Sunday, January 30, 2011

FM #84 - Week Ending Jan 30, 2011

Let's spend a few minutes to catch up on what matters in Franklin, MA as this week ends Jan 30, 2011. We'll look at the Town Council goal setting session, the School Committee budget workshop and close with some of the music and conversation from Ben Franklin's birthday party at the Historical Museum on Jan 23

Time: 21 minutes, 20 seconds

MP3 File

Session Notes:

This internet radio show or podcast is number 84 in the series for Franklin Matters.

I missed last week's show due to technical issues with my laptop. Those issues have been resolved and I am up to speed writing and reporting again but still trying to catch up on some things. As the week ends this Sunday, Jan 30th, the snow is piled up higher than my mailbox and winter is still upon us.

In this session we'll spend sometime with the Town Council who held their goal setting session on Weds Jan 19. From that session we'll look into the possible field use fee, and the future of the old museum. The School Budget workshop was held on Saturday providing a preview of the budget to be unveiled on Tuesday, Feb 1. It is not going to be pretty.

On a more positive note, we'll close with a sample or two from Ben Franklin's birthday party held at the Historical Museum on Sunday Jan 23rd. There were many folks came in throughout the afternoon. I know I had a great time talking with several. Those who came by were able to learn from Vera Meyer about the glass harmonica that Ben invented while listening to her play.

1 -

The Council goal setting session was a more informal meeting than most. Five councilors participated along with Jeff Nutting and Maxine Kinhart. Brian Benson and I were the only others in attendance. Jeff provided his update on the overall FY 2012 budget, it will be a very tough budget year with a deficit of about 4-5M dollars expected. How to address the systemic expense side of the budget is where much of the discussion took place. The group will hold a working session with the School Committee to get into more detail on health benefits and what options there are to control them. They would like to look at how to get the retirees to share more of the cost. The employees currently contribute 32% of the cost with the Town picking up 68%. Moving to a 50/50 split would take $10 M out of the budget. Doing this is also subject to collective bargaining with the Towns unions. The working session would bring in a health care specialist and be held in 'executive session' due to the collective bargaining nature of some of the discussion.

While the overall Town revenue is ultimately in the voters hands (by their determination of any override or debt exclusion), there are some smaller items that can be used to help prepare to cover for eventual costs. For example, the artificial turf fields will need to replaced sometime down the road. By adding a user fee now, a small fee can accumulate over the years of use by the various sports teams and when the fields do need to be replaced, the funds should be available. Pay a little now or pay a whole lot later. The fields were purchased and installed with a grant of what something in the neighborhood of 4-6M. Adding a small fee to each participant in a sport for each season will set up a fund to be able to pay for the replacement.

Somehow this has become quite a lightning rod. It is not meant to cover maintenance of the fields, those are covered in the regular operational budget. It is meant to cover the replacement of the artificial turfs. The simplest and fairest way to implement the fee is for all to share. If you tried to do t just with those sports using those fields, that would get real complicated and ultimately be unfair. This is only a proposal. It has not been determined when it will appear on a Council agenda for further discussion.

2 - 

The old museum came up in discussion but rightfully belongs with the Historical Commission to make a decision or propose some options for the Council to weigh in on. To do otherwise would not be appropriate. The Historical Commission is the group of record responsible for managing the property. The Council ultimately can have its say but HC needs to take the lead. It is not an simple matter. There is a pumping station on the property but it should not hinder usage. The lot is zoned residential but you could not put in a residential building without a ZBA variance. The lot is currently too small for a residence. If it were used for something other than a residence, the neighbors would have their say. The property has been quiet for quite some time. The church that had turned over the property to the town still has first right to it should we not want it. The church merged in with what is the Franklin Federated and doesn't really exist as a separate church today.

To re-use the building itself would require extensive renovations. Before even going down that path, you need to determine a use for the property. Once the use is determined, then the proper planning can be done to see what it would take to bring it up to current zoning and building code requirements to meet the need. Then you could begin to look at alternative ways of funding the renovations. So let's not get wrapped around the axle of a cart that may not even need to move.

3 - 

The School Committee, Central Office and all the principals meet for their budget workshop on Sat Jan 29th. Councilors Tina Powderly and Glenn Jones also participated. Julie Balise from the Milford Daily News and I were the only non-school, public representatives. Disappointing but that is what it is.

The preview of the budget shows an ugly picture. Even with an almost level service proposal, there are 14 plus positions being lost which will result in further increases to class size. I was not provided a copy of the document but didn't press the issue as the full budget package is coming out Tuesday night anyway.

Why 'almost level service'? This is due to the stimulus funds provided the last couple of years. The funds were required to be applied to keep some existing positions and to fund some positions that would otherwise be cut. With the stimulus funding gone this year, those positions come back on the budget to the tune of about 1.1 M. This accounts for the bulk of the personnel increase of 1.7M with the balance mostly in contractual commitments.

A nice what-if scenario was explored. With Franklin at 10,010 per pupil expenditures, and the State average at 13,006 – what would the State average look like for the Franklin budget? Try 78M, yes much more than the 52 million proposed. It would provide the budget that just about should be if the prior year cuts were not implemented. Another way to look at it, if the failed override for schools had passed since 2002, this is closer to what the school budget would be today. Very pie in the sky and unrealistic but certainly an insightful perspective.

4 - 

So instead of closing on this depressing note, let's shift to include some segments of the party held at the Historical Museum on Sunday Jan 23. As I mentioned in the opening, there was good attendance, Many folks came in throughout the afternoon. I know I had a great time talking with several. Those who came by were able to learn from Vera Meyer about the glass harmonica that Ben invented while listening to her play. I hope she is able to come back to the museum in the future. The instrument is special and her presentation of it is engaging.

I hope you enjoy these few minutes from what was a really pleasant afternoon.

Photos from the afternoon at the Museum can be found here


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The music for the intro and exit was provided by Michael Clark and the group "East of Shirley". The piece is titled "Ernesto, manana"  c. Michael Clark & Tintype Tunes, 2008 and used with their permission

I hope you enjoy!

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