That’s how the 2022 warrant feels, a weekend away from Bedford’s first “normal” Annual Town Meeting in three years. Annual Town Meeting begins Monday at 7 p.m. in Buckley Auditorium, Bedford High School. If a second session is necessary (which is almost a certainty), that will be scheduled for Tuesday, same place and starting time.
There are 26 articles on the 2022 warrant. The final 14 are financial. The first five are routine, fixtures that are on the warrant year after year. Town meeting can be unpredictable, but the likely scenario is that the highlights will be concentrated between articles 6 and 12.
Here’s the pre-game analysis:
A contingent from the Bedford Minutemen will post the colors (a highlight of town meeting for more than a half-century). Moderator Mark Siegenthaler will preside. Siegenthaler has participated in an official capacity in more Bedford town meetings than anyone alive – he was a selectman for 21 years, before and after which he served on the Planning Board. He was also acting moderator at last summer’s outdoor town meeting before being elected to the position in March 12.
After reading a tribute to former elected and appointed officials and town and school employees who died over the past year, attendees will open their warrant booklets to Article 1, reports of town officers and committees. That may be quick—as of Thursday morning, the town manager’s office reported that none has been received.
Article 2, which passes annually, consists of time limits on speaking, as well as a cutoff at 10:45 p.m. for introducing an article. Town meeting can waive any or all of the limits for specific situations. The third, fourth, and fifth articles authorize the annual audit, acceptance of easements, increasing property tax exemption criteria under state law, and renewing expenditure ceilings for several revolving funds.
After a speedy and scoreless first quarter, the atmosphere abruptly changes. That begins with Article 6, which ratifies a series of expenses from the Community Preservation Budget. This often is routine – a variety of improvement projects and purchases plus bond repayments for large expenses approved in past years.
One of the current proposals is for $1.5 million to purchase 47 easements, clearing the way, in Article 11, for construction of the Minuteman Bikeway extension to begin later this year; the article authorizes the Select Board to acquire the easements. The Mass Department of Transportation is financing the project construction; part of the deal is for the town to purchase the easements.
The bikeway extension, along the once-abandoned railroad bed that parallels Concord Road, has been in the works for well over a decade. The two-mile paved path project also includes important drainage work and a shared-use path on Railroad Avenue as well as a ‘box culvert’ beneath Concord Road.
The Select Board, the Finance Committee, and the Transportation Advisory Committee all have recommended approval of the articles. But there seems to be organized opposition, most of it from residents who would prefer to maintain the status quo.
“All of the improvements planned for Railroad Avenue were part of the overall Minuteman Bikeway Extension project,” wrote Public Works Director David Manugian in an email. “Therefore, if the articles for the project are defeated, we won’t have the land rights nor the funds to do the Railroad Avenue improvements.” Manugian also has expressed concern that an 11th-hour rejection of the project could affect future local efforts to secure state transportation funding.
The FY23 Capital Projects Plan, Article 7, which incorporates more than $9 million of proposed fiscal 2023 capital projects, always engenders some interesting discussion on particular items. Twelve of them will require at least a two-thirds majority to pass because they will be financed through the sale of bonds. The bonding option helps dissipate the tax impact over several years.
The array of bonded projects range from water quality improvements and an upgrade of the town’s financial accounting software to school technology updates, vehicle replacement, and a cemetery expansion study.
Another bonding proposal is for continuing implementation of the Great Road Master Plan, now in its fifth year. The fiscal 2023 funding will include restarting “the conversation of conceptual designs for Willson Park,” Manugian wrote, adding, “The chosen concept will then drive design needs in future years.”
Articles 8 and 9 are expected to be the most charged segments of town meeting with ramifications for a generation or more.
The first proposal, Article 8, is for land acquisition at 139 The Great Road as a site for a new fire station. The 64,000-square-foot lot is millions of dollars less costly than the original choice for a site down the street, and the owner is eager to sell. Consultants have given the go-ahead for accommodating grade and traffic flow, town officials said.
But there is a significant concern. The site is in the historic district, and a majority of members of the Historic District Commission have indicated that they are uncomfortable with the prospect of demolishing the 19th-century building on the site. The commission has the authority to regulate the exterior appearance of structures in the Bedford Center Historic District.
