school lunches is in the proposed budget.
Throughout her presentation, the Senate President praised the Town’s leaders and Town Administrator for articulating the Town’s needed support from the State.
Representative Arena-DeRosa, after about 2 months in the job, thanked Senator Spilka for her partnership and for representing Holliston so well following Carolyn Dykema’s departure. Arena-DeRosa emphasized that he is always accessible to all his constituents. He credited Holliston School leaders with alerting him to an unfunded mandate approved by Governor Baker that requires an increase of 14% in Special Education funding. He is working with his colleagues to make sure the needed funds are in the FY 24 State budget.
The members of the Select Board each thanked our State Legislators for their time and the very evident support they provide to the citizens of Holliston. Also, the Board made a plea for the continuation of remote participation for public meetings, citing that several recent meetings have drawn a large remote audience that couldn’t fit in a Town facility.
Finance Committee Chair Dr. Ken Szajda added his voice to the request to make remote participation a permanent part of the Open Meeting Law. He went so far as to suggest that the entire Open Meeting Law be updated. He questioned the need for written minutes when Zoom recordings now provide a word-for-word historical record.
School Committee Chair Dr. Catherine Savard, thanked the Senator and Representative for their support and added her vote for continuing remote participation so more can be involved in our democracy.
School Committee member Cynthia Listewnik praised the State plan to continue school lunches for all and was pleased to hear that funding for Special Education would be in the budget discussion. She too supports the continuation of remote participation.
Superintendent of Schools Dr. Susan Kustka thanked the Senator for being an strong advocate for social / emotional learning and mental health.
Once again, the Board thanked our representatives for their hard work and continuing support for Holliston.
Public Hearing – Cable Renewal License Proceeding (MGL 166A, s. 1) Comcast Communications Management, LLC
The Public Hearing was opened at 8:05pm.
Barry Sims (red vest), spoke on behalf of the Cable Advisory Committee. They worked with consultation from Attorney Bill August (above right) to hammer out a 10-year license renewal between the Town and Comcast. Atty August described this as a “very strong contract” that was developed by the municipality – not the vendor. Comcast was described as a “good partner” throughout the negotiations.
The big news might be that Comcast will upgrade all three channels – one to high definition! Comcast will continue to offer a Senior Discount for selected plan(s).
The Board thanked the committee and Mr. August for their great work to arrive at this contract.
No members of the public spoke during the hearing.
The Hearing was closed at 8:23pm.
The Board voted unanimously to approve the motions put forward by the Committee as shown below. The new license goes into effect on November 1, 2023.
May 2023 Annual Town Meeting Warrant Closed at 4pm on March 20, 2023
- The first act of Town Meeting business was for the Board to officially close the Warrant. As of 4:00pm on Monday, no citizen petitions had been presented. Town Administrator Ahern is tracking 32 Article that could be included in the May Town Meeting Warrant. They are shown below.
- Discussion of Select Board’s Capital Memo to Working Group, including FinCom and School Committee
Mr. Cronin led the discussion regarding the Working Group’s current draft of a proposed borrowing plan to cover the many known and unknown capital projects the Town will address in the coming years / decades.
Again, very small image containing very large numbers. The goal of the plan is to smooth out the borrowing curve to avoid spikes / dips and not borrow project by project. The Board could use this exhibit (in larger print) to explain requested borrowing authorization votes at upcoming Town Meetings. The Board provided feedback to Mr. Cronin and discussions will be ongoing.
FY2024 Budget Deliberation – Select Board Recommendation
- Vote anticipated on Select Board Recommended changes to the FY2024 Town Administrator Recommended Budget FY 2024 Town Administrator Recommended Budget
Below is the big picture of the Town Administrator’s recommended balanced budget.
Below are the changes to the TA’s Recommended Budget that were approved by the Select Board. Not included in this exhibit is a reduction in the Vehicle Fuel budget reflecting recent petroleum price declines.
Mr. Ahern is confident that the approved changes will be easily balanced for the final proposed budget.
One of the changes seen above is the splitting of the new Assistant Fire Chief / EMS Director salary. Ultimately the new position will have leadership responsibilities for Fire and EMS. Initially, Mr. Ahern, Chief Cassidy, ATA / HR Director Kathleen Buckley and the MRI firm that proposed the new position fully support the 3-year work plan below that focuses the new Asst Chief in the most critical areas in the first year of work. Achieving ALS certification for Holliston’s EMS is the new hire’s top priority. Years two and three see the addition of responsibilities for fire operations.
Cut off in the image below is “Year 3 (FY 26) – Reflected within Goals/Objectives of Annual Performance Review”
- Mrs. Hein: Read a statement of condolences for the two lives lost on Saturday night. Counseling is available for those in the community. Special thoughts go to the first responders who dealt with the tragedy. It is a tragedy for the entire population.
- Mr. Cronin:
- Added his condolences to the families / friends of the deceased.
- The Council on Aging is reviewing the data from the recent Senior Survey to identify next steps / actions.
- First up is rebranding the senior center for greater service to Holliston’s 5,000 seniors.
- Four Habitat for Humanity critical home repairs projects to improve livability and safety in senior’s dwellings have been funded by ARPA. Additional funds are available, contact the Sr. Ctr. to learn more about the program (508.429.0622).
- Began conversations related to a strategic climate plan with Sustainability Coordinator and an area expert in the field
- Met with a representative from consulting firm BerryDunn related to Envisioning Future Holliston.
- Met, along with John Drohan EDC Chair, with two more local businesses. Boston Honey Co is next on the list to meet.
- Mr. Sparrell: Voiced his great sorrow at the passing of two young lives.
- Public: None
Warrants: The Board approved the weekly warrant totaling -> $925,017.21
Comments of the Town Administrator:
- Work on plans for the Woodland Street bridge continue. Senator Spilka has been very helpful.
- The newly reconstituted AgCom will meet on March 27, 2023.
- The Asst Town Administrator Buckley will sit in for Mr. Ahern for the April 3, 2023, SB meeting. Finance Director Chris Heymanns will attend the April 4, 2023, FinCom meeting.
Board Business: None
Other Business: None
The meeting was adjourned at 9:46pm.
Sincere appreciation for the leadership of the Town Administrator and the cooperation of the Fire Chief in developing the Assistant Fire Chief Job Description with the responsibilities of second in command of Fire and managing all aspects of the EMS program, ensuring BLS level service is provided to move toward a future ALS model.
The money that will be spent on three of the auxiliary fire “hold no hose positions” weekly would be better spent as it could pay for about six paramedic weekly 12 hour shifts.
As there are holes in EMS coverage now the administration should hire paramedics now,
any resident of Holliston could need that service today for their infant, teenager or ill family member.
There is a benefit to having access to written minutes of open public meetings, in that one can quickly search for the content and comments of a meeting. In a way that is not possible with an audio or video recording. I have reservations about losing that level of transparency into how boards and committees deliberate and vote.