May 2022 ATM & STM Questions and Answers

The following are questions from the Town Meeting Members or other members of the community as well as answers from the Town regarding Town Meeting and Special Town Meeting warrant articles.

ATM Article 7 - RTS Service Delivery Study

Q: How long does the Town anticipate the study will take to complete?

A: About a year.

ATM Article 8 - Appropriate for Parking Study

Q: What is the parking meter fund and what can those funds be spent on? Additionally, when was the Town Permit Parking program put in place?  

A: Prior to fiscal year 2018, parking meter revenue was required to be held in a separate fund and reserved for appropriation for parking related purposes.  The law was amended by the Municipal Modernization Act which changed the classification of parking meter revenue from receipts reserved for appropriation to a General Fund receipt.   However, monies received prior to the change in the law are still required to be held in the separate fund reserved for future appropriation.  The amount remaining in the fund is $379,223.  The parking study would be funded from those monies.  The balance of the fund ($244,223) is reserved to provide funding for parking related expenses that may be identified by for the study.  

 The Permit Parking program was initially established by the Select Board in 1959. 

ATM Article 13 – State Funds for Public Ways

Q: How does the Town decide which projects to fund via Ch. 90? By who and when does that decision get made?

A: The Town has the discretion to direct the funds to any Chapter 90 eligible infrastructure.  The decision is made by the Director of Public Works in consultation with the Town Manager and the Select Board.  The Select Board will be holding public sessions this spring and summer on the future of the downtown design project.  Chapter 90 funds are currently being reserved for that project.  Both the scope of the project and the use of Chapter 90 funds will be reconsidered during that process. 

ATM Article 16 - Appropriate to Community Preservation Fund Supplement 

Q: I read and viewed the materials for article 16. This information is begging for a table to illustrate it. Can this please be provided for TM review?

A: Appropriations: 

2022 CPA General Reserve            ($102,191)

Historic Resources Reserve               $29,067

Open Space Reserves                         $24,375

Community Housing Reserve            $48,749

Net Change                                                     $0

ATM Article 21 - Appropriate for Emery Grover Renovation

Q: What was the reason given by the CPC to not fund the Emery Grover building up to the 85% it is eligible for? The approved number is closer to 29% or just under 1/3 of what it was eligible for.

A: While the Emery Grover project proponents submitted documents to CPC reflecting that $16,882,000 was eligible for funding under the applicable (historic preservation) provisions of the CPA, the Needham Public Schools’ request for funding submitted to the CPC was for $6,000,000, with the balance to come from other Town sources. In connection with the CPC’s decision to fund NPS’s $6,000,000 request (and not more), the CPC considered various factors in prioritizing competing funding requests for FY2023. The CPC also considered the impact that funding FY2023 requests would have on its ability to fund anticipated requests over the next 5 -7 years, including requests that are anticipated to be made by the Needham Housing Authority as it seeks to modernize and redevelop its properties. The CPC’s video presentation on Article 21 addresses the general principals CPC applies when assessing funding requests.

Q: I heard 40 offices/desks in the current EG and 40 offices/desks in the redesign. Only that some of the 40 are being called hybrid space. 

A true design for hybrid work might instead only have 30 offices/desks. With the idea that some of them are shared by employees as opposed to fixed. There are employees who could do some of their work hybrid at home part of the week. There are workers who float and are in schools or other tasks part of the time. Consulting firms have been doing this for years. We are just catching up with it. 

 This would free up space for more collaboration and meeting rooms, which have much greater usage than a fixed desk. Plus they could also be available in the evenings for other functions, where fixed desks belong to one person all year long. 

This should not have a dramatic impact on the cost. However I see it as an important efficiency philosophy that would get more out of the new space. 

A: On the Town Meeting website, there is an Emery Grover FAQ that includes information relative to the design.  Please look at questions 2 and 3; the latter includes preliminary design for each level.

There is ample conference and flexible space incorporated into the preliminary design, and It will serve the schools and the community long into the future.  While community meetings cannot be hosted in here now (the building is not accessible), theree will be ample space in the proposed design for families and community groups to meet, plan, etc.

NPS has done a  pretty exhaustive review of programs and positions and determined that most of our positions (about 40 right now) need a landing space each work day.  Our staff work in the EG Building each school day to provide services to our schools; out of the 40 or so positions, it's possible that one or two could have a hybrid situation.  The majority of our staff, however, provides in person services each day.  We are unlike typical technology, data processing, consulting, or other firms that do not require face to face service.  Thus, having a space/desk is imperative.  Some of this is explained further in question 13 in the FAQ.

Q: The School Committee information mailing states at page 1 re: the current proposed design will provide net space at EG of 14,404 sq ft.  Then page 10, paragraph b,  states, if a lease were required, 21,000 sq ft would be needed. Third at paragraph 10c, it states if a new building were constructed at Hillside, it would be 18,000 sq ft plus an additional l5,000 sq ft for "administrative technology".  The Town has constantly undersized initial buildings, resulting in additions within a short period of time, e.g. the High School, and now Suni Williams is over capacity as designed.   What is the actual square footage needed for the Administration Building, to include “administrative technology” as well as anticipated needs over the next decade?

