Board of Selectmen
February 7, 2011
Selectmen’s Hearing Room, Town Hall
Al Merritt, Chairman
Robert P. MacKendrick, Selectman
Arthur J. Bourque III, Selectman
Chairman Merritt called the meeting to order at 7:01 p.m. and announced that the meeting was being recorded for the purposes of transmission via cable television.
Utility pole location hearing, Reading Municipal Light Department
Brian Smith, engineering project manager at Reading Municipal Light Department, presented a petition for a new pole as follows:
Place one (1) new pole on Main Street, approximately 10 feet northeasterly, on the easterly side of Main Street from existing pole 52, located approximately 100 feet southwesterly from existing pole 53, on the westerly side of Main Street at the centerline of Chestnut Street.
Mr. Smith told the Board the new pole would be a stub pole for a guy wire which is currently attached to a tree the Town seeks to remove.
Mark Donovan of 437 Main Street asked where the new pole would be in relationship to the tree. Mr. Smith said the exact location would be determined in concert with the town engineer. He said it would be a wood utility pole about 35 feet in height.
Mr. Donovan expressed concern that the new pole could block access to a new septic system on his property. Mr. Smith said if the tree is not blocking access, the pole should not.
Wallace Rich of 447 Main Street said that the pole across the street from the proposed pole location was never guyed until a car struck the pole. He is glad to have the tree cut down, but does not want a new pole if the damaged pole can be repaired instead.
Mr. Smith said the pole should be guyed to prevent it from being felled by another accident or winds. He said the residents of the area will benefit from this safety measure.
Selectman Bourque suggested the Board taken the matter under advisement, and have the town engineer work with RMLD and the concerned neighbors on the pole location. Mr. Smith said that he would be happy to take another look at the issue.
On the motion of Selectman MacKendrick, seconded by Selectman Bourque, the Board unanimously voted to continue the hearing to a future date.
Budget review – Council on Aging
Senior Center Director Linda Naccara and members of the Council on Aging appeared to present their Fiscal Years 2012 budget request to the Board.
She noted that in the years from 2000-2010, staff hours at the Senior Center have grown by 31 percent, daily meal volume has grown by 300 percent, the number of program participants by 320 percent. The number of rooms in use has grown from 2 to 8, and the number of activities from 5 to 16.
She said the senior population makes up one-third of the Town, and is growing at a faster rate than any other age group. Ms. Naccara said the level of programming compares favorably with those in larger cities with larger center staffs, such as Peabody and Beverly.
The budget request includes expansion of the cook’s position from 20 to 30 hours per week. She noted that the cook is responsible for shopping, clean-up and other tasks and that Lynnfield’s is the only center in the region that prepares meals on site with one person in the kitchen. It also includes expansion of the activity director and receptionist positions from 25 to 30 hours per week. She noted that the center is open seven hours a day although these positions are only funded for five hours, and the center serves over 200 people a day and offers 16 programs per day.
She also told the Board that much of the Senior Center’s needs are funded through the commissions account for trips and events and through donations made from funds provided by the Friends of Lynnfield Seniors group.
Ms. Naccara said that the center can’t continue in its present manner with current staffing levels. The Council is discussing what cuts can be made if staffing isn’t expanded. She expressed hope that the Board would view a strong Senior Center as a must, helping seniors stay independent and providing a lifeline for them.
Rev. Chris Foustoukas of the Council on Aging said that the center is at capacity and cannot add programs due to space limitations. Its budget makes up less than 0.5 percent of the Town’s budget and there has been no capital funding for the center in ten years, as donations are used to pay for these items. The staff cannot be asked to do more without additional hours and new developments will add to the senior population. Cuts being considered are limiting meals to three days per week and closing the center during certain times during the year, as well as reducing transportation services.
Council on Aging member Fred Santangelo said that the commissions account comes from commissions from bus companies related to trips, ads well as from the meals account. The trip commissions have fallen off in recent years as fewer people are taking trips. The Council had used these funds for capital items and food and supplies, and does not feel it is appropriate to be used to fund salaries, The Council understands the difficulty in developing the budget but feels the Senior Center requests should be a priority, and with the senior population growing, the Town should not think about cutting programs.
