On August 3 the Select Board struggled to establish priorities for FY2021 amid the uncertainties of the Covid-19 epidemic and its potential financial fallout. The number one priority in FY2020, building a new fire station, illustrates the difficulties of setting priorities in the current environment.
The Board reviewed their FY2020 goals that were divided into six broad categories, with specific goals spelled out in each:
- Organizational Capacity
- Community Improvement
The number one goal last year was moving forward to build a new fire station. Seven million dollars had been proposed on the Annual Town Meeting warrant for possible land acquisition for a new site, potentially at 175 The Great Road where TDBank North is located. But in an effort to postpone capital items in a time of financial uncertainty, it was removed from the Warrant for Annual Town Meeting along with other capital projects. The other step forward would have been a series of neighborhood meetings to gather input from the community about the TD Bank location. The first had been scheduled for the very evening that the town was closed down due to Covid-19. Such a meeting would now have to be held virtually.
Not all of the FY2020 goals the Select Board reviewed involved large expenditures. Several have been the subjects of community debate for years.
The Board agreed that projects to improve the safety of kids walking or biking to school should be a top priority, citing the intersection of North Road and Chelmsford Road as an example. The feeling was that with changes in school schedules transportation patterns will change and walking and biking may be a more desirable alternative.
Another goal on the FY2020 list is a long-term plan for Springs Brook Park. Board member Emily Mitchell asked if there is an opportunity to evaluate it while the park is closed. The discussion reviewed the issue of how much the town is willing to subsidize the park or to open it to out-of-town residents whose fees offset the costs. Select Board member Margot Fleischman highlighted the value of teaching children to swim, a major offering of Summer Adventures. The board decided to leave that section unchanged, but revisit it in three months.
Under “organizational capacity, “questions were raised about the Town’s current committee structure. Board member Mitchell did an analysis of the existing committees and reported that there are 240 people serving on town committees; 37 are elected and there are 37 vacancies. While praising the work of committee volunteers, she raised several questions. Do we have enough of a bench of town government volunteers? Are some functions better performed by staff? Should there be term limits? Should elected officials serve on other boards? Select Board member Fleishman asked, “Should we better align the committee work with our goals? How do we invite new people to participate?” Select Board Member Bill Moonan stressed the overall value of volunteers to community life.