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Long Range Planning faces debt-exclusion decisions

Informal talk about a debt exclusion, in the air since January, moved toward a clearer discussion as selectmen Monday, March 21, voted unanimously to hand off the complex series of issues to the town's Long Range Planning Committee

Board of Selectmen logo, Jan. 23, 2013

The board charged that group of town and school leaders with arriving at options about when an initiative would go on a town ballot and how much would be sought. Only selectmen can put the matter on a ballot.

Discussion about timing ranged, as it has in School Enrollment Task Force meetings, from June to November.

Discussion about costs provided some general estimates: $20 million to $30 million to extend Ottoson and renovate the former Gibbs Jr. High, $3 million to expand Thompson plus $1.5 million to $2 million to pay for a feasibility study of a new high school.

8 weeks, solid numbers

Diane Mahon, a veteran of many such campaigns, said a drive toward a ballot question needs eight weeks and solid numbers to be effective.

Steve Byrne made clear he was not comfortable with a June vote and favored waiting until clearer enrollment numbers are known. They are expected in October.

Dan Dunn said the cost of delaying is having a solution for an expanding Ottoson and Thompson put off until a 2019 opening.

Joseph Curro Jr. said he has thought that June was the right time for a vote, but called Minuteman the "fly in the ointment."

The Minuteman School Committee has voted to borrow $144.9 million to build a new high school,  and has said it might impose funding on participating towns via a ballot question. The 16 member towns must reach consensus about renovation by June 30, the deadline to qualify for millions of dollars in state reimbursement funds.

Town Meeting is expected to vote on Minuteman funding April 27.

If there were a debt-exclusion vote in June, Curro estimated the total sought at $37 million to deal with near-term issues. Numbers are expected to be more precise after Cambridge architect HMFH provides them, in late April.

Greeley proposal

With these differing views, Selectmen Chair Kevin Greeley proposed the names of a number of town and school leaders return to the Budget & Revenue Task Force, which had met that night, for a discussion of options about how to proceed.

Eventually, after Greeley enumerated longer-range issues, including looking at the $15 million structural deficit expected in in 2022, discussion led to a motion proposing the Long Range Planning Committee. The vote on the motion was 5-0.

See the complete spreadsheet dated March 21, 2016, showing the Long Range Fiscal Projection, fiscal 2016-2022 (large file may be slow loading).

A debt exclusion is similar to a mortgage, School Committee member Jennifer Susse has explained. To fund a project, the town borrows money for either 20 or 30 years. Taxes are raised to pay for the financing of the debt.

Similar to a mortgage the amount we need to pay each year is fixed, which means that the real cost of the project to taxpayers will decrease over time, because inflation will erode the value of those fixed payments. Also, similar to a mortgage, the cost will eventually go away, albeit in 30 years.

An override is an increase to the tax base. In 1980 voters in Massachusetts passed proposition 2 1/2, which restricts how much the average taxes in a town can go up each year. The only exception to the 2.5-percent cap is new growth. Arlington has little new growth, but what it has ensures that tax receipts can effectively go up by around 3 percent.

Changing course on camping article

In other business, selectmen reheard Warrant Article 24, a bylaw amendment aimed at camping on public property, and decided to "put the brakes on."

Because of the expected impact of the article on the homeless, the board voted, 5-0, to set up a nine-member task force whose charge is to better understand the issue.

A March 18 memo from Town Counsel Doug Heim says, in part: "Among the diverse concerns presented, a number of stakeholders believe the bylaw submitted may go too far in disallowing the unsheltered from camping on State and Town owned properties of Arlington before we adequately understand the extent and nature of the challenges facing persons in presently known encampments.

"The Police Department and Health Department are receptive to these calls for additional study of the issues facing both the homeless and the community-at-large, and would value additional to opportunity to both share and receive perspective and strategies for assisting Arlington's unsheltered before further action on a camping bylaw."

The board also voted no action on the article, which arose out a violent incident in East Arlington last June. Read the story here >> 

East Arlington resident said he was Erich Segal happy to hear this result.

Trying again on 1207 Mass. Ave.

The authorized a draft request for proposals for the sale of 1207 Mass. Ave., the former Disabled American Veterans, which the town owns.

Town Manager Adam Chapdelaine said an earlier request seeking bids for a short-term lease at a potential coworking site received no responses.

The new request has a minimum bid price of $750,000. Officials earlier had hoped expected proceeds of the sale of as much as $1 million would go toward the renovation of Stratton.

Byrne said he was not surprised there were no bidders in the light of Workbar coworking opening in February nearby at Mirak.

Greeley asked whether a purchaser would most likely tear it down. "I think so," Chapdelaine said.

Talks continue on marijuana accord

Selectmen took no vote on a community-benefit agreement for a medical-marijuana dispensary proposed for 5 Water St., because the accord is still under negotiation.

Heim said the sides had agreed in principle but the matter remains incomplete. "We've got the terms we want," he said.

Dr. Matt Schofield, a pediatrician with a practice in the building, asked: "Is this a viable site?"

He noted that 120 children pass through every day, and Heim offered to speak with him privately.

The board approved a food license for Mashed, LLC, d/b/a OTTO, 202 Mass. Ave., near the Capitol. Co-owner Anthony W. Allen said it is the business's 11th location, in Massachusetts and New Hampshire. He said he expect to open in early May.

March 21, 2016: Long Range Fiscal Projection, fiscal 2016-2022

March 15, 2016: Oh, oh ... overrides, debt exclusions and other issues on the horizon

This news summary was published Tuesday, March 22, 2016.

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