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Selectmens Meeting Minutes 04-09-2013
Selectmen’s Meeting
Nathan Media Center
Fuller Meadow School
April 9, 2013
7:30 PM
Call to Order – Chairman Cresta called the meeting to order at 7:42.  Also present were Mr. Houten, Ms. Lindberg, Mr. Prentakis, Town Administrator Mr. Singer and Assistant Town Administrator Mr. Ferrara.
Minutes Mr. Cresta said that there were minutes in the packet from February 12th, March 19th and March 28th.  Mr. Prentakis made a motion to accept the three sets of minutes.  Mr. Houten seconded the motion and all were in favor.
Approval of Warrants –Payroll Warrant #1340 was presented totaling $173,624 which included $19,360 in overtime and $32,389 in part time wages for the Fire Department.  Payables Warrant #1340 totals $667,796.  $310,353 is a payment on the Library Bond.  The rest are usual items such as payroll deductions.  Mr. Houten made a motion to approve the warrants.  Ms. Lindberg seconded the motion and all were in favor.
Town Administrator’s Report
Mr. Singer reported that the application of Freddie’s Place for a beer and wine license was returned by the ABCC because they did not include the formal assignment of their lease signed by their landlord.
The packet contains three quarterly reports from the Attorney General’s Office which lists last establishment people had drinks before being arrested for Operating Under the Influence.  Three Middleton licenses are on the list, if the Board wishes to take any action.  Mr. Cresta asked if a copy of this report went into the establishment’s file.  Mr. Singer said that it did.
Tomorrow (April 10th), the Planning Board will review the 12 articles on the Annual Town Meeting Warrant which they should make recommendations on.  These include the new Planning Coordinator position as well as road acceptances and zoning amendments.
The Middleton Electric Light Commissioners are in continued discussions with Kearsage Energy regarding purchasing power that will be generated by the Solar Farm they are proposing off South Main St.  The discussions have not gone far.  There is a price difference of about $300,000 between the two parties.  Though the Commissioners would like to purchase the power from this facility, they will only do so if it is in the economic interests of the rate payers.  Comments have been forwarded to the Zoning Board of Appeals for their consideration in granting the overall approvals.  Kearsage does have a deadline if they are to take maximum advantage of solar energy credits and markets that are only available certain times of the year.  They need to make a decision in about 60 days.  The Town has raised issues about taxation and its ability to collect the taxes
Request of Dean Kartunis and Jeff Applestein to Erect a Temporary Sign at the Emily Maher Recreation Park and Town Transfer Station Announcing Masco Youth Football & Cheerleading Sign Ups under Section 5.2.12 of Town Code – Mr. Cresta pointed out that this is deemed to be a charitable endeavor which entitles them to put the signs up for 30 days.  Mr. Applestein said that the purpose of the signs was to get information out about upcoming registration for football and cheerleading.  Letters have gone home with students and lawn signs have been put up.  They would like to also put signs up at the Transfer Station, the two schools and the Library.  He said they would like to put the signs up on April 22nd or 23rd.  Mr. Cresta said that they would have to contact the School Department and the Library Trustees about putting signs up at those locations.  Mr. Singer commented that there was some sensitivity that the Town was violating its own sign by-laws.  The Town asks businesses to comply so it has to be careful about what it allows on its property.  Mr. Prentakis asked how large the signs would be.  Mr. Applestein said they would be 27” by 18”.
Ms. Lindberg made a motion to approve the request of Dean Kartunis and Jeff Applestein representing Masco Youth Football & Cheerleading to erect a temporary sign at the Emily Maher Recreation Park and Town Transfer Station and at Memorial Hall stating April 22nd, for no more than thirty days.  Mr. Houten seconded the motion and all were in favor.
Report from Middleton’s State Legislative Delegation ~
The Honorable Senate Minority Leader, Senator Bruce Tarr
The Honorable House Minority Leader Representative Bradley Jones
The Honorable State Representative Theodore Speliotis.
Mr. Cresta went over the four items that the Board would like to discuss with the delegation.  Rep. Jones said that the House budget would be out tomorrow around noon.  He added that increases to local aid in the Governor’s budget were dependent on a sizable package of tax increases which he feels are unlikely to pass.  So he feels the Town should count on level funding.
