Bedford Finance Committee Recommendations on the 2024 Annual Town Meeting Articles

March 22, 2024

Submitted by the Bedford Finance Commitee

The Finance Committee has a responsibility for preparing the budget for the Town, as well as providing for recommendations on articles in the Town Meeting Warrant. The committee reviews each article on the Warrant, listens to presentations, asks questions, discusses and finally votes for a recommendation.

While our recommendations are printed in the warrant, we are presenting additional information about our recommendations in advance of Town Meeting. It is our hope and goal that making this additional information available will be of benefit to the voters.

Article 2 – Debate Rules

The Finance Committee recommends approval of this article.

This article proposes the adoption of procedures for Town Meeting. These are the usual procedures under which we operate Town Meeting. They provide a means by which an orderly and efficient meeting may be run.

Article 3 – Consent Article

The Finance Committee recommends approval of this article.

The Consent Article (or Consent Agenda) is a commonly used mechanism used to make meetings more efficient. It saves time by allowing articles that are not likely to generate controversy or debate to be grouped together and passed with a single motion and vote, often “housekeeping” types of articles.

This year’s Consent Article includes items that have been regularly voted upon in prior Town Meetings and need yearly approval. This year includes the following:

  • Funds for the annual financial audit
  • Acceptance of state law provisions for property tax exemptions
  • Empowering the Select Board to accept easements on behalf of the Town without the necessity of scheduling a Town Meeting to do so.

Article 4 – Bills of Prior Years

The Finance Committee expects this article to be indefinitely postponed.

Article 5 – Town Meeting Bylaw – Two-Thirds Vote Count

The Finance Committee recommends approval of this article.

This article proposes the adoption of a procedure for Town Meeting. It provides a means by which an orderly and efficient meeting may be run.

Article 6 – Bylaw Amendment – Stormwater Revolving Fund

The Finance Committee recommends approval of this article.

Periodically, the Town requires outside consultant engagement for Stormwater Reviews. To do

this, the Town collects fees from applicants for Stormwater Reviews. The establishment of this

Revolving Fund ensures that the money allocated for Stormwater Reviews is spent accordingly

per legal requirements.

This article creates transparency for income and expenditure of these

funds.

Article 7 – General Bylaw Amendment – Revolving Fund Expenditure Limits

The Finance Committee recommends approval of this article.

The Town has several Revolving Funds established in the Town’s General By-Laws for specific purposes. The managers of each of the Funds monitor balances, income and expenditures. This article sets an upper limit on the amount that may be expended from each fund within a given year to ensure long-term viability for the fund. This is a prudent constraint.

Article 8 – Community Preservation Budget – Fiscal Year 2025

The Finance Committee recommends approval of this article.

The Community Preservation Committee presented its FY2025 budget to the Finance Committee. The budget met with approval of the Finance Committee for the items being recommended at Annual Town Meeting.

Article 9 – Proposed Fiscal Year 2025 Capital Projects Plan

The Finance Committee recommends approval of this article.

The Finance Committee supports the proposed Fiscal Year 2025 Capital Projects Plan as it is necessary to maintain valuable town assets and contribute to the Town’s ability to continue providing the level of services the Town has historically voted to support.

The Finance Committee also has confidence in the Town’s capital planning process which includes input from numerous, experienced department staff and experts and consultants when appropriate. The proposed projects have been well vetted, and the need substantiated.  

Article 10 – PEG Access and Cable Expense Related Budget Fiscal Year 2025

The Finance Committee recommends approval of this article.

The Community Media Committee manages the Town’s PEG Access and Cable Related Fund. It is a special revenue account and as such must adopt an annual budget. This year’s budget is fully funded by license fees collected from Comcast and Verizon cable customers. The funds are used for PEG access programming including licensing and operation of cable television in Bedford.

Article 11 – Zoning Bylaw Amendment – Multifamily Housing Zoning

The Finance Committee recommends approval of this article.

Bedford must implement multifamily zoning in compliance with Massachusetts General Law,Chapter 40A, Section 3A by end of 2024 or face financial penalties (in the form of lost state-aid from specific programs) and potential legal action for failure to comply. Article 11 creates compliant zoning requirements for the multifamily district to ensure the Town remains compliant and avoids penalties.

A minority of the committee expressed concern that the legislation may have a long-term negative financial impact on the Town.

Article 12 – Zoning Map Amendment – Multifamily Housing Overlay District

The Finance Committee recommends approval of this article.

Bedford must implement multifamily zoning in compliance with Massachusetts General Law, Chapter 40A, Section 3A by end of 2024 or face financial penalties (in the form of lost state-aid from specific programs) and potential legal action for failure to comply. Article 12 establishes the multifamily districts to ensure the Town remains compliant and avoids penalties.

Assessments from the Planning Department have indicated that change in zoning would have minimal impact on taxable revenues.   

A minority of the committee expressed concern that criteria utilized for selection of the districts did not prioritize long-term impact of the change.

Article 13 – Salary Administration Plan Bylaw Amendment – Classification & Wage Schedule

The Finance Committee recommends approval of this article.

This article is presented annually and establishes the pay ranges for non-school employees for the Town. The Town hired a consultant to review and update the salary ranges for non-school and non-union employees. The intent is to offer market-based wages to employees or would-be employees in order to attract and retain employees in the current competitive hiring context.

Article 14 – Operating Budgets-Fiscal Year 2025

The Finance Committee recommends approval of this article.

