FinCom Approves $18.6+ Million FY2023 Budget Including Energy & Sustainability Manager

February 24, 2022

The Finance Committee has endorsed the proposed $18,681,557 fiscal 2023 budget for municipal departments, including a new position of energy and sustainability manager.

After digesting requested details about the position provided by the town manager’s office, almost all committee members said their concerns had been addressed, clearing the way for the recommendation at a meeting Wednesday night.

Ironically, when the Select Board briefly convened Thursday afternoon to close the annual town meeting warrant, members Bill Moonan and Ed Pierce repeated their earlier votes against recommending town meeting approval of the budget, even after the Finance Committee’s action.

Pierce has said he opposes any excess spending beyond the Finance Committee’s 2.5 percent growth guideline. Moonan’s position has been that the new position needed to be more “fully formed.”

Several members of the Finance Committee had asked for a detailed job description, placement in the organization chart of town government, as well as a rundown of potential grants that could help the position more than pay for itself.

The new position, built into the town’s NetZero plan, has been the focus of the strong advocacy campaign by Mothers Out Front and the Energy and Sustainability Committee for almost a year.

According to the job description and an accompanying memorandum from Town Manager Sarah Stanton, the position will report to her while working “in partnership with the Facilities Department and Department of Public Works.”

Member Ben Thomas previously stressed the importance of a connection solely to Facilities, since that’s the town department that also includes school buildings. But Stanton’s memo pointed out that town-owned structures produce only about 3 percent of building greenhouse gas emissions in the town.

“Therefore, it is critical that the energy and sustainability manager has the authority to collaborate with Bedford’s commercial sector, as well as residents,” she wrote. “A cross-functional, internal position can execute initiatives in Facilities and DPW, as well as liaise with commercial sustainability departments and residents to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

The proposed position is funded at a maximum of $75,000, and Finance Committee member Eruca Liu said that amount is “not realistic, given the current job market.” The ultimate annual cost, with pension and other benefits, could be as high as $150,000, she said.

Member Steve Steele echoed that concern but supported funding the position. However, he “would not consider going higher if we find out it’s not enough.”

Liu, the only FinCom member to oppose the position, also feels that the responsibilities “seem to me a duplication of a lot of town departments.”

“I’m concerned about adding employees and the costs associated,” said member Elizabeth McClung. “I feel really strongly about the idea of doing something like a three-year trial run, after which the Select Board should give serious thought to see if this is worth the town’s precious tax dollars.” Steele also liked the pilot concept, though member David Powell pointed out that evaluation of a new position is “built into the process.”

“An energy and sustainability manager can educate and assist residents and sustainability departments of local businesses with programs that improve their energy efficiency and save money,” the town manager’s cover letter said. “These efforts will help Bedford achieve its NetZero goal of significantly reducing building greenhouse gas emissions, help businesses remain competitive, and help residents improve the comfort and efficiency of their homes.”

“There are many incentive programs and grants available that are not currently pursued by existing town employees, she pointed out, including funding “available to municipalities, small businesses and homeowners related to vehicle electrification, climate resiliency, and energy efficiency opportunities, and waste reduction.”

According to the formal job description, “The energy and sustainability manager will develop and administer programs, policies, and initiatives to advance the Town of Bedford’s sustainability profile. This position will address sustainability, energy savings, greenhouse gas mitigation, resilience, and mobility and building programs within residential, commercial, and municipal sectors, and coordinate closely with relevant town boards and commissions.”

The document’s breakdown featured nine bulleted areas on the municipal sector, as well as commercial and residential and “combined” responsibilities. “I’ve never seen a three-page job description before in my life,” Steele cracked.

Mike Rosenberg can be reached at [email protected], or 781-983-1763

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