Auburn’s Annual Town Meeting got off to a late start, but otherwise ran smoothly in Charlie Baker’s final turn as Auburn Town Moderator.
Quorum for Town Meeting is 80 elected Town Meeting members. However, just past the schedule 7pm start time, only 76 were present. Fortunately, we live in a digital age and, after the members voted to delay the start folks took to their cell phones.
The 80th member arrived at about 7:40pm and the meeting got underway. Ultimately, 84 of the 120 elected Town Meeting Members were present.
The first article on the warrant was to hear the report of the Finance Committee, which was presented by the FinCom chairman, Kevin Hussey. The Committee proposed a $61,363,331.20 budget for fiscal year 2017, which begins on July 1, 2016.
“This represents revenue from local receipts, cherry sheet receipts, and tax levy” said Hussey in his remarks.
Appropriations, or spending, is budgeted at $61,062,431.86. This leaves $300,899.34 in unappropriated funds, about a 0.5% surplus.
Overall, the budget represents a 4.43% increase in revenue over FY 2016, and a 3.92% increase in spending. For the first time in many years, the Town of Auburn is utilizing its full 2.5% levy limit (basically property tax increase). Hussey explained that this was largely due to costs related to the Town’s obligation to the renovation project at BayPath Regional Technical Vocational High School.
In 2012, taxpayers in Auburn, Charlton, Dudley, North Brookfield, Oxford, Paxton, Rutland, Southbridge, Spencer and Webster – the 10 towns comprising the Southern Worcester County Regional Vocational School District – voted to appropriate over $26 million to the renovation and expansion project at the Charlton campus. The total project cost of about $74 million was about 65% covered by the state School Building Authority.
Town Manager Julie Jacobson provided a state of the Town presentation, highlighting many of the developments and challenges in Auburn over the past year. She emphasized that Auburn’s bond ratings remain strong due to our maintaining a balanced budget and a strong free cash position. Challenges remain, such as rising health care costs, collective bargaining, and improving roads. Jacobson noted that Auburn has spent in excess of $10 million on road improvements since 2010. “We still have work to do” she added, “But they [roads] are improving.”
Jacobson also pointed out that Auburn had received over $336,000 in grants in calendar year 2015, and announced another $25,000 economic development grant was awarded on Tuesday, May 3. Auburn has received over $2.5 million in grant monies since 2011.
Perhaps the highlight of the evening came when Barbara Granger stepped to the microphone to read a motion, then paused. “I am not sure this is the correct time to do this, but I want to thank Town Moderator Charlie Baker for his service and guidance to the Town of Auburn.” The Town Meeting Members and other attendees responded with a standing ovation for Mr. Baker, who is not seeking reelection after serving as Town Moderator for 25 years.
Most of the warrant articles were formalities, or “Every year articles” as Mr. Baker referred to them. These are items that require a Town Meeting approval each year, though they seldom cause much discussion or controversy. For example, Town Meeting Members are asked to authorize the Town Manager to “secure stated funding for roads and bridges”, and to authorize the Board of Selectmen to “secure grants.”
Other articles seek to re-appropriate funds approved at prior Town Meetings. For example, Town Meeting was asked to approve the reallocation of $100,668 in unused funds previously approved to upgrade the library air conditioning, replace the roof, replace the boiler, and replace carpet. The Town instead sought to use the remaining funds to replace the library windows, a motion that was voted unanimously.
One citizen petition sought to have the Town accept Grandview St. – off of Vine St. – as a public way. Evidently, the other streets in the development were long ago accepted as Town roads, but Grandview was overlooked and remained a private road. Until last night, that is. The Town Planner, Matthew Benoit, briefly explained what had happened and stated that the Town did, in fact, support accepting this public way. The motion carried.