Selectmens Meeting Minutes - 3/30/2010
Selectmen’s Meeting
Fuller Meadow School
Nathan Media Center
March 30, 2010
7:30 p.m.

Call to Order:

Chair Nancy Jones called the meeting to order at 7:30 p.m.  

Present:  Mr. Prentakis, Ms. Lindberg, Mrs. Jones, Mr. Houten, and Ira Singer, Town Administrator.

Meeting Minutes:  Mrs. Jones entertained a motion for the approval of the meeting minutes of the last Board of Selectmen’s meeting.

Motion by Mr. Prentakis to accept the meeting minutes as presented.  Second by Mr. Houten.  All were in favor and the vote unanimously passed 4-0-0.

Administrator’s Report:

  • Mr. Singer recommended two warrants being circulated to members of the Board for signature.
  • Mr. Singer began discussion of the issues of flooding and water damage.  He introduced Mr. Bob LaBossiere, DPW Superintendent, who was present as well to give an update and answer any questions.  Mr. Singer discussed the flood damage reimbursement program, and noted that a have suffered significant damages, and he hopes those individuals are taking photos, contacting their insurance companies and being as proactive as they can to find assistance  There will be additional information forthcoming in the media and he encourages all to stay alert.  Mr. Singer additionally cautioned viewers at home not to take any chances – the waters are rising and the conditions could be very dangerous.  Any more than a few inches of water can turn a situation around.  He urged people watching on television not to go out unless they have to.  It’s taking too much of a chance.  Mr. LaBossiere then followed up by stating there are currently 2 river areas that are overflowing.  One is Village Road where a car was stuck in the water this afternoon.  East Village and Maple were inundated at one point, but have started to go down.
T, Houten asked about Thunder Bridge Road and what will happen for school tomorrow at Masconomet.  Mr.  LaBossiere replied that it really depends on how heavy the rain comes down tonight.  Mr. Prentakis added that if it’s dangerous enough, the police will be called in to assist with road closings.  Mr. Singer expressed his concern that if the water rises quickly, it could only take an hour or less before a road is impassible.
  • Mr. Singer referred to a packet from the General Manager of the Crown Plaza.  He encouraged members of the Board to review it.  Mr. Prentakis commented that he is still looking for assurances that if there is a change in management of the hotel, we need to know about it, and know that they will adhere to the existing license conditions for the water park.  Mr. Singer acknowledged Mr. Prentakis’ prior request for this, and stated he will follow up with the owners of Sage.  Mr. Prentakis did make this requirement clear as part of continuing compliance and Mr. Singer will tend to the matter.
  • Mr. Singer mentioned a request for a Keno to go license application.  The Board basically needs to take action tonight. The letter was dated the 11th, received the 17th and the Board has 21 days to provide a written response.  Fast Freddy’s. 265 S. Main Street is the applicant.  Mr. Singer reminded the Board that this entity had previously been denied a beer and wine license, which was upheld in court.
  • Mr. Singer referred to the Planning Board’s next meeting, scheduled for April 14, 2010 and the Public Hearing for 3 zoning amendments.  Ms. Lindberg responded that it is the Board’s regular meeting and they will have to hear petitions for any items on the warrant, as well as discuss the proposed adult entertainment zone.  Mr. Singer stated that although the warrant will have gone to print by then, the Board is still within an appropriate time frame to meet the requirements to make a recommendation at Town Meeting on May 11.
  • Mr. Singer was pleased to inform members of the Board that General Contractor bids for the New Howe Manning School were opened on 3/26/10 and it appears the lowest certified bidder has come in at a savings of $6M under the last two cost estimates of the OPM and architect.  He explained that bids were received by 7 prequalified general contractors and CTA Construction Firm, a firm now completing the construction of Beverly High School, was the low bidder.  Mr. Singer noted that the bid still needs to be certified and they are receiving active challenges from sub-bidders, but overall this has potentially saved residents $3M in tax dollars, as well as the state who will be saving as a result of their near half contribution.  A summary of the general bid recap was included in the packets.
  • Mr. Singer discussed recent developments within the Essex County Regional Retirement Board.  On Monday they terminated the director.  It has gone before Superior Court, with a judge and an agency both involved.  The Board oversees 105 retirement boards and is looking to turn things around, albeit slowly.

Recommendation of Finance Committee Regarding Funding of $425,982 Masconomet Budget Increase for FY 2011:

Mr. Singer introduced Steve Cocciardi, Co-Chair of the Finance Committee, as well as other Committee members in attendance.  Mr. Cocciardi spoke to the Finance Committee’s vote, which was a Vote of 1-5 not to recommend any override.  Mr. Cocciardi stated there had been significant discussions and a lot of debate with interested, active stakeholders.  

