Natick Fall Annual Town Meeting got off to a tidy start on Tuesday, Oct. 17, banging through a good chunk of the warrant without any significant tangents or delays. There was less pomp and circumstance than at the spring edition, though importantly given her role in recording all Town Meeting actions, new Town Clerk Lynn Kelly was introduced.
On night #1, Town Meeting got through Article 13 of the 33-article warrant . Some earlier and later articles were clumped in a consent agenda to expedite matters. Check out the Natick Pegasus recording for the entire meeting, or settle for our action-packed recap below. Night #2 is on Thursday, Oct. 19.
What to do about Natick’s oldest house
Town Meeting began with a bit of history story time from Henry Haugland of the Thomas Sawin Homestead Preservation Committee, which seeks to preserve the 300-plus-year-old Sawin House at 79 South St. that’s owned by the Audubon Society. Under Article 1, Town Meeting agreed to hear a report from the committee.
Town Meeting voted in 2017 to authorize the possible purchase of the house, and committee members have been working toward that goal without success to date. But the current iteration of the committee still wants to give it a go with the new leadership in town and at Audubon.
Haugland told of the house’s place in the historical agreement—AFTER the bloody King Philip’s War—between the Sawins and Nipmuc people related to the introduction of a major sawmill in Natick that allowed for homes to be built and for jobs. The partners “were able to demonstrate and practice the beliefs and values that I believe most of us hold dear in terms of courage to do the right thing, integrity, and the willingness to do something that might be unpopular because it was the right thing…,” he said.
Questions were raised by Town Meeting about the history of Sawin committees past, including how much has been spent so far and a documentation of meeting minutes.
A motion was made to postpone consideration of Article 1 until Oct. 19 due to the need for a department head to report on some veterans issues.
No vote of confidence for Patriots coach
The test question at the start of Town Meeting to make sure the electronic voting system was working posed the question of whether Bill Belichick would still be the New England Patriots’ head coach come next season. With the Pats sitting at 1-5 and some tough games ahead, the poll results were 36 Yes, 48 No, 20 Abstain. So at least some in town aren’t ready to give up on Coach Genius quite yet.
On to the budget…
Yes, Natick already handled its fiscal year 2024 budget (July 2023-June 2024), but you know how budgeting goes. Things change.
Article 2 addressed adjustments to the budget, including appropriations to fund much needed help in the grant-gobbling Office of Sustainability ($35K) and cancer screenings for Fire Department personnel ($35K). Town Meeting approved this spending under Motion A by a vote of 104-3-0.
A separate motion under the article sought funding for Police Departmen tasers, as the current collection is getting crusty and parts are hard to find. Deputy Town Administrator & Finance Director John Townsend, noting that “people tend to a get a little excited when talking about tasers,” dampened that enthusiasm by pitching the spending plan for the gear as being a “tax-exempt lease purchase agreement” that benefits the vendors and the town. Nevertheless, Town Meeting approved Motion B by a vote of 93-12-2, and as far we know, no one got zapped using the electronic voting system. (Left unanswered later in the meeting was a question about how often tasers are actually used by the police.)
Under Article 3, Town Meeting voted to rescind some $42 million dollars in appropriations from past projects from fields to bridge work that no longer need the funding—some have been completed, one got funded through another source, and a few lost momentum.
Town Meeting unanimously approved a motion under Article 5 to transfer funds from new growth to Natick’s general and capital stabilization, or rainy day, funds to the tune of $870,662. Dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic did a number of Natick’s stabilization funding.
Also getting the go-ahead, approval to spend $6,155,000 on capital expenses, including for HVAC upgrades, park improvements, vehicle replacements, and sidewalk and roadway fixes. Town Meeting member Jerry Pierce made a bid for a friendly amendment to this Article 7 motion to score $22,000 for a shade structure at the senior center similar to one at Memorial Elementary School. Fellow Town Meeting members were favorable toward the need, and said they would vote in favor under other circumstances, but sought a more detailed financial analysis before giving their approval. As Town Meeting member Josh Ostroff said, “As a 25-year member of Town Meeting, I value what we can do collectively. But developing capital plans on the fly is probably not our strong suit…” Ostroff continued that he hopes another way might be found to fund such a project.