This article presents the Town’s operating budget.  It is constructed considering the needs and requirements of all departments, balanced against current and expected changes in revenues and expenditures.  Additional details of the budget will be provided at Annual Town Meeting.

Article 15 – Ambulance Enterprise Budget-Fiscal Year 2025

The Finance Committee recommends approval of this article.

This article presents the main operating budget for the Town’s ambulance service for the coming

fiscal year. This budget supports the ambulance service in town and is budgeted separately

from other emergency service budgets (police and fire).

This budget is mainly supported by ambulance fees.

Article 16 – Salary Plan Additional Funding

The Finance Committee recommends approval of this article.

This article is presented annually to provide funding for the FY25 compensation increases for non-school and non-union personnel. The intent is to reward and retain employees in the current competitive hiring context.

Article 17 – Supplemental Accrued Leave Fund

The Finance Committee recommends approval of this article.

This article appropriates funds to a sick and vacation leave buy-back fund to support the buy-back of accrued, but unused sick and vacation leave when an employee retires. This is a forward-looking exercise, rather than reimbursing what the fund may have dispensed in a prior year. Therefore, an analysis is done each year to determine the likely amount of funding that will be needed over the next 12 months.

Article 18 – Citizen Petition: Creation of a Fire Substation Ad Hoc Committee

The Finance Committee recommends disapproval of this article.

The Finance Committee reviewed the petition and determined it is not financially prudent.

Article 19 – Shawsheen Valley Regional Vocational/Technical School Stabilization Fund

The Finance Committee recommends approval of this article.

The Shawsheen Regional Vocational/Technical School periodically requires funding to support

initiatives and capital expenditures beyond their regular operating budget. Creation of

this Stabilization Fund would allow them to save for such expenditures to minimize year over

year variations in funding requests from member communities. Accordingly, establishment and

consistent funding of such a fund would improve the predictability in the annual budget

requests from the school that is beneficial for financial planning purposes.

 

Article 20 – Creation of a Special Education Stabilization Fund

The Finance Committee will give its recommendation at Annual Town Meeting

The article authorizes creation of a reserve fund for the Bedford School Department to use for unplanned extraordinary costs related to special education. The Finance Committee plans to vote its recommendation after review of a policy to guide the use of this fund.

Article 21 – Transfer of funds to the Special Education Reserve Fund

The Finance Committee will give its recommendation at Annual Town Meeting

If the Special Education Reserve Fund is created in the previous article, this article would authorize $300,000 to provide an adequate initial balance to be used for unplanned extraordinary special education costs as outlined in Article 20.

The Finance Committee plans to vote its recommendation after review of a policy to guide the use of this fund.

Article 22 – Authorize Appropriations from Special Education Reserve Funds for Fiscal Year 2025

The Finance Committee will give its recommendation at Annual Town Meeting

If the Special Education Reserve Fund is created and funded in the previous articles, this article would authorize the Town to spend up to the $300,000 balance from the Special Education Reserve Fund in fiscal year 2025.

The Finance Committee plans to vote its recommendation after review of a policy to guide the use of this fund.

Article 23 – Revocation of funds dedicated to the Opioid Settlement Stabilization Fund

The Finance Committee recommends approval of this article.

Pursuant to an update in MA General Law, this article represents necessary “housekeeping” to close the fund created last year and consolidate the receipts in a new dedicated fund pursuant to an update in Massachusetts General Laws. It does not impact any revenue or expenses.

Article 24 Other Post-Employment Benefits Liability Trust Fund Appropriation

The Finance Committee recommends approval of this article.

This article appropriates five percent of certified free cash towards the Town’s unfunded liability for OPEB. This amount is consistent with the Town’s policy for OPEB funding. Bedford has been proactive in managing this liability and compares favorably to other Massachusetts communities.

 

Article 25 – Comprehensive Plan Appropriation

The Finance Committee recommends approval of this article.

This article requests to spend $200,000 (with possible grant offsets) on consulting services to

develop a Comprehensive plan that will provide a vision of how to best use our town assets

and services.

Standard practice is to update the master plan every 10 years. The last time it was updated was in 2013.

Article 26 – Appropriate Funds for Transportation Infrastructure Fund

The Finance Committee recommends approval of this article.

This article requests to spend money collected from the cost assessed on rideshare companies

on local transportation projects.

Article 27 – 300th Anniversary Stabilization Fund Appropriation

The Finance Committee recommends approval of this article.

This article continues to appropriate funds for the 300th Anniversary fund that was established at Annual Town Meeting in 2019 in preparation for the celebration in 2029. $10,000 is the same amount that has been funded for the last three years.

Article 28 – Free Cash

The Finance Committee will give its recommendation at Annual Town Meeting

A city, town or district’s free cash represents the amount of a community’s funds that are unrestricted and available for appropriation. It is comprised of unspent funds and unexpected revenue from prior years. It is prudent financial policy, and it is recommended by the State Department of Revenue, that “free cash” be used for one-time (non-recurring) items within the budget. Our fiscal policy states “An ample Free Cash balance shall be maintained to provide the Town with financial flexibility and stability for the future.”

The policies further state a free cash amount of no less than one percent of the operating budget should be maintained. Free cash in excess of these guidelines may be used to reduce the tax levy.

Bedford Finance Committee Members:

  • Ben Thomas, Chair
  • Abigail Seibert, Vice Chair
  • Karen Dunn, Clerk
  • Mark Bailey
  • George Lee
  • Philip Prince
  • Tom Rowan
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