The following is part of a transcript from the Jan. 27, 2014 Chelmsford Board of Selectmen meeting. For the full meeting, click here.
The agenda then went to Askenburg for a first draft of a new policy on free cash.
Askenburg said she had a lot of discussions on property taxes with residents and that she said one of her priorities when running for office was tax relief.
While she understood this wouldn’t be a complete fix, it would be a start to put at least 50 percent of free cash in excess of the goal reserve amount should be used for non-recurring emergency expenditures or tax relief.
Askenburg had heard from some residents who wanted the 50 percent money to be higher, with her saying that she did not have a good answer for the town keeping more than 50 cents on the dollar, but that there were obligations by the town.
She said that she understood that $1 million is only $70 per resident, but said it was not the town’s $70 to spend.
Dixon said that the town had fought in the past, and was unsure if putting this as a policy was a good idea due to the contentiousness then.
Lane added a motion he made at Town Meeting to expend free cash to the new fire station that was defeated, so these efforts had been made in the past.
Dixon said that if people paid attention to tonight’s meeting that the town is mandated to spend on things like OPEB.
He would like to do have the policy, and that it’s a good start, but it would not be an easy process to accept.
Wotjas went back to recommendations by Cohen made during his presentation on ways to reduce property taxes.
She was uncomfortable with a flat mandated number, but agreed with Askenburg that $70 per resident is important.
Hanson said it would be a good idea to look at what boards did in the past with free cash.
Cohen elaborated on this with a history of the past several years, adding that just after he arrived, (2007) the town made a concerted effort to put free cash into the stabilization fund due to the town’s bond rating behind downgraded then.
He said that something like what Askenburg proposes has to take into account in excess of stabilization goal amounts, and discussed the windfall 2013 Fiscal Year where the money was divided toward tax relief and other things like the Sewer Stabilization Fund.
Askenburg asked why money wasn’t put into the Stabilization Fund, and Cohen said that progress had been made to near the midway point and that the major concern was OPEB.
Cohen said that if the language taking account goal amounts for the stabilization fund that Askenburg wouldn’t get what she wanted, and that if the policy was kept as is, it would impact the stabilization fund.
Askenburg brought up concerns about property taxes and that she continually hears concerns from residents and that this is a preliminary solution.
Dixon said this is a first reading and Cohen said that the policy should have flexibility rather than a fixed policy. Cohen said if a fixed policy is put in place, the options would either be to make cuts or pass the buck like on OPEB.
Cohen said that there would not be any parades for fulfilling OPEB liabilities, but not funding liabilities would be passing the tax burden to future generations.
Cohen said the only way to cut taxes is cut spending, but that town government spending is not out of control and the real problem is that the town is not getting its fair share from the state government.
Askenburg disagrees and she asked the board to seriously consider it.
Hanson appreciated Askenburg’s efforts and made some other comments.
Lane also appreciated Askenburg’s efforts and echoed Wotjas’ comments regarding a percentage amount, saying it was aggressive and also mentioned OPEB, saying it is a real problem and that Chelmsford is in the minority of addressing it.
He was once cynical that it was a problem, but now he sees it as one, and he has struggled with that understanding due to his desire for tax relief.
Lane agrees that the policy is written too loosely as is, but it does need to give some flexibility for current and future boards.
Askenburg appreciated the feedback, but she still doesn’t agree due to her principles and said that she wants to address OPEB and emergencies, as mentioned in the proposed policy.
Dixon and Cohen then criticized Patrick for running on proposed property tax relief, which he did not deliver.
Lane then talked about CPA surpluses from the state, but Dixon said that Patrick cut that in half.
The board went to liaison reports.
Dixon thanked the firefighters and Lane for his work on the Center Village Master Plan Committee.
Wotjas said Fred Merriam would be at the library next week with his new book and congratulated Dixon for being inducted in the Chelmsford High School Hall of Fame.
Lane recognized Chelmsford’s newest Eagle Scout, thanked Trish Dzuris and let folks know at home about the Massachusetts Municipal Association conference, where Speaker DeLeo and the organization praised Chelmsford’s Health Insurance reform efforts and Dzuris’ website efforts.
Lane also congratulated Dixon, Charlie Wotjas and Susan Carter for getting into the Hall of Fame.
Askenburg congratulated the firefighters.
Hanson echoed all of these comments and said he’d have office hours at the Java Room on Thursday.
He also hosted a meeting of chairmen to brainstorm on how they can improve their committees and pushed Dzuris’ work on the Chelmsford NOW page on the town website.
Andrew Sylvia of the Chelmsford Patch asked a question about National Grid infrastructure in North Chelmsford, Dixon provided a person he should contact.
The meeting then adjourned.