Chapter 70 (School Aid) and Local Aid Estimates
The Governor’s Chapter 70 blueprint did not do well for Middleton.  Rep. Jones reiterated that the Town should count on level funding.  Mr. Prentakis pointed out that there was actually a decrease for Middleton because of the way regional funding is being calculated.  Anything that Middleton gained was more than wiped out by this change.  Middleton is looking at an 11.6% ($750,000) increase in its Masco allocation. The shift in enrollment is responsible for $300,000 - $400,000 but $250,000 is because of the Ch. 70 formula.  Sen. Tarr noted that is due to a change in the “required standard of effort” calculation.  This same change resulted in Danvers and Marblehead receiving more money.  Mr. Singer said that is it hard to explain to the taxpayer that with an under 4% increase in the Masco budget, they are going to pay over 11% more.  Mr. Prentakis noted that Middleton is the lowest income community of the three. The formula seems to reward the richer communities at the expense of the poorer communities.  Mr. Singer explained that the Schools represent 109% of the increase in the budget.  The Town side is lower because of a reduction in debt service.  Mr. Singer said that if the Town had not maintained a high unused levy capacity, it would need an override.  
Mr. Cresta noted that regional transportation is a growing concern.  There is an additional regional school but the funding is the same.  This is a line item that was affected by 9C cuts.  Rep Jones said that revenues are meeting goal so it may be possible to restore funds for regional transportation  and the  circuit breaker.
Sen. Tarr said that it was not too late to look at the Ch. 70 formula.  It might be possible to phase the changes in over a few years.  Rep. Jones added that any change to Ch. 70 has winners and losers.  It is hard to make any changes to the formula without lots of additional money, because of the need to hold harmless those communities who might lose money under a revised formula.  Mr. Singer asked why Danvers had received such a large increase.  Rep. Speliotis explained that because of the number of motels in Danvers, between 8% and 12% of the homeless population in the State is housed there at any given time..  Once they are there they are legal residents and this skews the income base.  The advantage for Danvers is that once the money is in the base, it stays in the base.  Of course, they are also paying to educate the students.  When the program ends, the students will leave but the base will stay the same.
        Rep Speliotis asked if this11% jump were a one-time occurrence.  Mr. Singer said it was a combination of a number of factors (enrollment, budget increases and the formula).  There has been an enrollment shift over the  last three years.  Mr. Prentakis added that Middleton’s enrollment increase will continue over the next few years.  Mr. Singer noted that in the early 80’, Middleton’s share of the Masco budget was 20%.  By 2016-17, it will be 40%.  Middleton continues to be a high growth community.  The School Committee came as close as possible to meeting the requirements of the Finance Committees.  It is not their budget increase that is the problem.  The entire increase in the Masco budget will be $850,000.  Middleton’s share will be $750,000.  Mr. Cresta added that since the budget passes if two out of the three towns accept it, there is no point in putting this on an override.  There is no reason for Boxford and Topsfield not to approve the budget which will only be a $50,000 increase for them.  Mr. Singer noted that Middleton will lose a good portion of its excess levy capacity for this, and it will take years to recover.
Rep. Speliotis said that the discussion of regional schools and income disparity should be continued.  It is possible that small adjustments might make a difference. Mr. Cresta added that the new North Shore Vocational Technical School (NSVT) may attract more Middleton students resulting in another enrollment shift.
Rep. Jones suggested that this extraordinary expense might be worthy of an application for “pot hole” funds..  Senator Tarr noted that they have been successful in modifying the criteria in the past.  This fund also suffered from 9C cuts.  Rep Jones added that though it is not a long term solution, it may give some immediate relief.
