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Selectmens Meeting Minutes - 6/15/2010
Selectmen’s Meeting
Fuller Meadow School
Nathan Media Center
June 15, 2010
7:30 p.m.


Call to Order:

Chair Christine Lindberg called the meeting to order at 7:30 p.m.

Present:  Mr. Prentakis, Ms. Lindberg, Ms. Jones, Mr. Cresta, and Mr. Ira S. Singer, Town Administrator. Mr. Houten arrived at 8:00 p.m.

Others Present:  Donna Innis, Recording Secretary.

Mr. Prentakis made a motion and was seconded by Mrs. Jones to read and initial June 1, 2010 minutes to indicate their acceptance. The motion carried 4-0.

The Board approved Warrant #1050 dated June 15, 2010 in the amount of $286,965.

Administrator’s Report:

  • The North Shore Vocational School has been busy completing two projects in behalf of the Town, one building granite steps leading to the Tramp House behind Old Town Hall under the supervision of Dave Collins of the Masonry Department and rebuilding the DPW crew quarters at 195 North Main Street through the other building trades students and staff advisors. Each year the North Shore Vocational School students complete one or two town building and grounds improvement projects saving taxpayers thousands of dollars.
  • Out of a business new journal comes word that the Ferncroft Corporate Center which was formerly the Verizon Yellow Page headquarters and sold to Behringer Harvard Real Estate Group a Texas based investment firm in 2006 for $27 million will soon be sold again as the 225,000 square foot office building was turned over to a Special Servicer called LNR Partners.
  • On Monday, MELD Manager Mark Kelly, Lenny Ferreria and Rick Bienvenue and Ira met with the MIT Bates Lab Manager Karen Dow, Sarah Gallop, Kelly Brown and Facilities Manager Steven Miscowski to discuss their interest in studying the feasibility or erecting a wind turbine near the Water Tower. They will soon request permission to erect a temporary meteorological tower which will collect wind data for a period of 6-8 months to determine the cost effectiveness of building and installing a permanent wind turbine. The Light Department reports that it has been on a waiting list to install similar equipment for its own measurements of wind, which would then allow two sites to be measured for the suitability of such an installation. MIT and town officials agreed to begin discussing a potential joint project with MELD and with officials at the new merged Vocational-Aggie School nearby.
In a related matter, the Selectmen in Mount Washington in Berkshire County have distributed a memo on the Wind Energy Citing Reform Act H4687, which they oppose and claim would remove local authority to permit wind turbines in excess of 2 megawatts.
  • In tonight’s packet is a prepared list of appointments which you typically make at your last meeting of the Fiscal year which is scheduled for the June 29th meeting.
  • Next week’s warrant will contain the monthly requisition of CTA for payment on progress on the school construction. The requisition to be reviewed and approved by the Building Committee at next Monday’s meeting will be in the amount of $739,000 not including architectural and OPM services, which will push the total billings to over a $1,000,000.
  • A letter of understanding has been received from the owner of the Ferncroft Water Company Weston and Sampson, which will form the basis of an agreement to allow the Ferncroft Towers Condominium Complex to be served by water from the Town of Middleton converting the connection from the Danvers side of Ferncroft to Middleton side. A formal agreement will be drafted reviewed by Counsel and presented to the Board of Selectmen for signature.
  • Strength-In-Construction has been awarded the contract for the construction of the Flint Library stair replacement based on the bids received on June 3, 2010 at the lowest responsive bid of $37,800. The construction should be completed by the end of August.
The Board suggested that the Industrial and Commercial Design Review Committee develop a site plan for the landscaping for 11 South Main Street which will be attached to the existing grounds of the Flint Public Library following the acquisition and demolition of the structure. The recommendations of the Industrial and Commercial Review Design Committee will be incorporated into a final plan to be approved by the Board of Appeals. The Committee should include input from the Veterans Service Officer, DPW Superintendent, Library Director and Library Trustees to design a plan which will be harmonious to the surrounding grounds of the Library. The plan should include the retention or elimination of any existing parking spaces adjacent to the 11 South Main Street parcel and to find a suitable location for a permanent and attractive sign (possibly externally lighted) for upcoming events at the Library in order to eliminate the sandwich sign in front of the building.

