SHIRLEY — At a joint public hearing Monday night, selectmen and members of the Finance Committee reviewed the 17-article warrant for the Nov. 10 Special Town Meeting.
The first article requests supplemental appropriations for several town departments via line item transfers and other funding from new growth revenue.
Repurposed surpluses included Planning Board wages for a former position the board eliminated, wages for an assistant treasurer that were substantially reduced when the person in that position moved into the treasurer’s seat, with her former hours partially covered by the assistant town accountant, and a reduction in the treasurer’s salary.
Increases included a new clerk’s position in the Assessor Office, an uptick in the assistant accountant’s wages, money set aside for tax title/foreclosure proceedings to recoup revenue from long unpaid back taxes, and wages for a new, part-time DPW worker to fill in while one of the three-member crew is on medical leave.
Other increases were for the police chief salary, which went up due to the hiring of an interim chief, and to hire a new patrol officer and associated benefit costs for group health insurance.
Chairman David Swain explained that hiring the new officer has been a priority for some time and frees up the new police chief for administrative tasks without street duties added.
A request from the Library Board of Trustees for an additional $4,602 to shore up the library’s expense line may or may not be on the warrant as listed, selectmen said. The requested amount would partially restore previous budget cuts, Library Director Deborah Roy said.
Anticipating energy costs that could swell the expense line and that needed repairs such as icing on the handicapped access ramp and septic system problems will eat up the library’s state aid, she and Trustee Beth Quinty made a case for funding the increase out of the town budget.
If so, the money would come from Free Cash, Town Administrator Patrice Garvin said, noting that she doesn’t favor using one-time revenue for recurring costs.
Another option would be to transfer the requested money from the wage and salary line item in the library budget to the expense line, which would not require a Town Meeting vote, Swain said.
But the Library Trustees don’t favor such a move, Roy and Trustee Beth Quinty said. As they explained it, the unfilled position that left a temporary overage for wages and which Swain suggested tapping for expenses doesn’t equate to a surplus. The money can be used to “backfill” staff hours during vacations or when someone calls in sick.
“The library has to be open the same number of hours” no matter what the staffing level is on any given day, Roy explained.
Besides, she said, the way in which the library budgets hourly wages is “not the issue.”
Selectman Robert Prescott suggested looking to the Reserve Fund for a transfer if the expenses exceed the amount the library has in its budget.
But Finance Committee Chairman Mike Swanton said that wouldn’t be a good idea. “That’s for unexpected expenses” he said, not expenses that are known ahead of time.
Garvin said the indeterminate nature of the library’s request concerns her and besides, in her view, it’s premature.
“You can’t pinpoint how much you would spend” above the current expense line, she said. “There are so many unknowns.”
In a nutshell, the library budget lost a total of $10,000 last year, about half of which went to pay its share of the service contract that is part of the town’s energy upgrade plan. Now the trustees want the other half of that money back.
“We knew it was a problem at Annual Town Meeting but we were told to wait and bring it up in the fall,” when the town presumably would have more money to spend, Roy said.
“We presented a budget request in January,” but heard nothing back until the draft warrant was unveiled, she said. “It’s frustrating.”
What they want to know now is whether the request would be on the warrant, Roy concluded.
“We don’t know,” Swain said, citing the need to identify a funding source.
Other articles ask Town Meeting —
* For $54,000 for master planning and $38,000 for a police cruiser.
* To transfer $10,000 to Other Post Employment Benefit (OPEB) Trust Fund, a federal requirement the town has yet to meet.
* To transfer “a sum of money” (if available) to the General Stabilization Fund and the Capital Stabilization Fund, respectively.
* For $4,475,94 to pay last year’s bills, as itemized.
* To approve solar tax agreements with Nextsun Energy, the Shirley Water District and National Grid for four solar panel projects, one of which is up and running.
* To allow selectmen to lease certain parcels of land for the projects.
* To amend the zoning districts in the town’s zoning bylaws to add a mixed-use district to the list of zoning designations.
* To amend the zoning map to allow mixed-use on parcels of land on Lancaster Road and Route 2A, or Great Road.
* To approve 43D priority site designation for a parcel of land on Lancaster Road.
* To approve amendments to the Town Meeting Bylaw that would give selectmen more flexibility to set the meeting date, and other changes.
* To beef up penalties and fines for a string of offenses such as improper disposal of hazardous waste.
* To petition the courts for a “Se Pres” ruling to allow the town to repurpose three trust funds established for a high school in the village, which does not exist and most likely never will.
* To accept Derby Drive as a town road.
One article asks for up to $9,900 to buy a voting machine, a proposal explained in a detailed presentation by Town Clerk Amy McDougall.
It will cost a bit more annually but it will be more efficient, McDougall said, streamlining an antiquated voting process that now consists of crank ballot boxes and ballots counted by hand, with workers often on the job until well past midnight.
“We look forward to moving into the 21st century, Swain said, when McDougall had wrapped up her presentation. “You have this board’s support.”