Mrs. Jones asked for the criteria the Finance Committee used in coming to that vote.  Mr. Cocciardi responded that the motion was for $64K that finally made it to the floor.  Factored into their considerations was the fact that the decision affects excess levy capacity, and the Town will need a contribution from free cash to fund it.  The $91K was not considered.  That was a cut in state funding to Masco directly, and they had already made up for that shortfall.  Another piece was the shift in enrollment.  The formula is the formula, but that is the shift and the Town has to pay it.  

Mr. Cocciardi continued that it is important to know, understand and coordinate with the other 2 Tows.  Of course you want to do what’s best for your own Town, but it’s not just about Middleton as far as Masco is concerned.  We need to look at the big picture as 3 Towns, not 1.

Mr. Prentakis stated he’s been wrestling with five questions and he is still a bit ambivalent.

  • Can we afford it?  He discussed the recently introduced financial management program and setting budgets for excess levy capacity.  Currently the state average is 2.14%.  Without an override, Middleton’s excess levy would be 1.77%.  Middleton’s free cash and stabilization is 2X the average of 80 other communities in the state, so we have the resources to fund the budget without an override by using higher than normal free cash to fund the budget shortfall.
  • Fairness – are we treating each department’s budget as fairly as other departments?  At Masconomet, the annual rate of increase has been about 3%.  For the same period, the Town’s annual rate was at about 4.1%.  So Masco’s rate has been less than most departments.
  • There exists a long standing agreement between the Masconomet School Committee and the three Finance Committees, that if there was an increase in state funding after the budget was certified, that money would be returned to the Towns.  And in the past it has.  By the same token, the Towns agreed to fund any decreases or short falls in state funding after the certification of the budget.
  • Mr. Prentakis urged the importance of working with the other Towns.  Topsfield is now in a precarious position.  But it wasn’t that long ago that Middleton was in that position, There really is a need to look out for each other.
  • Mr. Prentakis took the time to compare Masconomet’s budget against other, comparable districts.  He took 4 schools with grades 7-12 or 9-12 with similar enrollment – 1700-2700 average enrollment.  He then analyzed the per pupil spending and reported:
a.   Masconomet                 $12,000 per pupil
b.   Amherst/Pelham             $17,000 per pupil
c.   King Philip                $11,300 per pupil
d.   Lincoln/Sudbury    $15,800 per pupil

Mrs. Jones introduced Anthony Bent, Interim Superintendent of Schools at Masconomet, and Mr. Richard Gant, a member of the Topsfield Board of Selectmen.

Mr. Bent spoke first, thanking the Board for the opportunity to express his impressions.  He has worked at a variety of very, very good school systems in the past.  He feels like he ‘parachuted’ into Masco for a very short time, and thought his observations might be helpful.  Masconomet is truly an outstanding school with a wonderful and talented faculty, which brings significant value to each of the three towns.  He has looked at and participated in all of the programs and they are truly remarkable.  The quality of the teaching staff is beyond standard – it’s extraordinary.

Mr. Bent commented that the students at Masconomet love the school – ant that’s not true everywhere you go.  He eats lunch with the high school students twice per week, and talks to them about how things are going and what’s going on.  He stated that he has been overwhelmed by how happy the students are and that is directly attributed to what goes on there.  He also stated that Masconomet is not an elegantly funded school, even though the achievement levels are there.  The school is woefully behind in technology in all departments.  He also commented that Masconomet does not have the Connect Ed system that the elementary school districts have, in order to increase and improve communication.

He stated to members of the Board that they will need to do what they need to do.  But he affirmed that it is a remarkable school that delivers an outstanding education at a reasonable price.  Betsy McGinnity, a Middleton representative on the Masconomet School Committee thanked Mr. Prentakis for his analysis and stated that this year is bad, but next year is going to be worse.  We need to pull energies together to fight next year when we are really going to need to do it.  She stated she left last night’s meeting feeling good about the vote, but realizing there is a lot of work to do this coming year.

Mr. Gant, member of the Topsfield Board of Selectmen thanked the Board for their consideration in allowing him to speak.  He reported that the previous night, the his Board of Selectmen voted to approve the placement of two overrides on the Town Warrant:  one capital, on operational including Masconomet.  Of the $105K override, $63K is Masconomet.  Larry Lindquist was adamant about not putting an override on the Warrant specific to Masconomet.  He discussed the many pressures on Topsfield’s budgets and they felt this move was necessary in order to make things happen.  He stated that the Town does have some money in a stabilization fund, but they are loathed to take it from there in order to fund operating budgets.  He discussed the pain of the Chapter 70 cuts.