 A: The proposed EG design that is the subject of Article 21: Appropriate for Emery Grover Renovation, will meet the anticipated needs of school administration and operations for many years to come.

• In the original proposal (2020) we had planned to construct a three story addition to the existing building for a total of 34,717 Gross Square Feet (GSF).  Once you deduct corridors, stairways, bathrooms, mechanical systems, closets, etc. you end up with Net Square Feet (NSF) of 22,965 which is the program space (i.e., offices, conference rooms, shared work space). 

• After receiving considerable feedback from various Town boards and community members about the overall cost and the need to think creatively about hybrid/shared spaces within the 2020 proposal, we re-evaluated our space and program needs and determined that school administration and operations could fit within the existing and original structure. Thus, the proposal presented to the October 2021 TM reduced the GSF to 21,750 and the program space to 14,404 NSF.  We achieved this reduction without jeopardizing the program in at least three ways:

  • School technology operations and services (IT) would remain at Hillside where they work now out of several spaces in that building.  IT will remain at Hillside until appropriate space can be identified in one of our future school renovation projects.
  • In the 2020 proposal, we did not place program space (NSF) in the attic; in the 2021 proposal, we utilize the attic for program space taking advantage of a full floor. 
  • In the new and proposed design we incorporate several shared offices, collaboration spaces, small conference rooms, and open spaces to accommodate flexible work options and to anticipate future growth.

• If a renovation of EG was not on the table a more expensive renovation project at Hillside is feasible.  Essentially school administration and operations would exist on the top or first floor of the building which would be about 19,000 GSF and IT would exist on the lower level which is about 12,000 GSF.  The renovation of Hillside, which is considerably more expensive and less ideally located than the proposed EG project, would result in more GSF than we have determined would actually be needed.

As proposed, the historic renovation of the EG School Administration and Operations Building will be less expensive than the alternatives considered (e.g., Hillside renovation, leasing property); it will retain a key public building in the Town Center; and it will have the space and flexibility to meet the demands of the modern work environment; and it will serve the needs of families and staff in a convenient and accessible location for generations of students to come.

ATM Article 23 - Appropraite for General Fund Cash Capital 

Q: At the warrant meeting for precinct D, we heard that a group of residents had asked for a new crosswalk on Central Avenue and were told by the TMAC that it was a good idea but that it would take several years to implement because of a backlog of projects that the committee has in the works. In article 23, cash capital for traffic improvements, is $50,000 which the text says may cover one or two projects. How long is the backlog of the TMAC? Is the list of pending projects publicly available? Is there any other funding source in the warrant for TMAC projects besides article 23? 

 A: The Traffic Management Advisory Committee makes recommendations to the Select Board public education, enforcement, and improvement of the safety of the public ways in Needham for vehicle, pedestrian, and bicycling traffic. The $50,000 annual appropriation in the Cash Capital article is intended for the types of routine actions that the TMAC recommends, such as installing signs, fixing curbing, and painting crosswalks. If the TMAC makes recommendations for larger capital items, such as the installation of new sidewalks, those items are considered and if approved by the Select Board they would be included in the Public Works Infrastructure article. The Select Board’s policy with respect to new sidewalks has been to prioritize funding to repair existing sidewalks, for which there is a long backlog.  The Select Board will discuss the issue of sidewalk improvements, removal, and installation during its goal setting process this summer. 

ATM Article 24 - Appropriate for Pollard School Locker Room Retrofit

Q: A portion of this appropriation comes from “Premium Surplus”. What is Premium Surplus?  

A: Sometimes when a municipality sells a bond, the lender may not only provide the amount of money requested, but also an additional amount of money which is referred to as a “Premium.”  State law related to municipal borrowing has been amended several times over the last few years which includes changes on how a municipality may use the premium.    Now when a premium is received, the Town may use (and has previously used) those monies to pay costs related to the project being funded by bonds, ultimately reducing the amount of principal the Town must borrow.   Any premium not used in this manner and which is more than $50,000 must be reserved for appropriation to fund capital projects similar in nature as the funds are to be used.  The funds would be designated as Premium Surplus.  The $305,485 Premium Surplus was received on bonds sold related to the Sunita Williams School project and they are proposed under this article to be used for the Pollard School Locker Room project.

ATM Article 31 - Appropriate to Athletic Facility Improvement Fund

Q:The description says that a majority vote is required to appropriate into the fund, and two-thirds required to appropriate from the fund. Someone questioned if it was a 2/3 majority threshold for both. Can we confirm?  

