TOWN MEETING ’22: A growing budget, $5m in capital spending, and zoning updates

Abington voters have 26 articles to consider Monday night that touch on department budgets, capital spending, and economic development opportunities. 

The Special Town Meeting starts at 7 p.m., in the M/HS auditorium. The Annual Town Meeting will follow immediately afterward. 

All Abington residents are able to attend, but only registered voters are allowed to vote.  

Selectmen voted 4-1 last week to lower the needed quorum to 75 registered voters. This does not mean only 75 will be allowed to attend; all 10,000 registered Abingon voters can attend. Rather, the vote means the meeting can start after 7 p.m., once 75 have checked in.

Moderator Shawn Reilly has put together a Town Meeting preview video. Attendees are not required to wear masks. 

The big item is the town’s budget. Voters will be asked to approve just under $63 million to run the town’s departments. This figure is a 5.5 percent increase over the current year budget. An expected $2 million increase in state education aid helped balance the budget.

Town Manager Scott Lambiase says the budget continues to restore positions lost more than a decade ago in the fallout of the Great Recession. 

“I don’t expect that we’ll want to continue this kind of growth on the budget,” he said. “The town had a couple of years where it took serious cuts. Employees were cut and hours were cut and that affects services. We’re trying to bring services back.” 

Town Meeting, which serves as the town’s legislative body, will also be asked to approve $13 million to upgrade the town’s water treatment plants, more than $5 million in other capital spending and borrowing, and a zoning change that could allow for a marijuana manufacturing and cultivation operation off Chestnut Street.  

SPECIAL TOWN MEETING

Article 1Snow and Ice Costs – It may not seem like it but Abington had a number of winter storms that required sanding and plowing. This year’s budget contains $100,000 for snow and ice removal, which is the usual amount. Most cities and towns underfund that account because it’s one of a few costs they can carry over into the next year. The total outstanding bill for that work is $580,000. Money is coming from Abington’s “free cash” account, which is essentially its budget surplus from the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2021. 

Cost: $580,000

Funding Source: Free Cash 

Article 2Enterprise Fund Budget Revision

Strawberry Valley Golf Course and Abington Community Access Media are two non-profit entities that are not funded with tax dollars. The budget for the golf course is funded through greens fees, cart rentals, and other onsite revenue. ABCAM, as the media studio is referred to, receives money from surtaxes on cable bills. Town Meeting still needs to approve giving the organizations their money, however. Lambiase describes these articles as “housekeeping” and just makes some updates for accounting purposes.For example, it removes about $90,000 from the ABCAM appropriation, as that money was carried over from the previous year.

Cost: n/a

Funding Source: Various enterprise funds 

Article 3 – Community Preservation: Exedra Restoration 

What’s an exedra? It’s a semi-circular architectural feature where people can sit and gather. 

There’s an exedra in Abington? Yes, there is. It’s the stone monument in the middle of the rotary on Gliniewicz Way near the Middle/High School. 

Wasn’t it fixed recently? Sort of. A car drove through it in 2017 and the damaged section was reassembled. Lambiase recently inspected the structure with Veterans Services Officer Adam Gunn, who was hoping to replace the flagpole, and realized mortar is loose in a number of areas. “A good amount of it has to be pulled down,” Lambiase said. “We really want to clean it up.”

The town has secured a $15,000 grant from the Massachusetts State Historical Records Advisory Board to help with the repairs. The remaining money will come from the town’s Community Preservation Act funds. Because the grant money has to be spent by June 30, it is being considered separately from the other slate of Community Preservation projects; those projects, if approved, will get their money on July 1. 

Cost: $40,000

Funding Source: Community Preservation Act funds 

Article 4 – Community Preservation: FY ‘22 Budget

Communities that have adopted the Community Preservation Act must spend a minimum 10 percent of their money annually on historic preservation, affordable housing, and open space. When the accounting was finalized for the current budget year, the amount the town allocated for affordable housing and historic preservation were a bit shy of 10 percent. This article fixes that.   

Cost: $46,784

Funding Source: Community Preservation Act funds 

Article 5Payment of Prior Year’s Bill

Abington received a pair of bills after the books for Fiscal Year 2021 had closed: $438 from ACV Environmental Services for the cost of hazardous waste removal, and $248.91 from GovConnection for the remaining cost of a tablet.

Cost: $686.91

Funding Source: Hazardous Waste Disposal and Sealer of Weights and Measures line items 

Article 6 – New Fire Station Design 

Last year, Town Meeting approved $3 million to conduct engineering studies and draw up plans for a new combined fire station located off Gliniewicz Way. Those plans ran into obstacles and the board in charge of the project now wants to look at the DPW complex next to the police station. The wording of last year’s article does not allow the money to be used for that site. This article would amend that.  

Cost: No new cost

Funding Source: Article 12, 2021 Annual Town Meeting (short-term borrowing)

Article 7 – Paid Leave Buy Back 

An unnamed town employee is retiring and is entitled to $21,611 in unused sick time. Money to pay for this will come from this year’s health insurance line item. 