Chapter 90 Estimates and House/Senate Alternate Transportation ~
Chapter 90 (highway) funding is expected to increase from $200 million to $300 million.  Rep. Jones is confident that increase will be passed.  He urged the Town to inventory its needs and take advantage of opportunities to regionalize.  Middleton does regionalize.  The categories of projects that Chapter 90 can be used for has expanded and there may be an effort to pull back to the original intent.  Middleton feels it can expect a $150,000 increase in its Chapter 90 funds.  Mr. Cresta asked if a veto by the Governor would cause a delay in confirming the Chapter 90 funds.  Rep. Jones answered that, by statute, notification is required by April 1st.  However, this does require a formal vote since it is a bond bill, and it can’t be taken up until April 22nd.  Mr. Cresta said that the Town would like a sense of the amount before Annual Town Meeting so they know how much to appropriate for a supplement since the Town has an aggressive repaving program.  Mr. Singer added that the Town will supplement no matter what the state aid is.  That is necessary to keep up with its five year plan.  Last year, Middleton was paving in November and didn’t finish the planned sidewalks.  There is a mechanism to use the extra money for older streets that are in need of repair.  Rep. Jones feels that the extra appropriation will happen but perhaps not in time for Town Meeting.  Senator Tarr agreed.  The concern is losing the construction window.  There is also a concern that the Ch. 90 issue may be held up by the overall transportation bill.
Status of DCAM Proposal to Acquire Lease for Expanded Parking at Jail-RECC and Town’s Proposal to Acquire Land for Additional Parking with Acquisition of 1 Acre Parcel abutting Jail Intake – Rep. Jones noted that the DCAM hearing on this issue took place last week at the Flint Library.  The Town declined DCAM’s request to waive the hearing.  His office has sent them a letter and hoped that the fact that DCAM wants a sign-off will make them respond.
With the building of the Regional Emergency Communications Center (RECC) and other expansions, the jail is now short of parking.  The Division of Capital Asset Management (DCAM) is looking to lease a one acre parcel of land from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).  There is a one acre parcel of land belonging to the Farley family that is adjacent to the jail.  Members of the Farley family were present.  The jail impacted their ability to develop that land.  The Town has spoken to DCAM about their buying this land for the jail but they are unresponsive.  It directly abuts the intake area of the jail.  DCAM is moving forward with the lease on the MIT land, but a need for more parking will still exist even with the MIT land.  Mr. Prentakis added that the 20 year lease is a temporary solution.  Purchasing the Farley lot will be a permanent part of the solution.  The MIT lease is a no cost lease but not a taking.
Sen. Tarr suggested a letter to DCAM emphasizing that both parcels are necessary.  They are not competing projects.  Mr. Singer added that there is an immediate need for parking for the RECC, which will open on July 1st, with fifty new employees.  Sen. Tarr said that it would make sense to invite them to have a discussion.  Mr. Cresta said they had not been responsive so far.  Mr. Singer added that at the hearing at the Library, the representative from DCAM was not familiar with the Town’s request to have them consider this property, in spite of the long history of this request.  Mr. Singer added it will cost DCAM $200,000 to $300,000 to make the leased property suitable for parking and they won’t own the improvements.  Acquiring the Farley property will cost less than that and the improvements will belong to DCAM.  All agreed that both properties should be pursued.
Proposed Legislation to Transfer former County Owned Open Space and Conservation Land now managed by DCAM, (the State’s Division of Capital Asset Management) to the Middleton Conservation Commission – Members of the Middleton Conservation Commission and the Middleton Stream Team were present as well as the Conservation Agent Ms. Schmitz.  Over the last century Essex County acquired parcels of land within Middleton totaling perhaps 100 acres.  When the County was dissolved, the property reverted to the State and DCAM was the only agency that could take control of them.  The former County Engineer gave the Town a Book of Deeds and Plans detailing the acquisition of this land.
Mr. Cresta recognized the members of the Conservation Commission and the Stream Team who were present and noted that there is an article in the Annual Town Meeting Warrant asking the Legislative Delegation to file legislation to return these lands to the control of the Conservation Commission or other appropriate agency.  The Essex County Commissioners listened to the requests of the towns and taxes paid to County were used to purchase these parcels.  The list in the packet has assessed values but they are not reliable.  The actual number of acres is around 111.  The most prominent of those parcels are the fields along Peabody St. acquired from the Curtis family.  This land is most vulnerable to development.  There are other critical parcels along the Ipswich River, as well as some isolated parcels.  The Town wants to make sure that the intent of the County Commissioners to conserve the land is met and feels that would be best served by transferring the land to the care and custody of the Conservation Commission.