Application of NY Foods, LLC d/b/a/ Teresa’s Italian Eatery and Deli to Extend the Premises to Serve Alcoholic Beverages Within the Restaurant to Include Two Adjoining Units and Entertainment License at 149 South Main Street, Attorney Jill Mann in behalf  of Mr. Nicholas Yebba:
Attorney Jill Mann introduced herself on behalf of Mr. Nicholas Yebba.  Attorney Mann stated that her client is requesting to alter the premises to permit construction of an additional bar in a portion of building #2 and to expand and use the adjacent spaces, store #3 and #4 for additional seating for function room.   

Attorney Mann explained that a Special Permit Use for an Entertainment License is required to show seating capacity in accordance with the Town Zoning Bylaw and Mr. Yebba must appear before the Board of Appeals  to seek a Special Permit.

The front room seating capacity is 120-150, the bar area seats 32 and the new function room will have a seating capacity of 78. The septic system has been updated to accommodate the seating capacity of the building and approved the Board of Health.

The Entertainment License will be in accordance with Massachusetts General Laws, Chapter 140, Section 183A, as amended, for a band for dancing by patrons, playing background music below ordinary conversational level, (5) TV’s, a Disc Jockey for banquets and live musical instruments/vocalists with amplification seven days per week from 11:00 a.m. to Midnight Monday – Saturday and Noon – 11:00 a.m. on Sundays.

Mr. Cresta made a motion and was seconded by Mr. Houten to approve the extension to the premises to serve alcoholic beverages within NY Foods, LLC d/b/a Teresa’s Italian Eatery and Deli at 149 South Main Street to include two adjoining units. The motion carried 4-1 with Mrs. Jones opposed.

Mr. Cresta made a motion and was seconded by Mr. Houten to grant an Entertainment License to NY foods, LLC d/b/a Teresa’s Italian Eatery and Deli at 149 South Main Street. The motion carried 4-1 with Mrs. Jones opposed.

Review and Adoption of:

                       A.  General Investment Policy Statement of the Town of Middleton
                       B.  OPEB Trust Investment Policy Statement of the Town of Middleton

Mr. Houten made a motion and was seconded by Mr. Cresta to adopt the General Investment Policy Statement and OPEB Trust Investment Policy Statement for the Town of Middleton. The motion carried 4-1 with Mr. Prentakis abstaining from the vote.

Request from Sonja Nathan and Melissa Stankus to Discuss Citizen Interest in the Purchase of the 87 Acre Property off East Street, (formerly known as Camp Simcha) from the North Shore Jewish Community Center.

Sonja Nathan of Essex Street addressed the Board by stating she feels very strongly that Middleton is in dire need of a central recreational facility.  There are no existing resources in Town, so residents travel to other cities and towns to utilize their resources.  She is saddened to hear that the camp is closing after so many years.  She stated that a portion of the JCC land currently includes tennis courts, an Olympic sized swimming pool, basketball courts and ample field space for baseball and soccer use.  The land backs up to the Ipswich River.  A sizeable group of Middleton residents would love to see a town recreational center on that portion of land.

Ms. Nathan stated that over 200 residents have signed a petition requesting that the Board creatively explore the potential purchase of the land.  If the 88 acres are sold to developers, houses will be built, adding additional drain to the existing infrastructure.  If current Town residents cannot water lawns or wash cars due to existing water bans, where are the resources going to come from to supply potentially 42 new homes with enough water to flush a toilet.  She stated that the land has so much potential as a central recreational facility.  It could be used to host the summer park program, an extended day camp, basketball and tennis clinics, Chief Will’s Day, a town pool, and walking fields, just to name a few.  This opportunity is rare and Ms. Nathan believes if we do not take advantage of it now, it will be gone forever.

Chair Chris Lindberg thanked Ms. Nathan for her comments and asked Mr. Singer if he could offer an update as to the current status of the property.  Mr. Singer responded that he recently spoke with listing agent, David Hart, who was able to relate that they have received 5 or 6 formal offers already and expect to sign a P&S within days.  Mr. Hart expects the property will sell to a private owner.  The sale would probably occur by mid-September.  Realistically, efforts to acquire the property by the Town would not take place between the Town and the JCC, but between the Town and the new owner.  The JCC is currently in financial dire straits.  Mr. Hart said they are looking at an offer that provides immediate relief to the JCC.  Mr. Singer stated that we won’t know for 2-3 more months who the buyer is as it is in process.  Mr. Hart is aware that there is a group of citizens in Town that remain interested in the property.