Council on Aging member Ann Hourihan reminded the Board that one of the goals it assigned to the Senior Center was growth of the meals program, which has been achieved. The allotted time for the cook is not adequate. Mr. Gustus has said he will not let the meals program fall apart and has been proven to be a man of his word.
Chairman Merritt said the Senior Center is a gem and its business model very efficient, making limited demand on the Town. The food program is very successful.
Selectman Bourque said that he has heard praise for Lynnfield’s center in other towns, and wishes that other communities whose residents attend Lynnfield’s center would help support it. He said that while this is a tough budget year, the requests are reasonable and the Town should try to find the money to fund them if possible.
Selectman MacKendrick said that the Board wants to continue the great programs at the center, but faces enormous problems with the overall Town budget. He said the Board will do as much as it can to fulfill these worthwhile requests, but noted that other departments are being asked to cut back. He thanked the Council, Ms. Naccara and the staff for their efforts and said that since they had been frugal, they have little fat to cut. He is “cautiously optimistic” about funding the budget requests.
Chairman Merritt said that as out-of-towners visit the Lynnfield center, Lynnfield seniors go to other senior centers for specialized programs. Ms. Naccara said that by accepting state funds, the Senior Center must be open to seniors from any municipality in the Commonwealth, and said non-residents are among the center’s volunteers and donors.
Town Administrator William Gustus said that he has met with the Council on Aging to discuss the Town’s budget challenges. Members understand that times are tough. The growth in requests for services has outpaced the resources allotted the Senior Center. Expansion of any Town services will require all constituencies to work together to enhance revenues. He said the Board is examining ideas for revenue enhancement and hopes that they will have the support of the Council on Aging and those who value the Senior Center.
Mr. Gustus said that the request is a modest increase in terms of dollars, about $24,000 in additional funding. But he noted that it represents a 10 percent budget increase. He said that those who spoke have done a tremendous job articulating how efficient the operation is, and said that it is the same in all Town departments. He said there is not fat in the Lynnfield budget, and nothing that can be cut without affecting services.
Stephen Fantone of Summer Street said that those using Town services should be asked to pay more to support them rather than asking the taxpayer to provide that support. He suggested increasing the meals prices at the Senior Center. Ms. Naccara said that she looked into charging a fee for Senior Center use, but said the state Office of Elder Affairs said it can only be voluntary, not mandatory. She said Lynnfield is already charging $2 per meal, more than most centers do.
Chairman Merritt and the Board members thanked Ms. Naccara and the Council on Aging for the presentation and their work.
Budget review – Department of Public Works
Public Works Director Dennis Roy appeared to present his Fiscal Year 2012 budget request. He noted that in each division, non-union salaries have been level funded and increases for union personnel were included in conformity with contract agreements.
Snow and ice and street lighting are level-funded. Rubbish costs are reduced by 1.8 percent due to increased recycling and changes to the contract, Disposal costs are increasing 1.5 percent. There is an increase in recycling for tub-grinding of brush, as it cannot be burned. Funding for Household Hazardous Waste Day is included in the budget. Curbside pickup of white goods is level-funded, although that operation is running at a deficit, and a fee increase might be in order.
In school maintenance and buses, three bus drivers have been eliminated through attrition, with contracted busing increased. This reduces benefits costs, gas, repair and other expenses. The School Department is seeking an additional bus due to increased school population, at a cost of $43,259. Custodial supplies have been traditionally underfunded, as have been plumbing and electrical maintenance and air quality testing. The school building project was seven years ago and additional maintenance is now needed as systems age. The line item for fire alarm testing is increased as a full test should be done every year. The cost will be $1200 for each elementary school and $2500 each for the middle and high schools. Electrical heat is level funded. A floating custodian should be added when the high school addition is
completed, but was not included in this budget request.
Under town building maintenance, funding for repairs to the fire station overhead doors was included as well as other small adjustments.