Mr. Singer noted that there is no evidence of any Article 97 or other restriction on the land.  This means that DCAM has custody of over 100 acres of land that has no protection without some legislation.  Sen. Tarr asked if the goal is to protect it from development, even if restrictions had to be placed on it in order to obtain it.
Katharine Brown of the Stream Team noted that the Stream Team has created two park areas on these properties with permission from DCAM.  There is also a camping ground accessible from the River that has to be accessed through DCAM land.
Mr. Cresta said that the Town is not implying that the 100 acres could be developed.  However it was acquired by the County Commissioners for purposes of conservation.  The Town has been successful in getting developers to give them land for conservation.  The County lands were acquired mainly by compensation rather than takings.  The Town would be fine with restrictions.
Rep Speliotis said that he had worked extensively with DCAM because of the Danvers State Hospital project.  He knows that DCAM discussions are led by economics.  There was a major push to sell state land to balance the books, so that is always a danger.  However, their first goal is the public good rather than selling land.  However, Mr. Cresta noted that it is not DCAM’s focus to be environmental stewards.  Rep Speliotis said that they do have an obligation to seek a public use of the land before they sell to a private entity.  Rep. Speliotis thinks they would be receptive.  There is a precedent in Danvers where every inch of land along the Ipswich River is now protected.  Mr. Singer added that with these acquisitions, Middleton will have the same protection as Danvers.  
Mr. Speliotis pointed out that the NSVT land has a deed restriction limiting it to educational use.  Mr. Singer expressed concerns that the open space on the Middleton side could eventually be found to be available for other use.  Ms. Schmitz indicated that there is a Conservation Restriction on that property
Mr. Cresta brought everyone’s attention to the article on the Town Meeting Warrant.  Sen. Tarr said it is fair to say that the delegation is supportive.  It would be good to do some more due diligence as to the purpose of acquisitions by the County.  He feels that if there is anything to indicate it was acquired for conservation then that would trigger implied Article 97 protection.  Mr. Singer wondered if DCAM would have to obtain fair market value for the asset.  Mr. Cresta feels they will say fine to transferring a lot of the smaller parcels, but he is concerned with Peabody St.  Mr. Singer added that a previous effort by Department of Fisheries and Wildlife to acquire DCAM property failed because it was thought to be too inclusive.
The initial idea was to transfer the land to the Conservation Commission.  Rep. Jones asked the Board to give the delegation maximum flexibility.  Perhaps the article could just empower the Board of Selectmen to pursue options.  Mr. Cresta asked if there were some standard language.  Rep Cresta said that there is some language worked out by House Council.  
Mr. Cresta invited comments from the audience.
Galen Kelly of LeBeau Dr. noted that the Peabody St. land was recently under water.  He asked if a Conservation Restriction could be sought separately from any transfer.  Rep. Jones thinks the Department of Environmental Protection would only allow a transfer that involved a Conservation Restriction.
Ms. Brown noted that former Conservation Agent Pike Messenger, who could not attend tonight, always thought this would most easily be accomplished by a transfer within State government from DCAM to Fisheries & Wildlife.  Sen. Tarr agreed that this might be a more efficient solution.  Rep. Speliotis added that the best argument is that that DCAM cannot manage the land it has.  They don’t even know what they have.  Mr. Singer said that he had just had a call from a resident about dumping on a piece of land.  He had to tell him that the land was controlled by DCAM and he would have to call the state bureaucracy.  
Ms. Schmitz said that there are logistical reasons for the Town to control the land.  When the Stream Team wanted to put in canoe launch, they have to wait a month to get signature on the NOI application.  It was actually signed by Fisheries and Wildlife even though they did not own the land. It would be better if upkeep and improvements could be handled locally.  The Commission has acquired a mile of land along the River to provide a path wide enough for the public to walk.  However, the road access is partly through DCAM land which is sort of a no-man’s land. Acquiring this land will allow the Town to pull together all the land and make a continuous path.
Ms. Schmitz has read some of the deeds and some were acquired for conservation purposes.  However, in a recent court decision, the Supreme Court overruled a Superior Court decision that something was Article 97 protected.  So there is clearly uncertainty that could make lands vulnerable to that decision.
Tom Skinner, who is a member of the Conservation Commission, asked the delegation to help the Town find the best route for getting this land protected forever.  Sen. Tarr said that the more flexibility the better with goal of protecting the land and Rep Jones observed that it may take a lot of time.