Ms. Lindberg stated that if the Town wants to do anything, it would have to go through the Town Meeting process, which would not happen until at least the fall.  Mr. Singer continued that a purchase of this size would require a Proposition 2 ½ override which requires not only a special town meeting, but also a special election.  All of this would be at a cost to taxpayers.  A special election is at least a 90-120 day process.  He hopes that the new owners of the property would be amenable to working with the Town.

Melissa Stankus asked if the JCC is aware of the Town’s interest in the property.  Mr. Singer responded that they are.  The Town has been in quiet negotiations with the JCC for about two years now and has asked for the right of first refusal to purchase the property.  This never really occurred because of the JCC’s immediate financial needs.  They are not going to remain a viable organization if they wait.  Mr. Singer continued that it may give the Town an advantage to deal with the new owner who knows what the options are and what they are going to do with the property.  Mrs. Jones commented that this reminded her of something the Town went through in the late 80’s, as she spoke with numerous Town residents at the Danvers YMCA who brought their children there for swimming lessons because there was nothing available in Middleton.  IN 1989 they did establish a community play area, and now that’s gone.  So there’s really very little in Town for the children.  The new school construction has limited the options even more.  Space for children and young teens is neglectful.  She stated that as a Town we do need to be ever diligent for any other opportunities that come along.  Ms. Stankus asked how committed the Town is to actually negotiate once the land is purchased.  Ms. Lindberg stated that the Town would like to do it, but it really comes down to money.

Mr. Prentakis addressed the question of the use of CPA funds for the purchase of the land.  He responded that the property going quickly is in some ways good for the Town.  In dealing with a non-profit, there are less ways to be creative because they are bound by low to receive as much money as possible as quickly as possible.  In the history of the Town’s land purchases, we have always purchased at less than fair market value.  The JCC cannot do that.  Once the new owner is known, we can try to put together something creative that will benefit the Town as well as the new owner.

Ms. Lindberg stated that there are a number of scenarios that can be presented to the new owners but also lots of unknowns.  She proposed putting together a committee consisting of members of the Zoning Board, Conservation Commission, Board of Selectmen, interested citizens and others to see what we have and talk about the options.  Mr. Singer noted that there are three other parcels of land, totaling approximately 67 developable acres on the site.  We need to look at all of it, but remember the Town cannot afford to buy everything.

Mr. Houten referred back to the question that was asked about whether or not the Selectmen are behind the purchase of this land.  He stated that today, it is a $4.5M purchase which would require a 2 ½ override and is not going to pass.  He stated that the Town barely got a purchase of $300K through at the last Town Meeting.  For something that is going to fail, he would not be behind it.  If a coalition was established that included private funding, Greenbelt money and whatever else, and a proposal was put forth saying this is what we have and here’s what it will cost to the taxpayers, it would be more likely it would pass and that is something he would be willing to stand behind.  If the Town were to spend money on the purchase of this land, it would have to go to town meeting.  More money equals more taxes.

Mr. Cresta stated his belief that the private party purchasing the land for $4.5M would not be willing to sell to the Town for a loss.  They are buying it because they want to develop it.  Carving out the recreation piece right near the current access to the land might not be attractive to the new owners.  They are probably not going to want to give up that access to the land that has already been approved through the Planning Board process.  He also stated that if the Town took every penny of the reserves it has, it still could not purchase the land without an override.  It’s important to understand this.  We just got through a contentious election so we could build a new school.  He does not see an appetite for another override for the Town on the heels of that.  The Board and the Town should continue to have conversations with the new owner.  Residents need to realize that the Town is not fully built out.  He understands the need for recreational space, and will never say never, but wants to be fully realistic that this would definitely require an override whether the Town purchased the whole parcel or just a portion.  He again stressed the need to be realistic.  The last override was cancelled but would have overwhelmingly failed.

Ms. Lindberg suggested that any committee formed needs to have volunteer support to prepare voters for a potential override situation and needs groundswell support.

Pike Messenger addressed the Board as a representative of the Stream Team and Open Space and Recreation Committee.  He referred to a map of the JCC property and surrounding areas, highlighting lands along the river.  He noted several areas that are protected by conservation laws and the prime wildlife habitat.

