Selectmen Focus on Town Warrant Development

By Joan Bowen
Dateline: February 3, 2015

SelectmenThe Selectmen held their regularly scheduled meeting on Tuesday, February 3 following a postponement due to the weather.  As members arrived and at several other points during the meeting, there were repeated kudos for the excellent job that the DPW staff has done during the stretch of significant snow accumulation.  Selectman Caroline Fedele commented that in the course of the day she traveled through five surrounding communities and experienced roads that continued to have a snow pack when a significant percentage of Bedford roads were at bare pavement.

The re were two public hearings (Cable Television Committee and a General Bylaw change for the Volunteer Coordinating Committee) that remain open until the next Selectmen’s meeting, and a review of the Selectmen’s FY16 budgets.

Public Hearing: Cable Television Committee

The meeting opened with public hearings on two articles on the Town Meeting Warrant.  Article 8 proposes a General Bylaw amendment to the current text specifying the responsibilities of the Cable Television Committee.  According to the current Bylaws, the responsibilities include: to monitor the Cable Operators’ license and the PEG Access Service Provider’s contract for compliance; to inform relevant parties of instances of license or contract noncompliance; and to investigate and work to resolve any consumer problems relating to the operation of cable television.  The amendment would add the responsibility to monitor the Town’s cable television funds and advise the Selectmen and Town Manager on expenditures from those funds.

William Deen and Jim Shea, members of the Cable Television Committee (CTC), made statements in support of the article.  Both qualified their comments by stating that they were not representing the CTC but were making their comments as individuals.  Deen said that the funds of Bedford Cable Access Television (BCAT) should be managed carefully, given significant expenses, and should be the result of a strong planning process.  Assigning this responsibility to CTC is logical.  Shea told the Selectmen that it is difficult to perform the CTV’s current role when financial oversight is excluded from the committee’s responsibilities.  He said that discussion at the December 8 Selectmen’s meeting had left committee members unclear on their role in financial decisions.

Shea cited two examples of BCAT financial practices that he felt were questionable.  One involved expenditures that occurred in August but were not recognized until November.  The other involved  a transfer of what he felt was a significant sum from a gift fund.  He argued that both demonstrate the need for the increased scrutiny that the CTC would provide.  He  concluded by referring to a letter from Scott Counsell, another member of the CTC, who was unable to attend the meeting due to travel complications. His points were similar to those stated by Deen and Shea.

Selectmen Moonan asked whether the additional responsibility stated as “monitor” and “advise” is equivalent to oversight.  He questioned that the amendment is clear in defining what the responsibility entails.  Shea responded that he could not speak to the wording of the amendment.  It is a petitioner’s article, not a recommendation from the CTC.  Alice Tolman gathered the signatures of 20 registered voters to secure placement on the warrant.

A couple Selectmen commented that they were surprised that none of the petitioners attended the meeting.  It would have been helpful to have their clarification of the intent of the article. Shea commented that he does not see the CTC acting as the first line of oversight.  Deen added that in making his earlier comments, his intent was to describe an advisory role.  It was agreed to continue the hearing to 7:30 pm on February 9.

Public Hearing: Change to General Bylaws for the Volunteer Coordinating Committee

A second public hearing was opened for an amendment to the General Bylaw, Volunteer Coordinating Committee (VCC).  Selectman Mike Rosenberg provided an overview of the proposed changes recommended by the Charter Review Committee.  The amendment includes changing the size of this committee from three to five members.  This change is dependent upon March voter approval of a Town Charter change.  Additional changes to the committee description in the Bylaws include clarification on when the VCC will recruit and identify qualified candidates and expands the time that the committee has to provide the list to the appointing authority from 30 to 60 days.  The hearing was continued to 7:40 on February 9.

Selectmen’s Operating Budget

The Selectmen reviewed the Selectmen’s Operating Budget and discussed three contingency requests.  These include $17,424 from the Youth and Family Services Department to fund hours previously covered by grants, $11,588 from the Facilities Department for on-going painting needs, and $3,500 to fund a lead maintenance position stipend.  The latter two items did not generate significant discussion.  When Selectmen Siegenthaler asked about the potential to reduce the request for painting needs, Town Manager Rick Reed reported that there is a need to repaint some high use interior spaces such as conference rooms more frequently.

With respect to the Youth and Family Services Department contingency request, discussion focused on the precedent of replacing grant funding with Town funding.  Sue Baldauf, Director, Youth and Family Services, described what she thinks the Healthy Bedford program has brought to Bedford; she questions the sustainability of a six to eight hour position.  She will continue to apply for grants that may support some of the hours and provide the means to introduce new program elements to the Healthy Bedford initiative.  The Selectmen supported this contingency on the basis of the value of this quality of life program and the value of the position in coordinating related work of other departments.

Town Manager Reed stated the proposed Selectmen’s Operating Budget FY16 at a total of $15,531,858 exceeds the Finance Committee’s guideline by $20,951.  With the addition of the three contingencies, the proposed budget will exceed the guideline by $53,464.  The Selectmen unanimously approved including the three contingences in the presentation to the Finance Committee on February 5.

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James Shea, 30 Independence Rd
James Shea, 30 Independence Rd
7 years ago

I think this report’s reference to Bedford Community Access Television Inc. (BCAT) is in error. Although BCAT is a contractor to the Town and is paid a portion of Bedford’s cable television funds for its services, it was not a subject of the hearing.

The Town’s cable television funds are derived from surcharges placed on subscriber bills by Comcast and Verizon. Mr. Deen emphasized at the hearing that this public money should be managed no less carefully than our tax revenues. An important attribute of careful management is that significant expenditures be reviewed and authorized by more than one person. This has not always been the case. Charges to the cable television accounts occasionally occur without the advance knowledge of the committee or the knowledge and approval of the Selectmen.

Careful management of funds also includes planning. Until recently, and only due to the work of the Cable Television Committee, we had no forward looking budget or an understanding of whether our available funds would accommodate Bedford’s future cable-related needs.

The Town receives and spends its cable TV money outside of the normal Town Meeting review and approval process. The Finance Committee and Capital Expenditure Committee do not review expenditures of cable television funds for goods or services. Since the Cable Television Committee is already charged with advising the Selectmen about the operation of cable TV in Bedford, it seems logical that advice about cable TV finances would be intrinsically attached to this duty. The proposed bylaw amendment clarifies that the committee may monitor the Town’s cable television funds and make recommendations to the Selectmen and Town Manager about expenditures from these funds. It is money that belongs to all of our residents and rate payers.

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