The Bedford Historical Society and the town Historic Preservation Commission are opposed to the plan.
Article 9 is a $2 million bond for design and project management for the proposed new station, which could begin immediately. Town meeting could purchase the building and grounds at 139 The Great Road and vote down the design article. However, the article’s wording limits the use to a fire station. Both articles will require at least a two-thirds vote to pass because of bonding.
Article 10 is almost like a timeout in the second quarter. The proposed $300,000 bond for inflow and infiltration is a town meeting player every spring. The intent is to reduce groundwater from penetrating the sanitary sewer system from illegally-connected sump pumps (inflow) and underground leakage (infiltration). Bedford is charged for the groundwater as well as legitimate sewerage by the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority.
Article 16 proposes the purchase of a house and land at 33 Shawsheen Road, contiguous to Shawsheen Cemetery. Acquisition would facilitate access to the cemetery and provide land for utility buildings. Most of the $525,000 would come from a special account comprising fees for cemetery lots and vaults.
There is no halftime show at Annual Town Meeting of course, but this would be a good point to insert one, as each of the remaining 14 articles has a financial focus.
The Second Half, or the Third and Fourth Quarters:
Players and coaches hope a quorum of 100 fans returns after the action-packed first half to vote on the following financial articles.
Editor’s Note: The Citizen has written about many of the financial articles as they have come before boards and committees as the FY23 budget was being developed. See the Financial section in our Curated Guide to Annual Town Meeting 2022).
- Article 13 seeks approval of a fiscal 2023 community access television budget totaling $283,553. Most of the money comes from subscribers’ cable television payments; the money is in a special revenue account.
- Article 14, the supplemental operating budget for the current year, will be indefinitely postponed.
- Article 15, the salary administration plan, is an annual bylaw amendment that sets a salary range for all non-unionized town employees, classified by positions. One element of the proposed amendment is elevating all seasonal employees to a $14.25 minimum wage or more.
- Article 16 is a separate amendment to the salary administration bylaw, adding Juneteenth as a paid holiday, changing Columbus Day to Indigenous People’s Day, and inserting a graduated yearly vacation accrual benefit to replace changes at five-year increments.
- Article 17 is the $105.7 million fiscal 2023 operating budget. The practice is for the Finance Committee chair to read every budget line; voters who wish more information or answers to questions declare a “hold” on the appropriate line.
- Article 18 is the ambulance enterprise budget. An enterprise fund is self-sustaining and separate from the municipal spending plan.
- Article 19 appropriates additional funds under the salary plan for municipal managerial-level and administrative employees’ cost-of-living and merit pay adjustments.
- Article 20 covers the retroactive pay due to the public safety dispatchers since their contract expired on July 1, 2021. The new contract is expected to be approved by the Select Board at a posted meeting just before town meeting convenes.
- Article 21 allocates money to a segregated fund covering future costs of accumulated sick and vacation leave for town employees who retire or resign.
- Article 22 is a $500,000 allocation to the stabilization fund. The “rainy-day” money cannot be spent without at least a two-thirds town-meeting majority.
- Article 23 proposes a $969,190 appropriation to the town’s special fund to cover future “other post-employment benefits,” mainly health-insurance premiums for retired town workers. The fund was established several years ago in anticipation of millions of dollars of unfunded liability over the next 30 years.
- Article 24 is a modest allocation to a special transportation infrastructure fund. The money is Bedford’s share of state assessments to transportation network companies like Uber and Lyft.
- Article 25 is an annual $10,00 appropriation in anticipation of Bedford’s 300th-anniversary celebration beginning in the fall of 2028.
- Article 26 allocates $6.1 million from surplus revenue, also known as “free cash.” The state Department of Revenue has certified Bedford’s free cash at $9,761,621. Free cash is used to cover only non-recurring expenses.
Don’t listen for a final whistle as the warrant concludes. Rather, you will hear a motion to adjourn followed by the Latin phrase Sine die, “without a day.”
Unlike every other game, town meeting adjourns without fixing a day for future action.
Mike Rosenberg can be reached at [email protected], or 781-983-1763