Capital improvement public hearing rescheduled

Fri, 01/21/2022 - 7:45am

The Town Council continued the public hearing for the proposed changes to the town’s ordinances to alter the procedure for forming the capital budget. Town Manager Maryanne Crawford had suggested the changes, which are aimed at streamlining the process by having the
town manager review capital budget items submitted by the various department heads before sending the list to the Planning Board for review. In years past, the various department heads met with the Planning Board to set the list of proposed items.
The Town Council discussed the proposed changes on Jan. 4, with Second Warden Sven Risom calling them a “great improvement,” but suggesting right away that a “public comment component” should be added.
Finance Director Amy Land agreed, saying a public meeting of the Planning Board would provide public dialogue and feedback, while ensuring alignment between the capital plan and the comprehensive plan.
Council Member Mark Emmanuelle expressed concern that the proposed changes might result in the town manager rejecting some ideas that the Planning Board would have thought had merit. The town manager would “cull” the ideas before they reached the Planning Board,
according to Emmanuelle.
Not everyone agreed, as Council Member Martha Ball said it was necessary to “have someone in charge,” and said she remembered when “people came to meetings and were involved.” Risom said that the proposed changes leave the process with no public dialogue.

First Warden André Boudreau echoed that sentiment, saying he didn’t like the changes because it “removes a step of public empowerment.”
Crawford, who was joining the meeting via Zoom, said as she has worked through the proposed process, she has had “beneficial meetings” with department heads, Land, Facilities Director Tom Risom, and Director of Public Works Matt Moynihan. She said the process does not end with submitting the items to the Planning Board, saying instead it dovetails with budget workshops in preparation for the Financial Town Meeting in May each year. Still, Crawford agreed it was a good idea to have a public meeting with the Planning Board to review the list.
Boudreau worried that the process still puts too much decision-making in the town manager’s “wheelhouse,” especially given that the department heads report to the town manager. “What if we have a disaster of a town manager who doesn’t want to work with the staff?” Boudreau asked.
Land acknowledged there were upsides and downsides to centralizing the information with the town manager, but pointed out that the revisions to the ordinance were intended to fill a very important function: coordinating projects across departments. She said that sometimes this ability to coordinate is lost when the process goes through the Planning Board first.
Council Member Keith Stover worked through several iterations of wording adaptations, aiming to incorporate the idea of a public hearing into the phrasing of the proposed changes, but in the end, the council decided to continue the public hearing until January 19 to allow time
for the legal team to get everything right before voting on it.
Subsequently, the Planning Board met on January 12, with Chair Margie Comings suggesting that wording be added to the proposed amendments to have the Planning Board review the list of capital budget items at its meeting. After review, the Planning Board would advise the town, in writing, of any items in the budget that conflicted with the Comprehensive Plan, any concerns brought up during the Planning Board’s meeting, and any items the Planning Board thought should be added or removed from the capital budget.
“We are strictly an advisory board,” Comings told the group, saying that this added language would give them the opportunity to “present our point of view.”

The board’s meetings are open to the public, and will provide the opportunity for input from the community. Crawford, who joined the Planning Board meeting via Zoom, reminded the group that the capital budget would also be discussed in public budget workshops prior to the Financial Town Meeting.
At the meeting on January 19, the Town Council agreed to add the Planning Board's suggested language to the ordinance, resulting in the need to re-adavertise the public hearing. The new hearing will be advertised for February 16.