Overall, salaries make up 43.5 percent of the DPW budget, expenses 39 percent, heat and energy 15 percent, fuels 3 percent. By function, schools cost make up 41.4 percent of the budget, highway, cemetery, trees and parks 20 percent, rubbish and recycling 13 percent, administration 10 percent, municipal buildings 9 percent, street lighting 3 percent, snow and ice removal 2 percent.
Mr. Roy said electrical maintenance and plumbing expenses have traditionally been underfunded. He said the Middle School track needs a new coating every seven to eight years, and that septic system work that needs to be done every four to five years is in this budget request. He said that the department is also trying to extend the life of heavy equipment through repairs.
On the issue of the snow and ice budget, Mr. Roy said the Town has seen 74 inches so far this fiscal year. This is on a pace to match or exceed 2005, in which the Town had 111 inches, the most in the 12 years he has tracked the Town’s snowfall. Mr. Roy said he has been in the business for 30 years and recalls well the Blizzard of 1978, and this year has been the worst in terms of snow accumulating and not melting. Front-end loaders are being used to take large banks away. Sidewalks are being cleared during the nights. Due to the weight of the accumulating snow, 220,000 square feet of roof space, the equivalent of five acres, has been cleared, with most of it having to be hand shoveled. Then the snow that has been removed has to be cleared away from the buildings due to vents, fire lanes and other fixtures. While the
salt price is good this year, the salt has been difficult to obtain.
Mr. Gustus said the requested budget represents about a two-percent increase in funding. Providing the additional bus requested by the School Committee would increase the amount to 2.93 percent.
Selectman MacKendrick asked about the white goods collection program. Mr. Roy said that the cost to residents is $25 for the sticker, and that often a junk dealer will take the item before the collector. In these cases, residents ask for a refund of the sticker price. The Town pays JRM a flat monthly fee for the service, and in same months the fees do not offset the JRM charge.
Selectman Bourque said the Town has done well with keeping the streets clean, and had done as well as better than other communities in the area. Mr. Roy said he wanted to compliment his staff for their efforts. He said that once snow season ends, pothole-filling season begins, and people will want the streets cleaned and curbing damaged by plowing repaired.
Selectman Bourque and Selectman MacKendrick asked about streets that need to be cleaned up or widened. Mr. Roy said this work is taking place during the nights. Selectman Bourque asked why some streets are not being cleared to the curb. Mr. Roy said that the contractors available for hire tend to have smaller trucks. Contractors that have not met standards have been dismissed. There is a concern about taking out mailboxes and causing damager, but the directive is to push the snow back to the curb.
Mr. Roy said another concern is private plows pushing snow from driveways into banks across the street, narrowing the street. He has asked the Police Department to address this when seen, and the DPW informs private contractors they should not do this. Selectman Bourque asked that Mr. Roy, Mr. Gustus and Police Chief David Breen work together on this issue. He suggested letters be sent for the first infraction.
Mr. Roy also said that after storms he is getting calls about trash pickup. He said if there is a delay in trash collection, it is posted on the Town’s website. Chairman Merritt as asked when the Town’s Code Red notification system will be in pace. Mr. Gustus said that it will be installed in the next several weeks. Mr. Gustus said the system will allow Town departments to send notifications to all residents on emergency issues. The two water districts are also participating. Residents will have their home phone numbers automatically entered if they are listed, and can choose to register cellular phones, business phones and e-mail addresses through the website.
Snow and Ice authorization
Mr. Roy said that the snow and ice removal cost remains a moving target. Thus far, $495,000 has been committed and spent. He is requesting an additional $250,000, which includes a $75,000 cushion for removal efforts through the remainder of the season. He said he is awaiting word on whether the first major storm will be the cause of a federal disaster declaration, which could return $75,000 to the Town. He explained about the need to shovel roofs and keep the schools clear.
Mr. Gustus said that $450,000 in spending beyond the original snow and ice appropriation will be difficult to cover out of transfers from other Fiscal Year 2011 budgets. It is likely that a portion of these costs will have to be addressed in the Fiscal Year 2012 budget, which will make a significant impact on funding and revenue decisions.
