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Scituate Town Meeting tackles controversial financial items

Posted by Jessica Bartlett  October 26, 2011 12:28 PM

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Only 214 showed up to last night's Town Meeting, however their impact will be felt for some time to come.

Although only 214 people showed up to Scituate’s Special Town Meeting Tuesday night, they changed the course of multiple town projects with votes that went counter to selectmen’s wishes.

Most of the town’s 23 articles passed easily, yet townspeople grilled officials on a number of financial items, including the temporary funding of the Wampatuck School building project in anticipation of state reimbursement and the need for an $86,000-a-year facilities manager.

Selectmen assured taxpayers that the additional $85,000 the town would be bonding for the Wampatuck project would eventually receive some reimbursement from the Massachusetts School Building Authority, although it might take 12 to 24 months.

“Let me assure you, the MSBA will be giving us those funds, but we don’t have that funding as it stands. So we’re seeking to get money for the project,” Selectman John Danehey said. “We will get that money back as promised, but today we’re seeing $81,500 to complete that project at Wampatuck.”

Residents approved the motion, but were not so generous with Article 10, in which the town requested money to fund a facilities manager position. The manager would oversee 55 town-owned buildings, valued at an estimated $138 million.

Selectman Rick Murray said the town would not lose any jobs because of this position, and custodians and DPW personnel wouldn’t see much change.

Regardless, many residents felt that the role would undo all the money the town was saving through energy efficiency, and that it was a job currently being undertaken adequately by town staff.

Anthony Antoniello, the dissenting member of Scituate’s Advisory Board, agreed with the opponents.

“I don’t think it’s a necessary position. They had a facilities manager in the school a long time ago, and they laid that person off. Until now, it's always been a responsibly of the DPW director. That’s the way it was in the 32 years I was there,” Antoniello said.

Marylou Butler, 38 Rosas Lane, said that money could be better spent.

“I hear the arguments, and I think they make some sense, but you don’t have to look back very far to see the positions we lost – I’d rather it be for a teacher, a fireman, or a policeman. I don’t think this is the right time…I don’t think we need an $86,000 salary…down the road, maybe we can afford it,” she said.

Town Administrator Patricia Vinchesi made a case for the position, saying the buildings were “in desperate need of having one set of eyes to start to improve their condition or to move in another direction.”

Although she noted that Marshfield, Hanover, Newton, Milton, Andover, and Everett all had a similar person, the motion failed through a voice vote.

Another fight broke out over spending $40,000 on an engineer and design study to retrofit the Police Department for combined public safety and emergency response dispatching services.

Although Danehey said the town was trying “to convene both [dispatches] under one roof],” and thus eliminate multiple calls to dispatches throughout town in the event of a 911 call, townspeople said there didn’t seem to be any benefit to spending the money.

“There were no inefficiencies,” said Mark Donovan, Scituate Fire Department Captain and member of the study committee for the consolidation. “To do this, you will remove the dispatch at the fire station to the police station. We will have to renovate a 50-year-old police station… automate everything. It’s a preliminary cost estimate of $1.2 million, and it does not replace any of the functions the fire department does now.”

The president of the Scituate Firefighters Union 1464, Tom Hernan, agreed that the article was premature. Residents wholeheartedly supported the fire officials.

“I have a tremendous amount of respect for police and fire department, but what [this discussion] tells me is maybe this is not such a good move at this point in time,” said Rebecca Road resident David Ball. “I don’t see how I could vote for this, with potential costs and not a lot of benefits. I think it needs a lot more discussion.”

The article was tabled indefinitely.

Townspeople also rejected the idea to give excess tax revenue back to the taxpayers, rather than put it into the stabilization fund.

The Advisory Committee did not side with selectmen on this article, and agreed with residents that the money needed to be put towards the town.

“Now is the time, if we have the money, to put it into stabilization and bolster our bond rating,” a committee member said. “We have significant costs ahead of us…costs of pension, seawalls… If we have the change to bolster our stabilization fund…now is the time to do that.”

Planning Board member Dan Monger said it was foolish to give $10 to $20 back to each taxpayer rather than put $214,756 into stabilization, which influences the town’s bond rating.

“We’re going to have significant borrowing needs. It’s essential to get that bond rating up,” he said.

Town members unanimously rejected the motion and the article failed.

Selectmen Chair Anthony Vegnani said overall meeting went well, despite the failed articles.

Although the tax rebate article was a win/win for the town, Vegnani said that over time, the rejection of a facilities manager would be a mistake.

“The town administrator has had it on the top of her list since she’s been here. We’re going to go back to the drawing board and see what we can do,” he said.

Overall, however, the town made some progress, Vegnani said – passing three new roads, accepting the gift of Minot Beach, and enabling Police Chief Brian Stuart to work until past retirement age of 65.

Additionally, the town paid outstanding bills from fiscal 2011, funded a full-time veterans agent for the later half of this year, purchased a $35,000 ambulance, and funded $450,000 to replace water mains on Surfside Road.

“We passed some things, did some things, but there’s still some work to be done,” Vegnani said.

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