By Nan Shnitzler
The Board of Selectmen, on March 19 and 26, voted most of the articles on the annual Town Meeting warrant, approving everything they’ve considered so far. Some 30 articles are on the warrant, including two possible citizens petitions.
The fiscal 2016 operating budget has not yet been finalized due to moving targets related to the school district budget, free cash target, contribution to the Other Post Employment Benefits (OPEB) fund and snowstorm reimbursements from the Mass. Emergency Management Agency.
The school budget increase has been pared from about 5 percent to 4.21 percent overall and 3.1 percent for Bolton’s assessment. This was done, in part, by cutting some new hires and drawing more from the Excess & Deficiency (free cash) fund, according to Selectman Stan Wysocki, who was vocal about the lack of budgetary “scrubbing” displayed by both the school administration and the School Committee. He said there is no examination of current spending before new spending is tacked on, unlike how Bolton reviews its operating budget line by line.
Wysocki thought the non-teaching personnel category was ripe for scrutiny as well at the “excessive” $36,000 vehicle allowance. The superintendent alone gets $7,000, which per the federal mileage allowance, Wysocki said, is 13,000 driving miles a year—roughly a round trip from Bolton to Manhattan every week for nine months.
Wysocki said that the School Committee chairman remarked at the previous night’s meeting that as a volunteer she didn’t need to understand the details of the budget because the committee relies on experts.
“What experts?” Wysocki said. “It’s troubling when the School Committee doesn’t feel the need to understand [the budget] when this is one of most important things they have to do in their charter. They are elected representatives who have a duty, in my opinion, [not only] to the kids to get the best education, but to the towns . . . voting to spend 60 percent of town money. This situation has gone on for a number of years, and for me it’s reached a head.”
Advisory Committee Chairman Brad Cote noted that $112,000 of funds voted for school repairs (at Florence Sawyer and Emerson) has been languishing, and it behooves Bolton in the future to control that money as the Bolton Public Works Department handles the work.
Spending articles to be paid for with free cash and transfers from unexpended funds include a $3,000 unpaid bill; $370,000 for the snow and ice deficit; $25,000 for Wilder Road culvert engineering; $35,000 for Berlin Road culvert engineering; $40,000 for repairs to Highway Department snow removal vehicles; $36,000 to expand the Public Works office by 300 square feet; $12,000 to enlarge the Public Works crew room; $8,000 for two solar lights at Town Hall’s upper parking lot; $36,000 to repair and shore up a stone wall and embankment at the Fyfeshire Conservation Area’s upper pond; $5,000 to patch the driveway from Emerson School to Florence Sawyer school.
The $270,000 to permit, purchase and install new traffic signals at the intersection of Still River Road and Main Street will be funded by a $20,000 appropriation, and a $250,000 borrowing that will be exempt from Proposition 2 1/2, if voters approve at the Town Election.
Two revolving funds need to be authorized: one for web-based municipal software, which is funded by a surcharge on permits; and one for the Nashoba Cadet EMT program, which is funded by fees from adults who take the EMT course. Up to now, the Nashoba Regional School District administered this fund, but new IRS regulations preclude this.
Route 117 transfer
Per Mass General Law Ch. 81, sec. 4, a Town Meeting vote is not technically necessary for the selectmen to petition the Mass. Department of Transportation to “take charge of a new or existing way” if they “adjudge that public necessarily and convenience” require it.
Selectmen Chairman Larry Delaney thought it was still a good idea to see if the town would support the state assuming control of Route 117 from the Stow line to the Lancaster line. Town Counsel Bob Gibbons of Mirick O’Connell said that MassDOT might prefer a vote, though they could “come in and do it themselves,” but that would be “a rare event.”
The selectmen voted to approve the article; advisory voted to disapprove. However, in light of advisory member Joe Myerson’s disclosure of potential financial conflict as a Main Street resident, advisory will likely take another vote with him recusing.
The recall article petitions the General Court to allow recall elections in Bolton. Among the provisions: 30 registered voters may initiate a recall by filing an affidavit with the Town Clerk that includes the grounds for recall; 20 percent of Bolton’s voters must sign a recall petition within 28 days after the affidavit is filed; the officer to be recalled may not be a candidate to succeed him/herself.
Both advisory and selectmen voted to approve.
Two articles bring personnel policies for municipal employees in line with those of union employees. The sick leave amendment increases the number of accumulated days from 120 to 150. Sick leave is for illness only and carries no buy-back or cash-in valuation. The longevity pay amendment reduces the necessary years of service from 15 to 10. Selectmen may still opt to grant a $100 meritorious award to any employee with more than 20 years of service.
Bylaw amendment to clarify authority of permit-granting boards
The Conservation Commission has sponsored an article to clarify its and the Planning Board’s authority as license- and permit-granting authorities, specifically the authority to deny and revoke licenses and permits, with due notice, if the applicant is in arrears on taxes, fees or other relevant payments, per the tax collector.
A provision in the amendment allows released surety bonds to be used as payment for taxes and fees in arrears. Neither the state Department of Revenue nor Attorney General has yet responded to requests for comment, so the selectmen did not vote.
Two housekeeping zoning articles update the town’s base and zoning maps to reflect the mixed-use village overlay district and increase the overlay district’s residential density provisions from one building per 80,000 square feet to 10 housing units per acre.
Selectmen approved an article for the town to negotiate a payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) for a second solar energy facility at the Bolton Orchards gravel pit. The same vendor, Syncarpha, will build a 2.5-megawatt array on 15 acres.
Selectmen deferred voting on an article to negotiate a lease agreement for a small solar array on eight acres of the capped landfill (next to the Transfer Station) because neither the vendor nor the lease terms have been finalized. Selectmen hope more information will be available in time for Town Meeting.
This past August, the selectmen composed and endorsed a resolution to oppose the Worcester Lateral branch of Kinder Morgan’s Northeast Energy Direct high-pressure natural gas pipeline, which would cut through conservation land and private property in Bolton on a path that would terminate in northern Worcester. Having the resolution as an article on the warrant allows residents to weigh in.
A second pipeline-related article instructs Bolton’s state legislators to oppose any legislative proposal that removes land from the protection of Article 97 of the Constitution of the Commonwealth for the purpose of building a natural gas pipeline. Article 97 asserts the people’s right to clean air and water; the natural, scenic, historic and esthetic qualities of their environment; and the protection of land under Article 97 from being used for other purposes. Both selectmen and advisory voted to approve.