Selectman Bourque said he realized removing snow from roofs is an expensive process. Mr. Roy said that it cost about $40,000 to $50,000 for the school roofs. He noted that it must be done chiefly by hand, and that a building in another town collapsed when a snow blower was used.
On the motion of Selectman Bourque, seconded by Selectman MacKendrick, the Board voted unanimously to authorize the spending of an additional $250,000 for snow and ice removal.
Budget review – Library
Library Director Nancy Ryan said that the Fiscal Year 2012 budget request for the library was highlighted by the restoration of the assistant director’s salary, at $40,000, contractual increases for staff as negotiated, and the additional of $150 for in-state travel. Restoration of the assistant director’s position would help with pursuing grants and expanding programs.
Ms. Ryan said that library attendance is up and that material checkout and renewals have increased. She noted the library’s partnership with several community groups and the schools. The library’s goals this year include completion of the long-range plan, establishment of a library foundation, launching a local history and genealogy collections digitalization project, renovations of the children’s room and furthering the library expansion project.
New services are required to meet new needs in the community, Ms. Ryan said. E-books do not replace printed books. Patrons desire a quiet reading room as well as social and meeting spaces. They desire more weekend hours, parking, adult programming, and separate areas for teens and adults.
Ms. Ryan read a letter from Linda Burns of the Friends of the Lynnfield Public Library who enumerated 15 ways in which her family uses the library, including borrowing materials, programs, computers, the reference desk, and movie nights.
Robert Calamari, chairman of the Board of Library Trustees, said that the library as an institution is struggling, with the lack of an assistant director hampering its day-to-day and long-term operations. Leaving the position unfilled may be leaving money on the table, as it makes fundraising and grant-seeking efforts less likely.
Demands for services are up and the Town has failed to meet its municipal appropriation requirement for three years, requiring a state waiver. He said it is clear from statements from Town officials that due to fiscal issues, the library’s requests will not be fulfilled this year. He reiterated the goals stated by Ms. Ryan, and added that the library sees a need to reach out to younger adults, ages 25-45. He said he understands the fiscal issues facing the Town.
Selectman Bourque said that the Town is looking at cutting positions to reach a balanced budget. He said the library request is viable, but said it remains to be seen what the Town can afford to fun. He said great things are happening at the library due to the efforts of the staff, volunteers and trustees.
Chairman Merritt asked about the creation of a foundation for the library. Mr. Calamari said that fundraising efforts could include the building project and continue for other purposes, with an endowment as the long-term goal.
Mr. Gustus asked what the Town will have to appropriate for the library budget to meet the state funding target. Ms. Ryan said an additional $633,837 would be needed. Mr. Calamari asked how much the diverged from the budget request, if the assistant director position is not funded. Ms. Ryan said the budget would be about $20,000 under the target in that scenario.
Insurance Advisory Committee
Mr. Gustus advised the Board that the state requires that an Insurance Advisory Committee be formed and consulted whenever the Town is considering proposals to alter the employee health insurance offerings. The committee consists of Town employee representatives, and a retired Town employee must be appointed by the Board as well. The committee must make a recommendation to the Board on the proposed changes. Mr. Gustus said Leonard Rothwell, a retired police officer, has volunteered to serve as the retiree representative.
On the motion of Selectman Bourque, seconded by Selectman MacKendrick, the Board voted unanimously to appoint Leonard Rothwell as the retiree representative to the Insurance Advisory Committee.
Mutual aid agreements
Mr. Gustus explained that the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) coordinates statewide public safety and fire mutual aid agreements. These agreements would allow the Town to participate in any mutual aid operation in case of an emergency, and receive such aid from other communities and state organizations should such an emergency arise in Lynnfield.
Selectman Bourque said that this merely formalizes an ongoing practice of offering such aid. Selectman MacKendrick said he believed that such agreements were already in place. Mr. Gustus explained that the existing agreements a re regional, and these agreements cover the entire state and MEMA assistance as well.
On the motion of Selectman Bourque, seconded by Selectman MacKendrick, the Board voted unanimously to enter into the MEMA mutual aid agreements for public safety and fire emergencies. The Board members signed the mutual aid agreement opt-in documents.