Mr. Prentakis again spoke to the use of CPA funds for this purchase.  He stated that if land were bought for recreational use, it would qualify for CPA fund usage, but there are limitations.  Mr. Singer added that the CPA tax is currently set at 1%.  That translates to $130-140K per year in tax revenue plus the state match which has slowly been declining.  We would need at least a 3% CPA tax or a limited override.  Either way, it still goes to the voters for approval.  Mr. Singer offered some statistics.  If the land were purchased for $4-4.5M, the debt service to the town would be $800K per year, or a tax rate increase of 4-5% over the next 20 years.  He believes it is an uphill battle.  He agreed with Mr. Cresta that everyone needs to be realistic about expectations.

Ms. Lindberg again suggested setting up a committee to take a realistic, in depth look at the property to find creative ideas on how to approach the new owners if and when we have the opportunity.  Mr. Cresta asked what the charge of the committee would be so expectations are clear.   Ms. Lindberg responded that the charge should be to make a recommendation to the Board of Selectmen on how to move forward.

Mr. Prentakis stated that the Master Plan Committee is charged with the diligence in looking at land.  A committee is already set up.  He would suggest referring to the Master Plan Committee to keep track of what is happening and is a speedier way to get what we want.  Ms. Lindberg agreed, but stated that the resident volunteer component is essential.  This needs to go to a grassroots level to get people to vote in support of this.  Mr. Prentakis stated that the Town Moderator appoints members to the Master Plan Committee.  Mr. Singer commented that the Board should ask the Master Plan Committee to open discussions regarding this matter.  Perhaps they could even set up a subcommittee.  He suggested that at the Board meeting on 6/29, the Board bring back a larger and more defined charge to the Master Plan Committee and invite citizen participation as well.

Discussion with Finance Committee to Review Preliminary FY 2012 Operating Budget Assumptions.

Joining the Board of Selectmen for this discussion were Steve Cocciardi, Michelle Cresta, John Erickson and Jill Mann of the Finance Committee; Teresa Buono of the Middleton School Committee; and Linda Richards of the Masconomet School Committee.

Mr. Singer referred to a sheet distributed to everyone in attendance that summarized a projected FY 2012 budget for the Town of Middleton, assuming a 10% cut in state aid from FY 2011.  He stated it was good to get together as early as possible to see where we may be, and have open discussions on how to address what will potentially happen in the future.

Mr. Cocciardi thanked Mr. Singer for putting the figures together and stated that there are still a lot of variables.  He stated that the Town is pretty much looking at a negative situation in any circumstances and there are different perspectives based on unprecedented challenges.  He stated that the Finance Committee ended last year’s budget season with an eye on next year.

Mr. Singer stated that with almost little or no growth, the Town will be able to afford some of the fixed cost increases but little more than that.  From a top down view it is not a very bright perspective, but most communities would be looking at negative numbers.  The Town is looking at $250K in additional review over last year.  That does not fund a lot – it basically funds fixed cost increases that we know.  Not much else is going to change until we have final state aid numbers and final growth numbers.  

Mr. Cocciardi asked Mr. Singer if by starting the process early we would be able to affect contract negotiations and contract discussions.  Mr. Singer referred to Masconomet who recently signed contracts with the teachers because it was their time to do so and those costs will not be able to be afforded under this scenario by any of the three towns.  He used Masconomet as an example because their contract negotiations just ended recently, with a 7% COLA increase to be funded over the next three years.  Overall the impact is the costs will be passed through assessments and choices will have to be made.

Mr. Cresta asked for more information about the 7% increase and Mr. Singer explained it was a three year contract, with increases of 2%, 2% and 3% per year respectively.  Personnel costs at Masconomet will increase by 5-6% in the next three years including steps and levels.  There were no raises for teachers last year.

Mr. Prentakis stated that Middleton has had to absorb a lot of Masconomet’s budget due to enrollment shifts. Mrs. Jones stated that it should be made clear to Masconomet that what was done this year was not fair to the Towns.  She agreed with Mr. Prentakis that the enrollment shifts are the responsibility of the Town.  We really have to be diligent and look closely at what Masconomet is doing.  We cannot go through what we did this year with regard to the budget.