Mr. Gant also expressed his appreciation to Susan Given’s, Masco’s CFO, whose efforts have been invaluable.

Mr. Houten commented that it is the responsibility of the Board to look at things from a financial standpoint.  He has two children who went through Masconomet and he can attest to the fantastic education they received.  However, there is no endless pot of money.  You can get a great education but not have to burden the taxpayers.  People today are choosing between eating and paying their taxes and you need to take them into consideration.  Mr. Houten stated that he understands it is not that easy of a decision.  But the decision has to be based on what’s good for the whole Town.  He can’t say if he’s in favor, against, or if we should let the people decide.

Mrs. Jones agreed with Mr. Houten and stated that she has seen the school budgets creep up annually from 55% - 66% of the Town’s overall budget.  1977 was the last time a new employee was hired for the Department of Public Works.  That department has seen remarkable growth over the last 15-20 years at virtually the same level of staffing.  She finds it remarkable.  Mr. Prentakis commented that the comparisons Mrs. Jones made were not apples to apples.  Mr. Prentice’s figures did not include Masconomet or debt service.  Mrs. Jones’ figures include the elementary schools.  Mrs. Jones replied that we need to get some averaging on the towns.  Enrollments have such a dramatic impact on the operating budgets.  She suggested 5 year averaging, as she has suggested in the past.  She feels this would be more predictable and have less of an impact.

Mrs. Jones also stated her concern over mid year cuts for all departments, including the elementary schools.  She stated that cuts need to be made universally, across the board.  Linda Richards, a Topsfield representative on the Masconomet School Committee commented to Mrs. Jones that most of the shift is due to residential construction.  Most come to the Towns with families, to raise children, so you’re going to school that schools will become more expensive.  Schools represent the character of a Town, and most Towns want good schools.  Mrs. Jones disagreed and stated the enrollment in all three Towns has gone down slightly on an annual basis.

Mr. Houten stated that he thinks the people should speak to this matter.  

He then made a motion to call for the addition of a Proposition 2 ½ Override, in the amount of $65K be put on the Town Warrant.  Second by Mrs. Jones.  All in favor – 2; all opposed – 2.  The floor was then opened for discussion.

Mrs. Lindberg stated she is not in favor of an override.  The Town cannot afford it.

Mrs. Jones stated that an override for $65K is a good compromise.  Last week she recalled that figure being $120K, with an additional $30K due to the Middleton enrollment shift, and totaling $150K.  She stated the Board’s obligation to give people an opportunity to ask questions and understand.  Therefore we should give them an opportunity to vote for it

Mr. Prentakis said he came to the meeting knowing he’d be unhappy with whichever side he decided to vote.  It is important for the Board of Selectmen to make a positive decision, not be split 2 to 2.  After hearing his fellow Selectmen speak, he felt compelled to sway to their said and be in favor of proposing an override.

B. McGinnity said she was struck by the discussion last night on when to ask for an override because you can’t afford it.  She believes it is disingenuous to place an override on the Warrant, when clearly the Town has the capacity to fund it.  So why?  Mrs. Jones responded by saying just because I have the money means that I can spend it.  We do have reserves, but that will diminish what we have available for next year, when clearly we know it will be a bad year.  It doesn’t matter if you have it or not.

A Bent stated that Topsfield made a different decision and decided to bundle Masconomet with operating budget shortfall.  T. Houten responded that this is not being bundled.  Last year every department took a mid-year cut except for Masconomet.  Technically Masconomet is higher than the other departments.  He also reminded people that a Proposition 2 ½ override requires 2/3 vote at Town Meeting.

Mr. Prentakis stated he has heard repeatedly that there have been program cuts.  He went to the District Profile, which is public information.  He subtracted all the non-teacher fte’s and found that the number of regular education teachers there is the same from FY07-FY11.  How are programs being cut?  A. Bent replied that SPED continues to put a lot of pressure on school budgets.  Those require significant resources.  He stated that the High School Principal has to keep pulling out and electives to offer certain other electives.  It should not be allowed to stay static.  With NCLB laws, we are mandated to improve every year.  We need to be competitive with 21st century schools.

