Town Meeting Review – Seekonk
Never has there been a Warrant so poorly presented to the people of Seekonk as the one presented on Monday, November 13, 2017.
Each money article, half the warrant, totaling $771,182.92 was written with the initial description of “To see if the Town will vote to raise and appropriate” from (3) funding sources.
1.Transfer from Free Cash
2.Available Funds in the Treasury
3.Transfer from Designated Funds
Of the (3) sources only one is identified by definition. Free Cash is typically known as the Town’s checking account. The balance in this account is certified by the Commonwealth as part of the annual budget process. It has always been advisable NOT to spend Free Cash prior to certification. At no time did Administration confirm and assure those in attendance that Free Cash was indeed certified.
Treasury Funds and Designated Funds were not clearly defined. A vote for positive movement essentially allows Administration to pick from any of the (3) sources leaving the average Taxpayer to wonder, where is the money actually coming from to fund the article request? While some may say the Warrant language is legal you have to admit it is deceptive.
Article 3 spoke to dissolving the Library Facilities Committee that was established at Town Meeting November 18, 2013. What is unclear is, was this a Study Committee or a Building Committee? The Town allocated $25,000 with a matching $25,000 received from the State. Before dissolving a Committee carrying such responsibility someone should have provided the original Warrant Article and a final accounting. Administration is expecting the Attendees to vote on something they may not have seen four years ago. There is and will remain a cloud of deception on this Committee because there are no records as to “who” was appointed and whether those individuals were properly sworn in according to Mass General Law and our Seekonk By-Law that mandates the policy for sworn duty and a process for recording appointments.
Article 4 requested funding in the amount of $170,052 for the purchase and implementation of a computer based permitting and licensing system. At no time was there mention of the name of the system, the company it was purchased from or a plan for implementation. One familiar with Town Government can only guess it is for the Building Department but those who are unfamiliar voted blind. At no time was there explanation of the “savings” the Town would receive with such a program. Was it part of the Capital Plan and is it rightfully a Capital Expenditure? The silence from Administration was incredible.
Article 5 requested a zoning change of a parcel of land known as “the old Showcase Cinema”. Located at 800 Fall River Avenue. The explanation presented (at least there was one) is that “it would make the property more marketable”. Explanation aside there was an error in the buffer zone request and the photo shown in the Warrant did not look like the parcel. Nothing was labelled except the address and the incorrect buffer amount. Tax revenue was also implied as a means to get a favorable vote for the change, however, aren’t the current owners paying their taxes any longer? This article failed thankfully. It should have been trashed to begin with because as written it was inaccurate.
Article 7 combined a request totaling $100,000 to be split between feasibility studies. One for the construction of a South-End Fire Station and the other for Phase II of the Seekonk Senior Center. Combining project requests is not a good idea in any way shape or form. One citizen tried to get the audience to split the Article, but the amendment failed. Administration said that the Senior Center is complete with $10,000 remaining on the original bond. Administration also acknowledged that it really isn’t a feasibility study. Bond money can only be used for the Senior Center. So, what exactly is Phase II? The $50,000 requested is to look at the remaining portion of the building for renovation for Town Offices. This is another reason that separate articles should have been prepared. As written this was deceiving and not quite accurate. The Article passed, not with my vote that’s for sure because of the manner it was written.
Article 8 proposed funding in the amount of $33,130.92 for contract renewals for the Steelworkers Union both Clerical and Supervisors. Congratulations now how about our Firefighters? What most don’t understand about contracts is that when they are eventually settled for renewal the Town must fund retroactively to the start of the term and any additional fees associated with the process. The length of the negotiation process is just as important as the contents of each contract. No one is looking at our Legal Expenses and Administration has yet to answer questions.
Articles 10,11 & 13 requesting funding for equipment and major building repair. The combined total $336,067. Historically these items have been treated as Capital expenses. Why weren’t they this time?
Article 12 addresses a request for $15,000 to adjust a preapproved budget line of the June 5, 2017 Town Meeting for Forestry Expense. Every year at the Spring Town Meeting $100,000 is allocated to the Reserve Fund. The purpose of this account is to cover any line item that is overspent due to unforeseen circumstances and is under the control of the Finance Committee. Administration was asked what the balance of the Forestry Expense Line is and the answer was $30,000. The proper procedure would be for the Department Head to submit a Reserve Fund Advisory to the Finance Committee letting them know exactly what activity is pending and what may be projected until the end of the fiscal year. When and only when the line item reaches zero is the request for transfer voted on by the Finance Committee. Administration did not answer the question on Town Meeting floor.
Administration said the money was going to be transferred from “Tax Revenue”. Tax Revenue is not outlined as part of the resources listed or is it supposed to be Treasury Funds or is it Designated Funds? If the intention was to transfer from Tax Revenue, then the warrant should be written as such. Why is it difficult to find clarity?
Here’s a suggestion for preparing for spending our money. At the beginning of each Meeting outline each Account to be used with balances available. When writing the Warrant be certain the Motions are definitive as to the choice of resource to be drawn. At the conclusion of each Meeting report the summary of how much was spent and from what resource. Clarity.
At first glance you may say the Board of Selectmen are at fault. After all, they sign the warrant which indicates approval. However, as The Charter currently stands the Town Administrator has full authority to run Town Operations. The problem is authority and accountability are two different things.
While Administration has the authority, the Board of Selectmen has to insure accountability. This can only be accomplished by asking questions and demanding answers. If a Warrant for Town Meeting is not properly done than stop it, don’t sign it. If things get backed up than it reflects on the person or persons running Town Operations. The Board of Selectmen are the Executive Branch of the Town. Elected by citizens to safeguard our best interests. Too often in the past few years this is not being done in a satisfactory manner.