Cost: $21,611

Funding Source: Health Insurance line item

Article 8 – Sewer Force Main Design and Engineering

Work is finishing up on the town’s $6.8 million sewer main replacement project (yes, Summer Street will be repaved this spring). The town is financing the project through a low-interest state fund; however, the town has to pick up the cost of project design and engineering plans.

Cost: $451,854.24 

Funding Source: Sewer Receipts


ANNUAL TOWN MEETING

Article 1Approval of Town’s Operating Budget for FY2023

The proposed $62.9 million town operating budget would increase spending 5.5 percent over this year. It contains money for a handful of new town hall positions: a part-time administrative assistant for the Veterans Services Department, a part-time children’s librarian, a full-time DPW maintenance worker, and expands the public health nurse from a part-time position to a full-time position. It also contains enough money to allow the police department to hire a full roster of officers (funding for two positions was removed last year to help balance the budget when it became clear the very short-staffed department would not be able to fill every open slot). Lambiase said the library has been asking for extra staff for a couple years now, and the DPW still hasn’t regained all the positions lost due to budget cuts a decade ago, despite an increase in workload. On the school side, the budget pays for part-time English Learner teachers at both of the town’s elementary schools, a full-time English Learner teacher at the Middle School, a full-time Grade 2 teacher, and new High School math and history teachers. Superintendent Peter Schafer told the Finance Committee the needed positions reflect changing school needs: the student population has grown by 224 students (12 percent) over the past six years. The 2022 graduating class is 70 percent larger than the 2016 graduating class (157 compared to 92). And the number of English language learners has grown 171 percent over that same time period (195 students compared to 72). 

The budget also covers contractually required salary increases, and rising fuel and trash disposal costs.

While this year’s budget is balanced, Finance Committee Chairman Matt Salah said there are long-term budget pressures and external factors that could make it difficult in the future.

“There are rumblings of a potential recession in the near future, which is always troublesome, though we’ve heard those rumbles in the past 8+ years without them coming to fruition. Healthcare costs continue to rise faster than inflation. Trash and especially recycling costs continue to be through the roof. Keeping up with paving the town’s roads is also something that’s getting increasingly difficult to do,” he said.

Cost: $62,987,296 

Funding Source: General Fund (property taxes, meals taxes, excise taxes, state aid)

Article 2 – Sick Leave Buy Back

Three employees of the Abington/Rockland Joint Water Works are retiring next year, and will be owed a combined $72,000 in unused sick days. Funding will come from the water department’s reserve account. Superintendent Joe LaPointe told the Finance Committee that these types of buy backs will become less common, as they’re no longer allowed under state law for new employees. 

Cost: $72,000

Funding Source: Water Receipts Reserve 

Article 3 – Annual Funding of Student Transportation 

This article pays the cost of transporting students out of town to vocational schools. 

Cost: $14,560

Funding Source: General fund 

Article 4 – Health Imperative 

The town annually allocates a small amount of money to help support social service programs. This organization provides violence prevention and intervention programs for survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence. 

Cost: $5,000

Funding Source: General fund 

Article 5 – ARC of South Shore Funding

As in past years, this article allocates a small amount of money to the ARC of South Shore for services provided to Abington residents with intellectual and developmental disabilities 

Cost: $2,500

Funding Source: General fund 

Article 6 – Water Enterprise Fund

This article changes the type of fund the water department uses to collect water bills. It’s currently a special revenue fund; it will become an enterprise fund. Lambiase says it’s for accounting purposes.

Cost: n/a

Funding Source: n/a

Article 7 – Borrowing Authorizations Recissions 

Over the years, Town Meeting has approved a number of capital projects that were paid for through borrowing. The projects are complete and a number of them came in under budget, or in the case of landfill capping, didn’t happen. This article cleans up the books, Lambiase said; it doesn’t return money to taxpayers or reduce the town’s debt load. In regards to the middle/high school construction project, the figure reflects the amount picked up by the state.  

Cost: n/a

Funding Source: n/a 

Article 8 – Water Design and Treatment Plant Upgrades for PFAS 

Water Works Superintendent Joe LaPointe said it will cost $26 million to overhaul the department’s treatment plants to properly remove PFAS from the water. This amount represents Abington’s share. The department is still hoping to secure some state or federal grants to defray some of the costs. Ongoing short-term fixes has reduced the levels to about 20 nanograms per liter, which is the allowable limit.

Cost: $13 million

Funding Source: Water receipts 

Article 9Community Preservation Budget 

The town estimates it will collect just shy of $425,000 from the CPA surtax, plus about $131,000 in state matching funds. The Community Preservation Committee is recommending the following slate of projects: $66,000 to remove invasive plant species from Island Grove Pond; $75,000 to help fund the new Beaver Brook Playground; $60,000 to rebuild the Island Grove Snack Shack; $40,000 to upgrade the softball fields behind Beaver Brook Elementary School; $60,000 to pay for a cost estimator and grant writer for Memorial Bridge repairs; $46,646 for the preservation of town records; $38,300 to help prepare records at Mt. Vernon Cemetery; and $100,000 to the town’s Affordable Housing Trust.