Ms. Mann responded that she thought this year’s process was open, fair and appropriate.  She feels that rehashing what happened last year is a bad thing to do.  Mrs. Jones responded that she has no interest in rehashing what happened last year, but rather wants to be up front from the beginning with Masconomet and make sure expectations are clear.

Mr. Cresta stated with a regional school district does not have a free cash account.  Under state law they do have the ability to hold a contingency of 5% of their budget.  He believes there needs to be a joint meeting with the Masconomet School Committee members, Finance Committee and elementary School Committee.  Until these groups can sit together face to face, he doesn’t believe anything is going to happen.  We are looking at a horrible budget season.  If we start pitting department against department it will do nothing to move the Town forward.

Mrs. Jones stated that she absolutely agrees with Mr. Cresta.  From this point on we need to send a message loud and clear from the get go and be proactive.  We need to say this is what we can stand for and beyond that is unacceptable.  This should hold true to all Town departments.

Mr. Cocciardi stated that the Finance Committee is looking for strategic direction from the Board so that when meetings are held, there is a clear and consistent message being sent.  The Finance Committee’s process in the past has been successful.    The Finance Committee is a non-voting and non-binding group, that provides direction to the Town.  There needs to be a consistent message throughout.  This is the direction he is hoping to get from the Board.

Mr. Houten stated that the money has to come from somewhere.  All departments need to be aware of this and should have two sets of books – one for what they want, and a contingency in the event the funds are not there.  Mr. Cresta commented that if he were a member of the Finance Committee he would be looking at recommendations on worse case scenario budgets, in the event an override fails.  He also suggested considering what the priority is for an override.

Mr. Singer commented that the Finance Committee’s process is governed by Charter and requires Mr. Singer to present to them a balanced budget every year.  It is the Town Administrator’s obligation to make recommendations for worse case scenarios.  This process forces a balanced budget.  Decisions made from that still include all groups working together.  Discussing this five months earlier than usually is not unhealthy.

Mr. Prentakis stated that the Town may be faced with local aid cuts in FY11.  He asked how the Town would deal with that.  Ms. Mann responded when it happens we will address it.  Mr. Prentakis asked if the Town were faced with cuts in FY11 would Masconomet be held harmless and would the cuts only affect Middleton Town departments.  Mr. Singer responded that if there are Chapter 70 cuts, they will be distributed across the board, equally, including Masconomet.  There needs to be consensus.  If one entity is doing something different from another, it creates a lot of friction.  A consensus should be reached that if we lose 10% of our state aid in FY11, we have to respond by backfilling other budgets.

Mr. Erickson stated that we need to come up with an agreement pretty soon on what to do with the budget for local aid.  We should decide early on what to expect and communicate this so that Town departments and Masconomet can get used to the idea of making their budget fit.  Mr. Singer reminded everyone that this is an election year.  The Governor is not about to cut local aid before the election, it will be deferred until after November.  He suggested watching out for politics because they will no doubt come into play.

Mr. Cocciardi asked Mr. Erickson if he had enough of an understanding to communicate to Masconomet what the expectations are.  He stated that getting the message out clear and early is essential.  Mr. Erickson responded that he needs to talk with other Finance Committees as well and come to a consensus on what to expect.  In the past few years the three towns have had similar understanding of budget issues.

Mr. Cresta stated that he would like to hear from Masconomet about what their budgeting formula was for FY11 and what they think will happen post election.  The new Superintendent started on July 1.  Mr. Cresta suggested a meeting with him, even if it was outside of the regular Board meetings.  Mrs. Jones suggested it wouldn’t be a bad idea to start talking about averaging enrollments shifts.  Mr. Erickson commented that he didn’t think it was the right time to start averaging with all else that is going on.  Mr. Erickson said you have to concentrate on the things you can control.  Shift in enrollment is not one of them, unless you are going to slam the door on future development.  Mr. Prentakis commented that you cannot change shifts in enrollment, but our ability to pay in FY12 is going to be impacted.

Mr. Prentakis requested that for the FY12 budget season, budgets be sent electronically and not in paper format.  He suggested that the FY12 budget be put on a master spreadsheet which will then be a starting point for FY12.  Mr. Singer responded that he will look into that as a transition.

Other New Business:

There being no other business, Mr. Cresta made a motion and was seconded by Mr. Houten to adjourn the meeting at 10:00 p.m. The motion carried 5-0.

Brain Cresta, Clerk
Middleton Board of Selectmen