READING – It was probably said in humor, but with a degree of budgetary truth. How best to handle requests that are one-time expenses versus those that are recurring costs.
“I will suggest, especially for this year, that all of the one-time requests be dumped in Fidel’s lap and presumably go to April Town meeting as a request,” said outgoing Town Manager Bob LeLacheur of his replacement Fidel Maltez. “There is plenty of free cash. Let’s go.”
LeLacheur didn’t flinch when laughter threatened to interrupt him. Keeping a straight face, he continued on, citing the Housing Production Plan as an example of something that could follow that path.
Most of Tuesday’s discussion of the town’s FY23 budget centered on a list of 18 items that represented requests from department heads as well as LeLacheur’s own additions. It ranged from a one-time expense of $1,000 for invasive species management to a $90,000 recurring cost for a new Sustainability Director.
There were plenty of options in between, including $80,750 for an Assistant Human Resources Director, $23,500 for part-time help in the town clerk’s office, and $1,200 for trail management.
LeLacheur’s comments came after chair Karen Herrick said she was struggling with items like staff positions that are a recurring cost, as opposed to one-time budget requests.
“What’s difficult about this is that a lot of these are staffing positions which has a longtime implication on the budget,” said Herrick. “A number of these things are one-offs, investments if you will. It’s a little tricky. I see them differently. In my own mind we need to consider adding staff carefully. We’ve added a number of positions recently and I know the community is cognizant of that. But some areas we really have not invested in, and those are more of the one-offs.”
With all the requests, one thing was clear, there wasn’t money to pay for everything.
“Right now, there’s only $50,000 to fund what’s on this list. It’s not very much,” said LeLacheur, who later revised that figure to $62,000.
“This is a tough budget and I’m not complaining because it’s a great, healthy budget. But we’re at a time, partly pandemic related, and the needs of the organization are great. The needs and wants of the community are high. This is a far better discussion than what do we want to cut. But this is not going to be easy.”
Dockser was also concerned about recurring costs but those with a potential return interested him. One example was $18,100 extra for parking enforcement that would be offset by the ticket revenue. Another was the potential Sustainability Director.
“It’s a fulltime person and I’m not ready to sign up for that,” said Dockser. “But to the extent that person could pay for themselves, it gets much more interesting.”
Armed with LeLacheur’s $62,000 figure, board members discussed redoing their ranking of the 18 items and submitting it to LeLacheur sometime later this month. But that didn’t work for LeLacheur.
“If the board wants to give me more feedback that’s fine,” said LeLacheur. “But I would ask you again, and we’ve been through this recently, I really need your feedback now. Because of the transition with Fidel, I’m working on things now I would normally wait until the end of the month. The budget process will have to move along.”
In the end, LeLacheur gave a little in timing and told the board they had until the end of the Patriots game on Sunday to give him further feedback.
Earlier in the meeting, most of LeLacheur’s Town Manager’s report dealt with covid and the increasing number of cases.
“We’re seeing Covid-19 kind of race through the community right now. This includes employees and vendors and we just ask the public to please stay safe, and also stay patient.”
The patience includes trash and recycling pickup around town.
“JRM has had some pretty serious Covid related absences,” said LeLacheur. “I have observed JRM drivers singularly driving trucks and jumping out to get the trash, which is not ideal. So please just bear with them.”
He also reminded residents that next week is curbside pickup of Christmas trees with the compost center open Jan. 15 from 8 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. for trees and leaves.
According to LeLacheur, more than 100 people watched the Board of Health meeting Monday night and approximately 25 residents spoke. He praised the civil discussion, something that was missing from similar meetings at other towns. He also suggested that the Select Board invite Board of Health chair Dr. Rick Lopez to its next meeting for an update.
“We’re in the post-holiday rush. We don’t know what it’s going to look like. We hope it slows down in two weeks. But there are a lot of things going on right now.”
He finished his report by saying the town gave away almost 400 testing kits at an event last Sunday. The town has placed orders for more testing kits as well as booster vaccines and is prepared to do a large-scale community event.
“But right now, there’s no supply.”
There were other agenda items.
Mediation with Walt Tuvell, scheduled for this Saturday, was canceled by the attorney general. That means the ball is back in the Select Board’s court and they now have 10 days to respond to his Open Meeting Law complaints, meaning Jan. 19. Town Counsel Ivria Fried proposed that her office put together draft responses for the board to look at during their Jan. 18 meeting.
But something other than strategy irritated board members.
“I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention, just in the last two weeks, the attacks against Ivria, the attorney general, the mediator, and the superintendent in this entire process,” said Chris Haley of Tuvell. “It’s absolutely disgusting what I’ve seen. Having said that I was still willing to go through this mediation because that’s why I’m here. I don’t know what to say at this point. I really was hoping to just put a period and move on with this but now it seems like it’s just going to go in a different direction.”
Carlo Bacci asked if there was anything the board could do to stop Tuvell.
“At what point is this considered harassment? The emails, the attacks that Chris mentioned. How much of this do we have to endure? At what point can something be done?”
Fried offered little hope in legally putting a stop to it. The solution, she said, is usually mediation.
“It just didn’t work here,” said Fried. “Unfortunately, to some extent, as an elected official, individuals have the ability to express their views and there’s not a lot we can do.”
Bacci followed up, asking Fried, “even with personal attacks and accusations that aren’t true?”
“As a municipality there’s not a lot that we can do,” said Fried.
Mark Dockser seemed to sum up the board’s feelings.
“We’re all here volunteering our time and working for the good of the town,” said Dockser. “It’s very difficult, as Chris has said as Carlo said, to get harangued. It just isn’t right.”
The most recent Select Board packet included 52 emails to the board, with 34 from Tuvell. The board approved letting Fried write draft proposals and reviewing them Jan. 18.
Tuvell was also disappointed that Saturday’s mediation was canceled and said he had nothing to do with it.
“It was strictly SB/TC/Driscoll/AGO (severally or jointly, in some unknown/unholy combination) – not me – who cancelled, depriving me of my right to the highly desired/anticipated mediation Big Meeting,” said Tuvell in an email.
Dockser reported that the town has officially closed on Lot 5 at Meadow Brook. The chairs of the town Trails, Town Forest, and Conservation committees will be asked to join in a discussion about what to do next, especially regarding an easement that would formalize the well-used path behind the lot that leads to the Town Forest.
“The goal is to move quickly,” said Dockser.
Meadow Brook has told the town it is open to a discussion of an easement.
The board voted to make the RMHS Fieldhouse the voting location for the Vocational School vote on Jan. 25. The vote regards funding for the new Northeast Voke in Wakefield. It also voted to make 113 Arcadia Ave. conservation land. And if you’re in the market for a 1995 Ford van with 91,000 miles on it, the board approved its sale along with a number of other items owned by the town.