Minutes of the Finance Committee
December 18, 2000
In attendance: members Farley, Nash, Raymond, Roberts, Vogt. Also in attendance, Alan Pease, Planning Board and Selectman Michael McCallum
Chair Vogt called meeting to order 6:50 pm.
Mt. Watatic Purchase Negotiations
Alan Pease clerk and spokesperson from the Planning Board attended to discuss the mountain purchase negotiations with FinCom. He said he hoped to answer questions Ms. Vogt had raised at Town Meeting by reporting that the article for purchase of the mountain was essentially self-contained. He provided a detailed itemization of expenses and income related to the project (attached) which showed that all expenses would be paid through the combination of personal donation and state grant.
The 29 December deadline for supplying a Purchase and Sales agreement to meet requirements of state grant had been extended somewhat. Mr. Pease guessed the extension would be for a month or two in order to allow the town to negotiate with Industrial Communications in good faith.
In response to questions from the FinCom, Mr. Pease confirmed that the $500,000 donation would remain with the town regardless of whether negotiations are successful on the mountain. The town could use that donation for another piece of land, but it is earmarked to buy open space with a conservation restriction.
Mr. McCallum confirmed that the sale of the stocks donated to the town had already been completed and that the town had actually realized more than anticipated when the buy order had been placed.
Mr. Pease also confirmed that Mr. Fenton of Industrial Communications has petitioned the planning board for a five-unit subdivision.
Mr. Nash said the committee had been concerned about how land would be maintained if the town buys is. Mr. Pease responded that the Conservation Commission would be in charge of the land and that he suspected there would be joint management with the states Department of Fish and Wildlife. He said there would be no extensive costs unless at some point the town decided to create trails. He said the town would try to use expertise of Fish and Wildlife who hold a hands-off attitude toward conservation lands. He also noted that although there would be some loss of tax revenue to the town, putting the land into Chapter 61 restrictions would in any case seriously reduce tax revenue.
Update on Legal Counsel Services Expenditures
Mr. McCallum attended in response to Ms. Vogts memo to BOS voicing FinComs concern about elevating legal costs and FinComs reluctance to create a Reserve Fund transfer for the entire balance of the requested amount (see 12/04/00 minutes). Mr. McCallum said that a considerable portion of the ongoing expenses came from personnel issues from one department in particular. Since these were confidential personnel issues, he was not at liberty to discuss them in detail, but he said he was reluctant to produce a new policy since the need for legal assistance for town departments was not widespread. He also was hopeful that the current personnel issues would be resolved by New Year.
He reported as well on the ongoing legal issues with SBA over the towns denial of their zoning petition to erect a celltower in town. He felt it important that the town spend up front money on legal assistance rather than making mistakes and having to spend more on losing court battles down the line. He said FinCom could expect to legal bills for approximately $7000 for month of November and the same for December, after which it might decrease. Mr. McCallum also reported on additional situations facing the town which might precipitate legal costs: two issues before the Planning Board (including the site plan review for the subdivision proposed by Industrial Communications on Mt. Watatic), a ZBA application for a tower permit and a request for permitting application for the landfill site which might need some legal review.
FinCom members expressed concern that legal costs currently incurred by the town seem to be a result of management problems in individual departments and there was discussion on ways in which FinCom and BOS might assist department heads with their budgeting or management problems. Ms. Vogt said she had tried to make clear to department heads that FinCom was available for assistance in any matter relating to finances. Ms. Roberts said she felt it important BOS should look at ways to improve management skills in town in order to minimize need for legal counsel.
Mr. McCallum said that all department heads had been instructed to go through Town Administrator before soliciting legal advice and Town Counsel had also been cooperative in refusing to give advice without permission from Town Administrator. He also said he felt some of the personnel problems encountered by the town were the result of some departments, by their nature, providing entry-level opportunities for employees starting their careers. This brought considerably less experienced personnel to the town, which might make town more liable for the kinds of personnel issues Ashby has faced this year.
Mr. Farley suggested FinCom and BOS might consider creating a legal services line for individual departments in order to make department heads more accountable for their individual legal expenses. Mr. McCallum felt it was too difficult to predict where such funds might be needed in any given year and breaking up the line item would create more problems than solutions. In response to various questions, Mr. McCallum said he knew that both he and Town Administrator had been working to try to control expenses within specific departments. He was not sure how the other two selectmen might feel about the current situation of personnel issues so could, in this case, only speak for himself.
Ms. Vogt reminded Mr. McCallum that FinCom had decided to take action on Reserve Fund transfers for legal expenditures piecemeal, voting on expenses as they are billed rather than transferring a large sum from the Reserve Fund. Members agreed that FinComs position is that a sum of money should be transferred from available funds to the Legal Services line at a Special Town Meeting as soon as possible.
Negotiations on Possible Mt. Watatic Purchase
Gardner LePeor dropped in on the meeting in order to report to FinCom on negotiations with Mr. Fenton of Industrial Communications about purchase of the mountain land. He said it was clear to him that the town has an open space desire and that as a neutral party on the issues, BOS had asked him to head a committee to negotiate on the towns behalf. Other members of the committee included Harald Scheid, Robert Bedard, and Claire Lavin. Mr. LePoer said there would be a meeting on December 27 to start the process. His stance to Mr. Fenton would be to encourage him to see that at no other time would the town be in such a good position to buy the land.
Minutes of Previous Meeting
Minutes of December 4, 2000 were unanimously accepted as written, subject to review.
Analysis of FY02 Budget Requests
Ms. Raymond reported she had incorporated all budget requests into the working budget spreadsheet, showing percent increases over last years budget allocations and also including notes and questions from FinCom members in the notes column. It was agreed that she would print out appropriate sheets for each department head prior to January 13 and 20 meetings to review budget requests. These sheets would enable department heads to look over their budget requests compared with the last two years appropriations and requests. Ms. Vogt and Ms. Roberts will draft a cover memo to department heads to place in their boxes between Christmas and New Year to remind them of their meetings and to give them chance to review
Extensive, if inconclusive, discussion continued on whether FinCom should consider limiting all appropriations to 3.6% increases over last year since it appears revenues will increase by that amount and current requests are pushing budget to a 12%+ increase over last year.
Members agreed to postpone additional meeting until first daylong meeting with department heads on January 13 and 9:00 a.m.
Reserve Fund Transfer
Request to transfer $7009.36 from Reserve Fund to Legal Counsel Services line, approved, unanimously.
Meeting adjourned at 9:30 pm.