Ambulance rate schedule
Chairman Merritt said the Board reviews the schedule of fees for the Town ambulance service on an annual basis. Fire Captain John Walsh presented a chart of proposed fees (see accompanying exhibit) along with comparisons to those fees charges by other communities.
Mr. Gustus said that these rates are based on the Medicare and Blue Cross-Blue Shield (BCBS) allowable rates.
Capt. Walsh said that BCBS is seeing communities shifting costs from taxpayers to users by imposing higher fees, and has a plan to reimburse patients directly for “usual and customary” costs and have the patient pay the provider. There has been talk on Beacon Hill of capping fees at three times the Medicare rate. His understanding is the BCBS has tabled its plan for a moment.
Chairman Merritt asked how the proposed changes would affect the user. Capt. Walsh said that a new state-required database for ambulance runs requires significantly more time to complete than the previous paperwork. He also said that the Heart Association is also recommending that in the case of cardiac arrest, the best practice is to attempt resuscitation in the place the patient is found.
Chairman Merritt asked if there has been an increase in the number of calls. Capt. Walsh said that ambulance transports have increased, in part due to the practice of doctors to advise patients to call 911 and visit the emergency room for more medical issues. The Fire Department is up to 1688 incidents this year, 70 percent of which are emergency medical calls.
Selectman MacKendrick said a high call volume can generate economies of scale. He said he is in favor of the recommended rates.
Selectman Bourque asked what happens when the insurance reimbursement does not cover the entire bill. Capt. Walsh said such differences tend to be small. Selectman MacKendrick said that the Fire Department at one time waived such additional fees in cases of hardship, but found that if it did not pursue the balance of a bill as a policy, full-paying insurers would protest and seek the same discounted deal.
Chairman Merritt said that the proposed rate increase was large and that he is concerned about equity for the service users. Capt. Walsh said that a large number of patients are elderly and covered by Medicare, which requires the Town to bill the patient for the remaining co-payment. Mr. Gustus said that in conversations with Fire Chief Thomas Bogart and Fire Captain Michael Feinberg, he found that the proposed rates would generate an estimates $30,000 to $40,000 in additional revenue on an annual basis, roughly a five percent increase.
Selectman Bourque said he would love to capture the additional revenue but does not want to burden the taxpayers. He said he doesn’t see a way to avoid burdening them through either higher taxes or higher rates, which are increased by 50 percent in some cases.
Selectman MacKendrick said that in almost all cases, the insurance companies base their reimbursement rates on all providers, including private providers, which have higher rates. He noted hardship waivers can be granted.
Mr. Gustus reminded the Board that these fees are being raised to make the Town’s emergency medical services operation closer to self-supporting. Even if this increase is granted, the operation is being subsidized by $80,000 to $90,000 in general fund appropriations. The cost is being shifted from the general fund to EMS revenues.
Chairman Merritt said that as the Board goes through the budget, it will be looking at subsidies offered by the Town to various groups.
On the motion of Selectman MacKendrick, seconded by Selectman Bourque, the Board unanimously approved the new ambulance rates as proposed (see attached document).
Discussion of revenue for Fiscal Year 2012
Mr. Gustus said he recently spoke to members of the Town’s legislative delegation on the subject of Governor Patrick’s local aid proposal. They said the Legislature is unlikely to reduce the proposed Chapter 70 funding and that the unrestricted aid would be cut about seven percent. The cherry sheet will likely be reduced by a net of $25,000, although the current budget model shows twice that amount. Based on the legislators’ input, between charges and receipts, Mr. Gustus adjusted his budget model on net state aid.
Chairman Merritt said that Mr. Gustus and the Board will be working with the Finance Committee, and have identified five people who will work on the data to ensure that while they may not agree on the recommendations in the end, there will be agreement on the facts.
On the motion of Selectman Bourque, seconded by Selectman MacKendrick, the Board unanimously approved the minutes of the meeting of January 10, 2011.
On the motion of Selectman Bourque, seconded by Selectman MacKendrick, the Board unanimously voted to adjourn at 9:17 p.m.