By Betsey Anderson, Town Moderator, with additional information supplied by Meredith McCulloch
Town Meetings are a New England tradition dating back to colonial times and one of the purest forms of democracy. Bedford’s form of government, established in its Charter, is known as Selectmen-Open Town Meeting, and your participation is important!
If you have never attended Town Meeting before, consider coming to the High School auditorium on Monday, March 24 at 7:30 pm. It is interesting, can be entertaining, and is an important part of our life in Bedford. In this meeting each voter has the opportunity to express his or her opinion on the important decisions facing the town and thus to impact the future of Bedford. After Monday March 24, Town Meeting continues on Tuesday, March 25 and on Monday 31 and April 1 until the Warrant is completed. Voters may come at any time the meeting is in session.
A warrant (or agenda) report for the Town Meeting is posted at the Town Hall and at least three other places in town. In addition, a copy is mailed to every household in Bedford prior to the meeting. Watch for the green booklet with a picture of the Old Reservoir Dam on the cover, which was designed by Jean Hammond. The warrant report includes each article that will be voted on at Town Meeting, a description of the purpose of the article, recommendations from the Selectmen, Finance Committee and other boards, and the tax impact, if any, if the article is passed.
Detailed reports from the Finance Committee and Capital Expenditure Committee are also included. It is available digitally at http://www.bedfordma.gov/sites/bedfordma/files/final_warrant_2-28-14.pdf
The 2014 Annual Town Meeting will vote on Bedford’s budget for the fiscal year 2015, which begins on July 1, 2014 and ends on June 30, 2015. The proposed budget includes salaries and other costs for all departments of the Town including Public Safety, Public Works, Schools, the Finance Committee, the Board of Selectmen, the Health Department, the Planning Department, the Conservation Commission, the Building Department, and the Town Library. The operating budget for the Town is Article 24. After the article is moved, the moderator will read each line item. Anyone who wishes to ask a question or to speak for or against an article will be instructed to call out “hold.” Articles that are not held will be voted on first, then each remaining article will be debated and voted on separately.
Town Meeting will also vote on capital purchases, the Community Preservation Act (CPA) budget, and the funding of post-employment benefits.
Town Meeting is conducted according to rules and procedures provided for in the Charter and Town Bylaws. The Town Moderator conducts the meeting and a quorum of 100 voters must be present to begin. Bedford follows Town Meeting Time, a guide to town meeting procedures published by the Massachusetts Moderators Association, and, in addition, adheres to the established customs of the Town. A copy of the bylaw relating to Town Meeting is included in the warrant report, as are the Guidelines for Civil Discourse.
For each article considered at Town Meeting a member of the Selectmen, Finance Committee or appropriate board makes a motion. It may be exactly as printed in the warrant or differ somewhat, based on more current information. After the motion is seconded, the mover explains the purpose of the article, followed by recommendations from the Selectmen, Finance Committee and others as to whether they support or oppose the article. Discussion by voters follows. Often this discussion includes questions as well as opinions in favor of or opposed to the article. Most motions can be amended and amendments can be proposed at this time. The Moderator then calls for a vote, which may be a voice vote, a counted vote, or, on rare occasions, a secret ballot.
At each town meeting some articles are routine, such as Article 2, which establishes the rules for the meeting. An example of a more complex article would be ones over several years that first funded the design of a turf field, followed by articles to accept the design and to fund it.
A description of some of the articles on this year’s warrant:
- Article 6 amends the Zoning bylaw to reflect changes in the new Flood Plain map.
- Articles 7-11 are votes to accept five roads – a section of Hartwell Road, Ellingson Road, Donovan Drive, Copeland Drive and Buehler Road. When roads are “accepted” the town agrees to be responsible for the plowing, general maintenance and repair of the road.
- Cable Television PEG (public, educational and governmental) Access Services Agreement in Article 12 allows the town to commit to a five-year agreement overriding the three-year limit for most municipal contracts.
- Article 13 would approve an agreement with Aspen Technology, Inc. at 20, 22 and 28 Crosby Drive, which would shelter them from additional real estate tax, based on improvements to the property. It is to last for five years. Agreements of this type are meant to encourage a major upgrade to a commercial or industrial building.
- Articles 15 and 16 would authorize bonding of repairs to the Bedford Street sewer main and improvements to water mains.
- Article 17 would approve capital items requested by Town departments and recommended by the Capital Expenditures and the Selectmen. The $ 2,284,141 total funds requested in the articles are from various sources such tax revenue, water and sewer fund (from rates) and the Community Preservation Fund.
- Three articles, 18, 19 and 20, are Community Preservation Fund Articles. The first one amends a previous Community Preservation Committee appropriation by adding $215,000 to a previous article for the restoration of the Depot Building. The second one, Article 19, is the annual budget from the Community Preservation Commission for $2,049,165,. Like the Capital Budget, it is a list of unrelated projects recommended by the Commission. The third would add the parcel at 340A Concord Road to the list of parcels that can be acquired by the Community Preservation Land Acquisition Fund. Most of the remaining articles concern town employees.
- Most of the remaining articles are related to personnel. One funds the new Firefighter’s union contract. Another is an annual revised salary schedule that provides steps and rate increases tor town staff and others that provide additions to post-retirement savings accounts. Article 29 allocates funds to the Stabilization Fund. This fund functions as a savings account which the Town Meeting can draw upon for any purpose in the future. The final article allows the transfer of surplus revenue known as “free cash” to keep the tax rate lower while maintaining a balanced budget.
Background information posted in The Bedford Citizen
The Bedford Citizen has posted articles on Town Meeting topics; you can read them by clicking the links below. If more than one article, the most recent one is listed first.
Hartwell Road acceptance:
Tax increment incentives for Aspen Corporation:
Water Main Improvements:
FY15 Operating Budget: