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Town Meeting 2011: What's in Your Wallet?

by Paul Saulnier

What some candidates will do to get elected...

Once inside, plenty of folks came to keep an eye on their money. The Selectmen were all seated and ready for debate. For Andy Porter, left, and Will McColl, second from the left, this willl be their last meeting as Selectmen, at least for a while.

The Finance Committee was also ready to comment on the money articles, having spent countless hours reviewing department budgets.

Opening ceremonies included a tribute to retiring Town Clerk Jackie Dellicker, an eleven-year veteran of the position.

Residents were quick to give Jackie a standing ovation.

Finance Committee Chairman Ken Szajda above gave the report of the Finance Committee, which did not paint a rosy picture of the town's finances. Ken reported that state aid continues to decline and is now at FY2006 levels. Income from new growth was only $200,000 last year, revenues were up a whopping 0.03% while benefit costs jumped 7.1%. 

Resident Liz Theiler, above left, questioned town administrator Paul LeBeau, above right, about the raise automatically granted to new employees by the Job Compensation Plan, which grants 16% in raises over two years. Paul explained that employees are temporary for the first 90 days and the salaries reflect that. He also pointed out that the salaries are within 99% of the Consumer Price Index, a measure used to assure competitive hourly rates.

Resident Bill Dowd above has been vocal in his concern about health benefit costs and unfunded pension liabilities and has been advocating for action by the Selectmen and the Finance Committee. Since Bill's articles, scheduled for later in the meeting, were determined by town counsel to be inadmissible, Bill spoke here and during Article 15 to his desire to adjust the percentage that the town pays for health benefits from 60% to 50%, a figure that was established at the 2001 town meeting. Questions over the legality of that vote were raised by Bill but left unanswered by town counsel.

When Department #01194, Employee Benefits, was up for approval under the Omnibus Budget, Bill gave a very detailed explanation of the results of his research into the unfunded costs, present and future, of the health benefits received by town employees. His motion to amend the budget by reducing the amount earmarked for insurance by $678,280.00, and to have the vote taken by secret ballot, ignited considerable debate and led Town Moderator Kevin Clancy to remind speakers to be civil and respect differring opinions.

Fire Chief Michael Cassidy spoke to the fact that the volunteer firefighters earn less than their current payment for health benefits.

Counsel John Carey, a specialist in labor relations presented his view on the matter.

School Superintendent Brad Jackson reminded voters that teachers took four unpaid leave days last year to help reduce costs, and that the school's wages are competitive but that benefit costs are below what other towns offer.

Finance Committee member Jay Leary acknowledged Bill Dowd's extensive reasearch but said that he is not sure if Bill's calculations are correct and would like to review them in total before voting on the amendment.

Jay Marsden, "newest member of the Board of Selectmen, and soon to be the oldest member", urged attendees to vote down the amendment in favor of a comprehensive study proposed by the Finance Committee to be discussed later in the meeting.

Retiring elementary school teacher, Dianne Nault, pointed out that the town does not pay any money towards her retirement benefits and that her health benefits from the town will be terminated when she becomes eligable for Medicare. 

Marybeth Numbers said that she, like many school employees, does not cost the town anything for health insurance as she relies on her husband's plan. She said that Holliston is ranked 289th out of 319 school districts in health benefits.

Doug Foss contended that school teachers have a limited work year compared to corporate employees in that they are on duty a mere 166 days vs 225  for most workers.

In response to resident Doug Foss, who calculated that school employees are only required to work 166 days per year versus 225 days for most private sector employees, School Committee Chairman Tom Jones, above, pointed out that school administrators do work the same 225 days. In other stats provided, Tom stated that Holliston's cost per pupil is in the bottom half when compared to other towns.

Student Victoria Zeamer, made a passionate plea to maintain teacher benefits, and said: "Its more than just the 185 days. It's about inspiring us".

No one spoke in favor of the amendment, which was defeated.

CPC Chairman Sam Tyler above presented the one project his committee is recommending for funding: $675,000.00 for repairs to Town Hall. Town Hall Preservation Committee member Ed Nunes below provided the details of the project, which include roof repairs, insulation and vapor barriers in the auditorium, and replacement of siding. A special primer will also be used to try to make paint stick to the building. The motion passed without a question. It was past 11:00 PM.

The meeting adjourned at 11:10 and reconvened on Tusday at 7:30 to consider the remaining articles 18-34. 

Article 26, to fund a comprehensive study of the town's benefits, compensation and human resources, was a continuation of yesterday's debate. Submitted by the Finance Committee for $30,000.00, Selectman Jay Marsden advised voters that additional funds may be necessary to complete the study. Resident J. Michael Norton above asked if the $30,000.00 was an accurate estimate. Finance Committee Chairman Ken Szajda responded that the price would be determined during negotiations but would be a fixed price contract, not a retainer.

Bill Dowd called for a change in the legislation, article 32B, which he believes locks the town in its current 60/40 health benefits payment package.

Representative Carolyn Dykema did not agree, adding that the language does allow for alteraton to the town's participation. The motion passed.

Attorney Peter Barbieri above advanced article 33 to rezone 25 acres of land near Hopping Brook Park to industrial zone. He stated that once the land is built out, it could increase tax revenues by over $40,000.00 per year.

Frank Colantonio, a member of the newly formed Economic Development Committee, said that his committee fully supports the motion, which passed.

And so ended another session of local town government, for the people and by the people.

Good night, Chet.