This is correct.  Per Massachusetts State Law, appropriations into any stabilization fund require a majority vote of the legislative body (Town Meeting) and appropriations from a stabilization fund require a two-thirds vote of Town Meeting.  Monies may also be transferred from one stabilization fund to another stabilization by two-thirds vote of Town Meeting.

ATM Article 33 - Appropriate to Public Safety Injury on Duty Fund

Q: Is there any supporting documentation on the 2016 Municipal Modernization Act additional paragraph M.G.L. c.41 Section 111F that allowed cities / towns to appropriate funds to the Art. #33 - Public Safety Injury on Duty Fund?  Curious why Needham has decided to do this now after 6 years?  Also curious whether this is not something that is already included and covered by other required insurance policies for injury in the line of duty that we already have?  Just trying to understand the background and motivation for the town’s decision to start this fund appropriation now? 

A: The Town adopted the Injury on Duty Fund in 2021.  We had planned seek approval in 2020, but the significantly reduced Warrant that year required moving the Article to 2021. The concept of adopting the fund was not evaluated in 2016 due to other, more time-sensitive priorities. This is the first year that we are recommending appropriation to the fund since its creation last year. The Town is self-insured for both workers compensation and public safety injury on duty, so there is no insurance policy for injury in the line of duty.  The purpose of the fund is to allow the Town to build up a reserve to pay for extraordinary claims and on-going claims from prior years.

ATM Article 34 - Amend General By-Law Snow and Ice on Sidewalks 

Q: Will public schools be included in the list of publicly-used buildings for which a fine will be incurred if snow or ice is not removed in a timely manner?

A: The recommended by-law is limited to commercial purposes, hospital or medical establishments, places of worship, multifamily housing, or uses open to the public. The Town of Needham clears 54 miles of sidewalk under the snow and ice “school walking route plan”. There are 13 employees who operate sidewalk plow tractors, walk behind snow blowers, and hand shovelers that clear snow during and after a 2 or 3 inch or greater snow event.  The Town chemically treats ice on sidewalks adjacent to schools as needed.

Building Maintenance clears and treats sidewalks on and around school property more aggressively under this program.   

ATM Article 35 - Amend General By-Laws Household Refuse

Q: I am worried people who do not have access to the Transfer Station because of limited access to transportation or who are elderly do not have the ability to go to the Transfer Station may be unfairly fined. When people are issued a warning, can their information be shared with the dump if they need assistance? 

A: Town staff are always available to work with individuals to help them navigate their trash disposal needs. It is our intent to initially provide information to residents that the barrels in commercial areas and at playfields are not intended for household trash disposal.  Fines will only be issued in extraordinary circumstances. 

Q: I'd like to know more about the circumstances that led to this warrant article. How often are public receptacles being used inappropriately? How do you measure that? I'm concerned that frequent mis-use of public trash receptacles could be a side-effect of the private trash removal policy. When did we last consider the cost and rewards of providing public trash pickup, and what data did that discussion reveal? I worry about penalizing elderly or other residents who may not have the money, time, or ability to remove trash personally and wouldn't need to if they lived in one of the many towns that offer this service by default.

A: Private refuse – to include mail with identifying address removed - is currently being disposed of in public bins almost daily, as observed by DPW RTS staff responsible for collecting refuse from these bins. As result of household refuse, staff now must make additional pick-ups due to premature filling that leads to wind-blown litter, odor, and unwanted animals.

The Town ended the annual sticker fee for access to the RTS to residents in 2014 – access to the RTS is now free for all residents.  A family whose income falls below 200% of the poverty level is eligible to receive pay-to-throw bags at no charge.  This program is administered through the Health Department.  Similarly, a person of age who may not be able to afford the bags can request them free of charge through Aging Services.  This is in accordance with Select Board policy adopted October 27, 1998.

ATM Articles 37 & 38 - Amend General By-Laws and Amend Charter - Needham Housing Authority Term Cycle and Tenant Member Appointment

Q: Is the new tenant-commissioner the position appointed by the Select Board?

A: Yes, the Select Board appoints an NHA tenant to serve as 1 of the 5 NHA Board of Commissioners. The other Commissioners include one appointed by the Governor and three elected by Needham voters.

STM Article 1 - Fund Collective Bargaining Agreement - Needham Fire Union

Q: Reviewing the materials for STM article 1, I see a typo in the fire union agreement that could be consequential. Article 15(11) of the agreement, as written, provides up to 40 “tours” per year of paid leave. Clearly that was meant to say “hours,” but a tour has meaning in the context of the sentence, and it could be construed to obligate the town to pay the service member for any time spent in a tour of duty, possibly far exceeding 40 hours per year. What would it take to get the typo corrected for the record?

A: Article 6 (1D1) of the Collective Bargaining Agreement between the Town and the Needham Fire Union defines “tour” as one 10 hour day or one 14 hour night. “40 tours” of military leave as set forth in Article 15(11) is intended to provide the equivalent of 40 days of paid military leave. In this context, the terms “tour”, “shift”, and “day” are synonymous.