Additional Town Meeting support went toward appropriations ($781,000) for various departments, from defibrillators replacement for the police to historical document preservation for the Town Clerk’s office.
Also on the financial side of things, appropriations for revolving funds to support energy efficiency and parks and recreation projects were approved by Town Meeting.
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There were some big numbers tossed around during Town Meeting, with the FY24 omnibus budget and various funding being discussed and voted on. At a couple of points during the meeting members rose to point out zeroes missing from appropriate places in motions.
“Somebody’s been stealing the zeroes,” said Town Meeting member Dirk Coburn. We assume Natick’s finest are on the case.
Ah, My Hero, Zero…
Paying up for corporate opioid misdeeds
Town Meeting voted in favor (95-4-1) of accepting $151,299 in funds from a nationwide settlement with companies related to opioids distribution. Natick’s share from settlements is actually more than $953,000, though it will be divvied up over 15 years.
The town will use the funds for prevention, harm reduction, treatment, and recovery programs. The Natick 180 coalition spearheads addiction-related services in town.
Article 11 covered an update to the Natick Personnel Board’s Classification and Pay Plan.
In addition to the previously mentioned funding for a new Office of Sustainability job, the town took action to improve its job classification and pay plan. This includes new job descriptions, including for a community planner to support the town’s Community Preservation Act efforts. This all supports efforts by Natick to develop new job opportunities, hire employees, and retain existing ones in a challenging market.
The Personnel Board’s Steve Levinsky said an external salary survey is being conducted and that results will be available in the spring.
Town Meeting approved the changes 97-1.
And yes, those total voting numbers dropped off during the night, starting with 107 votes on some matters early on.
Natick has 180 Town Meeting slots, not all of which are filled. Maybe the Personnel Board has some ideas on that…
Town Meeting also voted (89-6-2) to rescind 2001’s Article 35, “which accepted M.GL. c. 31 Section 58A that provides a maximum age of 32 years for original appointment to the position of firefighter or police officer; or otherwise act thereon.” The town’s previous support for this limit actually led to a citizen petition a few years back by an individual who wanted to become a police officer when over the age limit. Rescinding the article does not propose to set a maximum age limit.
As Town Administrator Jamie Errickson explained, rescinding Article 35 could help the town fill vacant spots within its public safety departments. The town needs to “take advantage of any way to increase its applicant pool,” he said.
‘This really is about PFAS’
As we reported over the summer, Natick is looking to diversify its water options in the face coming regulations from the state and feds regarding contaminants. Gaining a supplemental water supply would entail joining the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority (MWRA).
“In summary, this really is about PFAS (Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) and the challenges we’ve had in town with PFAS,” said Bill Spratt, Executive Director of the DPW and Facilities, noting that all of the town’s wells have PFAS, aka, forever chemicals. In particular, MWRA water would supplement the town’s supply from Elm Bank wells, which account for about a quarter of the town’s public water supply (Natick does have PFAS filtering in place at its Springvale water treatment plant).
Other nearby communities, including Wellesley, supplement their supply with MWRA water, and that town is even looking to add a second connection. MWRA water has shown only traces of PFAS, though it can be pricey—still, adding PFAS filtering at more wells in town isn’t cheap either. MWRA water originates at the Quabbin Reservoir, flows through the Wachusett Reservoir, and comes this way via aqueducts.
Town Meeting approved (89-5-0) the request for Natick to start the process of joining the MWRA network, a process that can take a few years, though Natick seems to streamline that. One benefit to doing this now is that the MWRA is waiving the entrance fee for new members, and Spratt said that can amount to a $12M-$15M savings.
Still, rates are going to go up whether Natick takes the MWRA route or not, Spratt said. Gulp!
- Fall Annual Town Meeting night #2 recap
- Fall Annual Town Meeting night #3 recap
- Fall Annual Town Meting night #4 recap