2012 Annual Town Meeting kicks off MondayBy Jay Turner
A suddenly promising budget outlook and a chance to improve the town’s long-term fiscal position will be among the major themes of Canton’s 2012 Annual Town Meeting, which kicks off Monday, April 30, at 7:30 p.m. in the CHS Morse Auditorium.
While there are still plenty of moving parts that could impact the town’s bottom line in the coming fiscal year, there is a clear, albeit measured sense of optimism in the Finance Committee’s ATM warrant report this year, with the FinCom predicting a “favorable” outlook for FY13 while calling for modest increases in the school and municipal operating budgets.
Specifically, residents will be asked to vote on a bottom-line figure of $73.9 million, which represents a 2.7 percent increase over the FY12 budget and will enable the town to maintain its current level of services while providing for a “small increase” in salary for town employees. The FinCom’s recommended budget was built on several assumptions, including a maximum property tax increase of 2.5 percent as allowed under Proposition 2 ½ as well as anticipated increases in state aid, local receipts, and a “small amount of growth.”
The FinCom’s recommended operating budget calls for a 3 percent increase on the municipal side to $16 million and a 4.9 percent increase on the school side to $31.92 million. Of that second figure, approximately $286,000 was intended to replace revenue lost from non-resident tuitions and temporary federal supplements that will not be available in 2013.
Voters will also be asked to approve various capital expenditures, including $729,000 in cash capital items ranging from replacement vehicles to technology upgrades to routine building improvements. As for debt capital expenditures, major requests include $1.4 million for water main upgrades in the Oakdale Road area and $1.09 million for rehabilitation of the Tolman Street water tank. School debt capital requests include $112,000 for system-wide HVAC improvements, and approximately $754,000 for window replacements at the Hansen and Galvin schools, contingent upon the schools receiving a 40 percent reimbursement from the Mass. School Building Authority.
Meanwhile, for the first time since the passage of a property tax override in 2008, the town will not have to tap into its reserve funds in order to balance the budget — not even to reconcile past snow and ice removal costs, thanks to a historically mild winter.
Instead, the Finance Committee has recommended transferring $600,000 (Article 45) from the town’s free cash reserves to its stabilization account, which requires a two-thirds vote to withdraw from and is generally looked upon favorably by bond rating agencies. Canton currently has an estimated $7 million in its three reserve funds and boasts a long-term rating of AAA, which is the highest bond rating afforded to municipalities in the United States.
In an effort to preserve that rating, FinCom members have endorsed a trio of articles that they believe will help to strengthen the town’s position going forward. Among them is Article 44, which proposes a local option meals tax of 0.75 percent on top of the existing 6.25 percent state sales tax. The FinCom “strongly recommends” the new tax, noting that it would generate an estimated $275,000 in annual revenue for the town. However, this same proposal was the subject of a contentious debate at last year’s town meeting, resulting in a rare tie vote and requiring an additional night of town meeting before the tax was ultimately defeated.
In addition to Article 44, the FinCom has also lent its support to the school-sponsored Article 26, which proposes the creation of a special education stabilization account as a tool to mitigate rising tuition and transportation costs, which fluctuate wildly from year to year. The FinCom has also unanimously endorsed Article 38, which proposes adoption of MGL Chapter 32, Section 20, allowing the town to establish a trust fund to reduce the unfunded liability for Other Post-Employment Benefits (OPEB) for health care.
On the zoning front, a total of 11 articles have been proposed, although three of those are considered “housekeeping issues” while another two, Articles 14 and 15, have been effectively withdrawn by the Planning Board. The first one sought to remove the residential component from the Canton Center Economic Opportunity District; however, a majority of Planning Board members felt that such an action would defeat the purpose of the CCEOD, which was created to encourage mixed-use development.
By contrast, Articles 20 and 21, submitted by attorney Paul Schneiders on behalf of the Napleton Company, includes a proposal to expand the CCEOD by creating a third zone that would encompass the entire Plymouth Rubber property on Revere Street. A similar amendment was brought before town meeting last year and soundly defeated; however, the developer is hoping the town will reconsider its decision and is willing to offer a robust mitigation package in exchange for the right to build a mix of condos and retail uses.
Other zoning amendments up for consideration include Articles 23 and 24, which seek to rezone a 100-acre parcel along Walpole Street in order to build a senior assisted-living facility; and Article 16, which seeks to clarify the zoning bylaw for conversion of a barn/carriage house into a separate dwelling unit and would limit the new unit to two bedrooms.
As for the non-zoning articles, notable proposals include Article 25, which would amend a covenant between the town of Canton and Meditech to allow the company to add approximately 280 parking spaces. The change requires numerous local and state approvals because the land in question, located on Blue Hill River Road, is part of a conservation restriction held by the town.
In addition, the Canton Police Department has submitted a pair of articles that would create two new sections of the town bylaws — one to regulate hunting within the town (Article 30) and one to regulate and monitor the secondhand jewelry and electronics trade (Article 31).
Other proposals of note include Article 32, which would authorize a tax increment financing (TIF) plan for tortilla manufacturer Harbar Corp. to support its planned expansion at 10 Pequot Way, and Article 39, which seeks acceptance of Historical Way as a town road. The residents of Historical Way have argued that acceptance is long overdue; however, both the Planning Board and Finance Committee oppose the move, arguing that the road is in poor condition and does not meet the standards of the Mass. Architectural Access Board or the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Lastly, Article 35 proposes a change to the annual town meeting itself. Sponsored by the Board of Selectmen and endorsed by FinCom, the article would change the start time of all future ATMs to 7 p.m. and the start date from the last Monday of April to the second Monday of May.
Town meeting will commence at 7:30 p.m. and will adjourn at 11 p.m. It will continue to meet on consecutive Mondays and Wednesdays, except for May 28, at 7 p.m. until all business has concluded.
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