by Frank Schroth
There was no disagreement among Town Meeting members on the need to finance the medical expenses of a severely injured firefighter; but there was not unanimity on how to do it. Nor was there agreement on the need to fund the second phase of a new Master Plan for the town; but a request for a standing vote on the article did not alter the outcome. The town will fund the plan.
For several years the town has been covering the medical cost through bonding. According to Selectman Tom Hurley, the Department of Revenue has raised a flag on the issue of continuing to finance the costs in that manner. It is not a sustainable method as the bonding is exceeding the cost of funding out of operating expenses. As Hurley noted, “we are pushing the legacy costs onto future generations.” To rectify this the Board of Selectmen put forth two articles. Article 15 sought funds for the coming year. The Warrant Committee recommended and Town Meeting voted to approve $1 million to be appropriated from funds certified by the Department of Revenue as free cash to cover medical expenses incurred from 7/1/13 and into the future. However, “into the future” isn’ all that far. Hence, article 16 which would file of home rule petition to put an override on the ballot to fund after 2013 (i.e. over the 2 1/2 tax limit). The increase would remain in effect as long as needed. The Warrant Committee recommended the article and noted in their comments that the approach would enable town to manage funding on a long term basis, save the town money by ending the bonding, and manage the debt by accumulating cash over time.
Town MeetingMember John Hajjar recommended a no vote stating that “we should see some cuts . . .[and the town should be] living within its means.” If the town meeting chose not to pursue an override the funding would come from the town’s operating budget which would require cuts to the department budgets. Other questions that came up were: Will this override coincide with a possible override to increase funding for town operations and How will costs be met if the medical expense override fails. There were no clear answers to those questions. While it has been stated at Warrant Committee meetings and at a recent Selectmen’s meeting that an override will very likely be needed to operate the town at a responsible level in the near future, there has been little appetite to take the issue head on in public forums like town meeting. With regard to the medical expense override failing, Mr. Hurley acknowledged he did not really know. Both articles passed.
The other article to receive quite a bit of attention and discussion was Article 22, put forward by the Planning Board, seeking $100,000 to fund the second phase of Milton’s Master Plan. Emily Innes, a member of the Planning Board and chair of the Master Plan Committee recapped the development of the Master Plan Visioning phase. You can find the work done on that here. Residents will have an opportunity to comment on this phase until May 13th.The second phase, Ms. Innes explained, will focus on action plans and implementation steps. Not all town meeting members were convinced. Some such as James Mullen said it might just end up on a shelf. He said he would request a standing vote when the time came. Mr. Mullen concluded saying, “Its a waste of $100,000.” Other concerns expressed included whether the plan would in fact change, revise or improve the zoning. Ms. Innes said that the final plan could result in changes being proposed to the zoning. A voice vote was taken and the measure was approved. Mr. Mullen and others stood to request a standing vote be taken. It was. 149 members voted for the funding of the second phase, 45 voted against it. Given there are 279 town meeting members, there were 85 members absent from the vote. They were either gone from the hall or abstained from voting
Articles 9 – 22 were all approved as were articles 34 and 35 which pertained to appropriation for Blue Hills Regional Tech and the establishment of a stabilization fund for the school. Town Meeting will resume on Thursday.