Town meeting voters Saturday approved $5.75 million in capital projects for Fiscal Year 2021, despite a challenge that financial uncertainty mandated a delay.
A variety of purchases and projects, ranging from school furnishings and painting to fire safety equipment and a replacement sewer pumping station, was approved following lively discussion of whether capital purchases should be deferred.
Walter St. Onge, former selectman and Finance Committee member, opened a discussion of the capital article with a prepared statement. “We are in unprecedented times. Every person and every business has been hurt by the pandemic, some in profound and sad ways,” he said.
According to Interim Town Clerk Rosemary Harvell, Bedford voters turned out in force for Annual Town Meeting 2020 at Sabourin Field on Saturday morning, July 11.
Special Town Meeting drew 212 eligible residents, and Bedford’s Annual Town Meeting comprised 209 voters. New residents who moved to Bedford after registration closed for Annual Town meeting early this year were eligible to vote in the Special Town Meeting, but not in Annual Town Meeting. New voters used yellow voting cards, and long-time residents voted using red fans emblazoned with the Town Seal.
Bedford-TV was on the field, live-streaming the proceedings for voters unable to attend the meeting in person. B-TV’s Executive Director Katie Duval reported that more than 60 viewers tuned in at one time during the 2-hour meeting, and in all the un-edited video was seen more than 400 times. Duval was joined by Steve Madore, a freelance videographer from Scituate, and Bob Dutton, a member of the B-TV board who captured the Bedford Minuteman Company marching onto the field.
An edited version of the meeting is available by clicking the video below
Bedford voters gathered on Sabourin Field on Saturday morning to celebrate one of the great rituals of democracy, Open Town Meeting. Looking out over the socially-distanced crowd of 100+ voters, visitors, and Town staff, Moderator Cathy Cordes opened the meeting and exclaimed, “THIS is what democracy looks like!”
Town Manager Sarah Stanton said, “Thanks to everyone [for] a true collaborative effort. We accomplished what we all wanted, for people to be safe, AND to be part of our important democratic process.”
Moderator Cordes added that she was “humbled by the turnout and the active participation of voters in the process of democracy. It is a proud moment for Bedford, and one for the history books!”
Both Stanton and Cordes credit town staff. “They’re all professionals who love Bedford and made the meeting seem effortless,” said Cordes. Members of every town department were on hand, from first responders ready for any emergency, through DPW crews, to administrative professionals helping to direct voters to their seats.
Bedford won the weather sweepstakes when Tropical Storm Fay took a westward tack, completely missing the town, leaving behind a strong breeze and puffy clouds. The temperature was in the high eighties, but the breeze and occasional shade when the sun hid behind the clouds made the morning tolerable.
The full warrant for the original meeting scheduled for March was pared to the bone with only essential votes remaining. One retained ‘essential’ was the Bedford Minuteman Company posting the colors as they do in opening Annual Town Meeting each year.
Bedford MA Today moderator Lee Yates noted the number of ‘firsts’ at today’s meeting. “Our first outdoor Town Meeting. Our first March Town Meeting in July. Our first TM with sunscreen, insect repellent, and spring water handed out to each voter. And the first TM where Rich Daugherty really did need a microphone!” Daugherty is known for his strong voice, carrying throughout the high school auditorium where town meetings are commonly held.
Bedford’s State Representative Ken Gordon added, “What a great turnout. At least 100, likely more. Respectful discussions .. .. .. Great job by the town to supply masks, waters, bug screen, sunscreen, and even a souvenir fan.” (Editor’s note: the souvenir fans did double duty, also serving as easily seen voting cards as the meeting progressed.) “As others found reasons to postpone their gatherings, Bedford toughed it out and got its business done,” Rep. Gordon continued.
There will be several articles about the decisions that were made during the meeting, and they will appear in The Bedford Citizen early next week. But in the meanwhile, please enjoy these images of the day.
A selection of images from Annual Town Meeting on Sabourin Field this morning.
According to an announcement on the Town of Bedford’s website on Friday morning,
Tomorrow’s Town Meeting to Begin at 10:00 AM
Due to predicted overnight and morning rain, Bedford Town Meeting will be delayed one hour. Town Meeting will now begin tomorrow, Saturday, July 11th, at 10:00 AM, with registration opening at 9:00 AM.
Don’t expect many of the 300 independent living residents at Carleton-Willard Village to help make the quorum at Saturday morning’s annual town meeting.
A memorandum late last week from Dr. Cherie Noe, the retirement community’s medical director, and also signed by the nurse practitioner urged residents to stay home.
Acknowledging the importance of civic responsibility, and the state’s success in controlling the spread of the virus, the memo nonetheless noted that “we can’t let our guard down” and called for continued hand hygiene, face-covering, and social distancing.
