Time: 16 minutes, 11 seconds
This podcast has been a public service provided to my fellow citizens of Franklin, MA.
If you have questions or comments you can reach me directly at shersteve @ gmail dot com
The music for the intro and exit was provided by Michael Clark and East of Shirley. The piece is titled "Ernesto, manana" c. Michael Clark & Tintype Tunes, 2008 and used with permission.
The following text was the basis of the discussion recorded with Tina T. Powderly, Town Council Candidate. These are the four questions being asked of all the council candidates.
1 - What is Franklin's big issue? What steps should we take to resolve it?
Franklin’s biggest issue is the recurring budget deficit and I believe FY11 will be the most difficult year to date. We face difficult decisions on how to preserve the great quality of life we currently enjoy. We need councilors who will consider all options for increasing revenue and cutting expenses. These options must be clearly defined and objectively supported when presented to the voters.
I have served on the Finance Committee for the past year and this has given me the opportunity to understand the nuances of the town budget. I would suggest pursing the following items to address our structural deficit:
• Identify opportunities to lessen our reliance on state aid and property taxes, similar to my advocacy for the newly enacted local-option meals and hotel taxes and the closing of the telecommunications loophole.
• Focus on attracting businesses to Franklin, including continuing to establish Priority Development Sites, supporting the Downtown Partnership, and working with the Planning Board to fill vacant industrial space or selling vacant land when appropriate. Commercial and industrial tax revenue is critical to minimizing the burden on the residential taxpayer.
• Continue to reach out to folks who experience a hardship from local taxes and ensure that those who qualify for exemptions or relief through the senior work-off program actually access these programs.
• Continue my initiative to form a multi-town group that advocates for legislative changes on the state level that will cut municipal costs.
• Identify new regionalization opportunities to reduce costs. We’ve had great success with Bellingham for Animal Control and with Medway for library and recreation.
I also would put a premium on communication and transparency around the budget. The town does a good job of providing information to residents by televising all meetings and posting the minutes online. I’d like to see the town explore more social media options for communicating, similar to the police department’s use of Twitter. Additionally, I would work to ensure the following information is presented with any tax policy decisions before the voters:
1. Clear rationale for why it is needed
2. Details about what it will be used for
3. Explanation of why it is the minimum necessary to achieve the town's goals
4. Details about it's role in the long-term plan to address the budget problem
2 - What is your position on the proposed Charter revisions?
I am pleased that Town Council recognized the importance of periodically reviewing our Town Charter and I would like to thank those members who volunteered significant personal time to arrive at these recommendations. The Town Council established a subcommittee to examine in further detail the group’s recommendation and I look forward to reviewing their findings. There are a few specific items on which I would like to comment.
1. Treasurer/Collector – I agree that the Treasurer/Collector should be appointed. The high level of technical expertise and certification requirements by the state make a compelling case for changing the Treasurer/Collector position from elected to appointed. The day-to-day decisions in this position have the potential for large and immediate consequences on the town, especially in a $100 million organization. Given these risks, a premium should be put on securing the highest qualified candidate which is not always guaranteed when put to popular vote. I think it is important to note that the current Treasurer/Collector agrees with this recommendation based on his experience in the position.
2. Town Clerk – I agree that the Town Clerk should stay an elected position for the time being. The Town Clerk plays a critical role in local government and requires significant training. However, the independence of this elected position is important and the charter’s recommendation did not have the same level of supporting detail as was provided for the Treasurer/Collector recommendation. I would change the Treasurer/Collector position to appointed, examine the impact of this change, and revisit the Town Clerk position in the future.
3. Staggered terms – I agree that staggered terms allow towns to maintain institutional knowledge while giving voters opportunity to change their representation. However, the logistics of transitioning seem to outweigh the benefits. First, elections are costly to administer. Second, more frequent elections often lead to lower voter turnout which would negate one of the reasons for having staggered terms.
4. Finance Committee – I agree that we should reduce the Finance Committee from 11 to 9 members and they should serve two-year terms instead of one-year term. Having served on the Finance Committee, I have seen one-year terms result in significant turnover which undermines our efficiency as a team. Further, eleven members can be a bit unwieldy and there is no compelling reason why the Finance Committee should be larger than the Town Council.
3 - What use do you envision for the Open Space Fund?
The Open Space Fund, established in 2002, is a critical piece of our capital plan. I am proud that Franklin puts an emphasis on conservation and preservation. I support the traditional projects of the fund – parks, bike trails, preservation land, and recreational areas.
The money for this fund comes from the hotel tax and averages about $300k a year. With the approval of the increase in hotel and meals tax, I believe the new Council should balance the types of projects that qualify for Open Space funding. I believe these monies should be considered for less traditional capital projects like the renovations to the library and historical museum which meet the spirit of the Open Space definition of preservation and conservation. Another example of a capital conservation project would be to address the deterioration of the Del Carte dams along Pleasant Street.
I also would like the Town Council to consider dedicating a revenue stream to traditional capital and building needs, much like what was originally done for Open Space. The Finance Committee recommended to the Town Council that the new meals tax be used for operations and the additional hotel tax be divided between building and open space. Franklin has a unique opportunity to diversify our revenue base, and these opportunities do not come along often. I believe we need to carefully evaluate where these new revenue streams go.
4 - What is your position on the Financial Planning Committee report?
I believe that the Financial Planning Committee report is critical to understanding the fiscal challenges that face Franklin. I would like to see this report serve as the basis for conversations about what we can do to maintain our quality of life given our financial picture. I would like to see the Town Council endorse the findings of the Financial Planning Committee report, and set up a long-term group responsible for maintaining and updating the report. Setting up the maintenance piece is critical because as with any budget, factors change from year to year and the tool is only as useful as it is current.
I like that this question closes our discussion because it represents what is unique about Franklin. The people who sat on this committee participated in an incredibly time-consuming effort and I’d like to publicly thank them. When I speak with finance officials from other towns, they are amazed that town officials and residents alike put a priority on identifying root causes of our budget crisis and volunteered so much of their time to the project. This report not only illustrates the dedication of folks to finding solutions, but is a revolutionary opportunity to change the framework of the discussions we have in town about the budget. The 5 Year Financial Planning report unequivocally demonstrates that Franklin provides comparable services at a lower per capita cost than comparable towns. By starting with objective data, we can use this report to agree on the problems that we face so that we can move forward on fixing them.
I want to thank you for the opportunity to share my views on some of the important issues facing our town. I’d also like to thank you personally for all you do to keep residents informed and for your dedication to all things Franklin.
Address: 22 Eisenhower Drive
Years lived in Franklin: 7
Occupation: Finance and strategy consultant for healthcare organizations
Family: Married; daughter 8, son 6, daughter 3
Finance committee (1 year), currently Vice Chair;
Oak Street Parent Communication Council (2 years), member;
Bachelor's degree in Management, Georgetown University;
Masters in Public Health, Harvard University
Tina's campaign web site can be found here.