(Correction: $40,000 for improvements to the the Woodsdale School baseball field was accidentally left off this summary.)

Cost: $557,047

Funding Source: Community Preservation Act funds 

Article 10 – Capital Plan 

The town is still pulling together a long-term strategy to address all its capital needs. A final report and set of recommendations from a consulting group is expected shortly after Town Meeting. And the town still has another $800,000 coming in federal ARPA funds, plus the potential for a couple hundred thousand more from the county. 

Planning efforts will continue after Town Meeting, Lambiase said. But for now, Town Meeting will be asked to consider $5.1 million in capital projects (including those in the next article).

Free cash will pay for two new police cruisers ($120,000), a new police motorcycle ($50,000); a new hot box ($35,000), waste oil furnace ($10,000), standup mower ($16,000), and pickup truck ($50,000) for the DPW; new student laptops ($200,000) and an exterior trim paint job for the Frolio School ($80,000); and a compensation classification study ($52,000). The Joint Water Works is requesting $405,000 in projects and purchases paid for through water rates; the sewer department has $330,000 in requests; Strawberry Valley Golf Course wants to reinvest $440,000 back into the course. And the town wants to spend $550,000 in federal ARPA funds to pay for the engineering needed for PFAS improvements at the water department.  

Cost: $2,293,000

Funding Source: Free cash, retained earnings, water receipts, ARPA funds 

Article 11 – Capital Projects Borrowing

The town wants to borrow for these projects: library roof replacement ($900,000 over 30 years), a new sidewalk plow ($170,000 over 10 years), a new bucket truck ($100,000 over 10 years), engineering and design plans for upcoming Randolph Street intersection improvements ($550,000 over 5 years), and Linwood Street and Plymouth Street repaving ($1,132,000 over 15 years). 

The Finance Committee had some reservations about the extent of the borrowing, as it will increase the town’s annual debt service payments to about 2.5 percent of total expenditures. That would be around the informal cap Lambiase is looking to impose under a new set of financial policies. This means the town could still borrow money if needed, but it would prefer not to increase annual debt service payments any higher.

Cost: $2,852,000

Funding Source: Borrowing

Article 12 – ADA Accessible Ramp to Frolio School 

Back in 2017, Town Meeting approved $85,000 to fix a lift outside of the Frolio. But it was too old to be fixed. “They would have to machine a tool just to make the parts,” Lambiase said. Instead, Town Meeting is being asked to instead put the money toward designing a new ramp that accesses the building’s front door.

Cost: $85,000

Funding Source: Article 3, 2017 Annual Town Meeting

Article 13 – Zoning Amendment: Update of Terminology in Zoning §175-24.1 

This article amends the town’s marijuana bylaws to bring the terminology in line with state regulations. Abington doesn’t have any medical marijuana businesses so the impact is negligible.

Cost: n/a

Funding Source: n/a 

Article 14 – Zoning Amendment: New “Marijuana Production and Cultivation Overlay District”

The article would allow marijuana cultivation and manufacturing businesses to open off Chestnut Street. They currently would not be allowed to operate in that area. A company has expressed interest in opening a production and cultivation business at the new commercial complex at 500 Chestnut Street. It is illegal to just change the zoning for one property (called spot zoning), so overlay districts have to include multiple properties. The zoning change also reduces the minimum dimensions from 10 acres with 200 feet of frontage, to 2 acres and 75 feet of frontage. 

Cost: n/a

Funding Source: n/a 

Article 15 – Zoning Amendment: Amend Zoning Map for new MPCOD overlay district 

This article is related to the previous one. While the previous one changes the use, this article updates the town’s official zoning map. 

Cost: n/a

Funding Source: n/a 

Article 16 – Zoning Amendment: Clarification of Buffer Requirements in §175-66D

Businesses that abut residential properties are supposed to have 20-foot vegetated buffer strips. This article clarifies that these buffer strip regulations need to be followed when businesses acquire abutting properties and expand their operations.  

Cost: n/a

Funding Source: n/a 

Article 17 – Acceptance of Roadways 

The new subdevelopment off Dorsey Street, Cynthia Road, and Murphy Street is finished and the developer is asking that the town vote to make them town-owned roadways and take over care and maintenance. This isn’t unusual. Pretty much every road in this town has gone through this process over the past 310 years. Yes, including yours. Engineers working for the Planning Board examined the roadways and confirmed they are in good condition and meet the town’s standards. 

Cost: n/a

Funding Source: n/a 

Article 18 – Funding of Collective Bargaining Agreements

The Town Manager and Superintendent are in the process of negotiating several union contracts. If any reach agreement before Town Meeting, this is where voters will ratify them. 

Cost:TBD

Funding Source: TBD

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