Recommendation to Amend Ambulance Billing Rates –Mr. Cresta said that the packet contains a chart of the ambulance revenue for 2010 through February 2013.  The revenue has dropped about $100,000.  There is also a list of the new rates proposed by the Fire Chief.  Mr. Prentakis asked if the insurers pay what we bill or pay what they want.  Mr. Singer said that Middleton has fallen behind but this will bring us up to the average.  Mr. Cresta said that there is going to be a bundled rate that will adversely affect Middleton.  75% of population will be under government controlled programs that will set their own rates.  This proposed change will only affect 25% of the population. Mr. Singer added that there could be some increase in the revenue for this year.  This revenue supports the Fire Department budget and replacement of equipment including the ambulance itself.  The last rate increase was over two years ago.  Mr. Ferrara added that Middleton currently charges 126% of the Medicare rate.  This increase will bring the Town to 150% of the Medicare rate which is closer to the average.
Mr. Houten made a motion to amend the Ambulance Billing Rates as proposed by the Fire Chief.  Mr. Prentakis seconded the motion and all were in favor.
Final Review of Fiscal Year 2014 Annual Town Meeting Warrant – Mr. Singer said that he is awaiting final recommendations from the Finance Committee on funding sources. There may be some changes.  Mr. Singer will help with their final report.  The warrant should go to the printer very soon.
A revenue analysis has been added.  Mr. Ferrara put this analysis together to balance with the page 1 Operating Budget analysis.  It shows how much the Town is dipping into unused levy capacity.  Mr. Cresta added that it explains to the average taxpayer how taxes go up more than 2 ½ %.  Mr. Singer noted that the unused capacity allows the Town to avoid seeking an override or making unpleasant cuts.
The Finance Committee report will be on page 3.  This warrant also includes summary reports for the major departments.  Mr. Cresta asked if all this would be mailed.  Mr. Singer thinks it may be of interest to the taxpayers.  Mr. Prentakis added that this is the first time the Town is including all this information in the Warrant.  He thinks that sending out the full packet will let people know it is available.  In future years the Town may choose a different path.  Mr. Singer said the extra expense is only $300 to $400.
There is a substantive amendment in Article 36 which is an amendment to last year’s article to purchase the East St. property.  The Town is in continuing discussion with the agency that gave the $56,000 grant.  That agency wants deed restrictions placed on two parcels of land that were acquired with CPA funds.  They are the Lois Lane property adjacent to the Library and the Hagan Property which is to be part of the Town Common.  The agency will not release the money until this is done.  Mr. Cresta asked if that would affect what could be done with the property.  Mr. Singer replied that there is some disagreement with the granting authority.  He feels that the control of the land should be ceded to the Parks and Recreation Commission which is the Board of Selectmen.  The granting agency wants it to be a Conservation Restriction.  The Town considers both properties to be parks.  Mr. Singer feels the Town is meeting the requirements of the law (Ch. 40 Sect 12).  If the granting agency wants to withhold the funds, the Town will appeal to its legislative delegation.  They say they are enforcing the requirements of their sister agency.  There is no real sister agency for CPA.  The Department of Revenue does some oversight.  These properties have nothing to do with the East St. property.  The grant is only good through the end of June.  He does not feel it is worth putting a Conservation Restriction on parcels obtained for other purpose just to get the grant.  Mr. Singer will go forward with the requirements of Ch. 40 section 12 rather than a Conservation Restriction because that would prevent the Town from doing what it intended to do when it acquired those parcels.
Article 30 will be redrafted with language from Rep. Jones as discussed earlier.
Mr. Houten made a motion to approve the Annual Town Meeting Warrant with any changes to Articles 30 and 36 and any ancillary changes that may occur due to Finance Committee recommendations.  Mr. Prentakis seconded the motion and all were in favor.
New Business
Mr. Houten announced that the 1728 Club will be having its annual comedy night on April 20th.
Adjournment - Mr. Cresta adjourned the meeting at 9:50.
Respectfully submitted,
Mary Jane Morrin                
Mary Jane Morrin, Recording Secretary
Christine Lindberg, Clerk