Wondering about Annual Town Meeting? It’s scheduled for 9 am on Saturday, July 11, just 9 days from today. Select Board Chair Ed Pierce and Clerk Margot Fleischman have collaborated with Finance Committee Chair Ben Thomas to provide a video overview. It’s not short, but it’s important, and it is apt to hold your interest from start to finish.
As we approach Annual Town Meeting, rescheduled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we know many of you have questions about reductions to the proposed Fiscal Year 2021 (FY21) budget that was prepared and published in the warrant prior to the start of the public health crisis. We hope to answer many of those questions here and explain the reasons behind the reductions.
Why are we reducing the budget?
The COVID-19 crisis has had a profound impact on the economy. Locally, we anticipate substantial losses in state aid, hotel/motel/meals taxes, investment income, licenses and permits, and other revenue sources. Based on state and local projections, we expect to face a $2.2 million budget shortfall in FY21. We are likely to face similar shortfalls in the following two years. Of the $2.2 million, around $600,000 in reductions are proposed for Town departments, and roughly $1.3 million are proposed for the schools. The remaining funds will come from savings in our debt service and snow/ice removal budgets.
To all Bedford Voters: This is the first in a series of articles to provide information about Bedford’s Annual Town Meeting, scheduled for July 11, 2020, at 9 am.
On the surface, our Annual Town Meeting will look different. None of us ever imagined a Town Meeting with physical distancing, face coverings, and outside on a football field on a Saturday! Bedford is not alone.
Annual Town Meeting’s streamlined warrant has been bulked up just a bit with the addition of a concurrent Special Town Meeting (STM). The Special Town Meeting will be held to address a Tax Increment Financing (TIF) agreement with biomedical company Ultragenyx. If approved, the STM would grant the Select Board the ability to negotiate the development of the TIF and to amend an existing development agreement for the site.
The School Committee met twice last week, once on June 10 and again on June 11.
June 10th Meeting
At their June 10 meeting, the School Committee approved a $1,278,000 reduction to the originally proposed FY21 School Budget. This vote did not approve cuts to specific line items, rather a collective reduction.
June 11th Meeting
The following night, at their June 11 meeting, the School Committee deliberated the reductions that were proposed at the previous meeting.
The School Committee was met by a vocal group of parents, advocating for special education, world language, and the gifted and talented program. Superintendent Jon Sills and School Committee Chair JoAnn Santiago assured parents that the comments would be taken into consideration.
As summer draws closer, the Select Board once again reviewed the details of this year’s Annual Town Meeting. At their previous May 13 meeting, the Board was inclined toward June 27 at 1 pm on Sabourin Field. Originally slated for March 23, the meeting has already been extended twice past its original 30-day limit. The Board reviewed the updates based on the logistics of holding the meeting to determine whether the June 27 date would be appropriate, or if choosing a later date of July 11 would be better. After much discussion, July 11 at 9 am was settled upon as the new date by the Board.
At a remote Board of Health meeting on May 20, 2020, Board of Health Director Heidi Porter and Town Moderator Cathy Cordes reviewed the proposed plans for an Open Town Meeting tentatively scheduled for Saturday, June 27. The meeting originally set for March 23 was postponed due to Covid-19. An early start time will be preferable to one later in the day, to allow for a metered check-in period, and to avoid the peak mosquito activity.
Town Moderator Catherine Cordes anticipates that she will be in a position to schedule the abbreviated 2020 annual town meeting following Wednesday afternoon’s meeting of the Select Board.
And all signs still point to Saturday, June 27, on the synthetic turf at Bedford High School’s Armand Sabourin Field.
“The final decision will be collaborative,” said Cordes, who has the statutory authority to reschedule a postponed town meeting. “I think probably our number one choice would be Sabourin.” Select Board Chair Ed Pierce agreed that “the Saturday town meeting looks like a good option.”
Since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, Annual Town Meeting has been on many residents’ minds. Open to every voter in Bedford, the meeting will still require social distancing, a challenge for residents who have been under stay-at-home orders since March and wish to greet neighbors and friends from across town.
At the Select Board’s May 13 meeting, the Board voted to hold Annual Town Meeting on Saturday, June 27 at the High School’s Sabourin Field at 1 PM. Town Meetings are exempt from Governor Baker’s order against large gatherings as they serve as legislative bodies. Town Manager Sarah Stanton and Heidi Porter Director of Health and Human Services, among many others, have placed the highest priority on safety for both town staff and residents in attendance.
I have lived in Bedford since 1976. I attended my first town meeting that year. For more than 40 years every town meeting has been basically the same. Maybe there is more technology now – and less paper being handed out – but pretty much the same process and structure.
This year it will definitely be different. The current pandemic is dictating how we can conduct Town Meeting, and even when we will have it. Bedford’s Town Meeting, originally scheduled for March 23, postponed to April 6 and then May 4, is now on the brink of being rescheduled to June. We are not sure when we will be able to hold the meeting – and definitely do not know what it will look like when we do.