Mr. Prentakis stated he agreed and hopes in future years a budget is put together that presents a vision of the quality the Towns want.  The Masconomet School Committee needs to lead the effort in that.  He also believes the school is a well managed system.

Mrs. Jones entertained a question from Town resident William Mugford who requested to speak.  He is against a Proposition 2 ½ override – always has been.  He asked the Board not to overlook the public safety departments.  He referred to B. LaBossiere, commending him for operating on a shoe string and thanking him for his efforts.  Mr. Mugford stated that Middleton is not an affluent Town, it’s a working Town.  He is now 74 years old and still working.  He asked all members of the Board to remember that it all boils down to an ability to pay.

Mrs. Jones referred to a motion and a second on the floor in favor of a Proposition 2 ½ override.  Motion passed 3-1-0, with Ms. Lindberg casting the no vote.

Update from DPW Superintendent Bob LaBossiere and Recreation Commission Chairperson Aime Galuszewski for interim athletic fields for Middleton Youth Sports Teams

Mr. Singer introduced the item and briefly caught everyone up to speed.  The particulars are addressed in a memo from him to the Board, included in the packets.  Mr. Singer explained the serious miscommunication that occurred between the Essex Aggie Superintendent and Facilities Director.  Apparently the Town of Danvers had what they thought was a long standing agreement to use the Aggie fields for their teams, and spent a significant amount of money to make improvements.  Last fall the Facilities Director told B. LaBossiere that Danvers was using the fields less frequently and they would be available for use by Middleton.  The parties have since come together and agreed on a 50/50 split with regard to use of the fields.

Mr. Singer was also pleased to announce that following conversations with the Board of Directors of the Jewish Community Center (JCC), they have informally agreed to allow the Town to use the two existing fields (soccer and baseball), tennis courts and basketball court for the coming season at no charge to the Town.

Additional Review of Annual Town Meeting Warrant and Order of Articles

Mr. Prentakis requested that the order be rearranged to put the 3 CPA articles in consecutive order.  

Ms. Lindberg asked about the OPEB article, particularly the funding schedule being set up with an actuarial table.  She wondered if the Town is going to fund it 100%.  Mr. Singer replied that whether we meet the numbers or not is another issue, but simply by recognizing and acknowledging that this liability exists, we are further ahead than most.  Mrs. Lindberg asked if Mr. Singer had a figure.  He replied no, but thought that the Finance Committee would be voting to transfer $100,000 to the fund this year.  The dollar amount is not much when you are looking at an $11M+ liability, but it’s taking the first steps.  Mr. Prentakis asked if there was a difference between the trust fund and the stabilization fund.  Mr. Singer responded yes.  The stabilization fund is not irrevocable and is much less flexible.  He discussed legacy costs in the form of unfunded liabilities which need to be addressed in today’s numbers.

Review and Approval of Sewer Operating and Maintenance Billing Rate for 2010 (paid by Middleton customers of the South Essex Sewerage District at Ferncroft).

Mr. Singer referred members of the Board to the handout included in the packet, outlining the Town’s FY 2010 operating and maintenance sewer rate from SESD billings.  Mrs. Jones commented that water usage seems to have abated itself.  Mr. Singer agreed that some water usage has gone down a little bit, but the Town must bill users for maintenance and operation costs, as well as debt service.  Together the total assessment is just under $100K.  The rate comes out to be $1.28 per 100 cubic feet.  A small reserve is allowed for uncollectible accounts and a 5% administrative cost is added in.

Mr. Houten made a motion to recommend the approval of the new rate.  Second by Mr. Prentakis.  All were in favor and the motion passed unanimously 4-0-0.


Mr. Mugford expressed concern over a sign that was placed in front of his home and as a result, the DPW plows have to get around it and in the process are damaging Mr. Mugford’s property.  He was happy to report that he spoke to Mr. LaBossiere about having the sign relocated and Mr. LaBossiere agreed to take care of it.  Mr. Mugford was very grateful.

Executive Session:

Pursuant to Massachusetts General Laws, Chapter 39, Section 23 B, Paragraph (3) Collective Bargaining, Chair, N. Jones called to adjourn the regular meeting of the Board for the purposes of entering into Executive Session, only to re-enter regular session for the purposes of adjourning.

Clerk T. Houten called for a roll call vote:  Houten – yes;  Lindberg – yes; Jones – yes: Prentakis – yes.

At 9:00p.m., Mr. Prentakis made a motion and was seconded by Ms. Lindberg to adjourn the regular session of the meeting.  The motion carried 4-0-0.

Tim Houten, Clerk
Middleton Board of Selectmen