Aired October 20, 2022. The Finance Committee explains why is is against adopting Warrant Article 7 (Appropriate for Needham Climate Action Planning) and Article 11 (Appropriate for Property Acquisition).
reported by Yuxiao Yuan
The Finance Committee is charged with educating the public about the possible fiscal implications of certain warrant articles at town meeting. With a Special Town Meeting scheduled for October 25th, let’s take a look at why two of the funding requests are not getting the committee’s support. At their meeting on October 12th, the Finance Committee voted 8-1 to not recommend Article 7, which seeks an appropriation of $55,000 to hire a consultant to work along with the Climate Action Plan Committee. The Climate Action Plan Committee was formed this year to develop a plan that can guide Needham to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions. The committee consists of nine volunteers appointed by the Select Board and has identified potential actions. After reviewing the town’s greenhouse gas inventory in one of the Warrant Article presentation videos proponents put out prior to Town Meeting, Climate Action Plan Committee Vice Chair Nick Hill explained the role of the requested position. “The requested appropriation would cover the cost of hiring a consultant to take the efforts of the working groups and the committee and to complete a climate action plan. An experienced consultant will give us an outside perspective and give insights into what has and hasn’t worked in other communities, and the reasons why it hasn’t hasn’t worked.” But many Finance Committee members think the position lacks a clear scope of work. Said member James Healy,”It seems to me that if Needham has a plan, Needham should present the plan and then we should make a determination whether that plan is reasonable for the $55,000 request.” They also question the timing of the request, which they thought should be brought up at the Annual Town Meeting next May. “It does not have an opportunity to compete against any of the other requests that may come in May,” continued Healy. “By doing it in November, it’s in a vacuum.” Hill said in the Climate Action Plan Committee presentation video for Town Meeting that the committee arrived at the $55,000 budget by reviewing plans of peer towns. “Our peer towns have spent anywhere from $50,000 to $150,000 in the development of their climate action plans.” He further explained why finalizing the funding this year is essential. “This will allow us to have a completed climate action plan by mid-2023. The plan will prioritize specific action items which can begin begin to be acted upon immediately. The plan will identify potential funding sources; federal, state, and private.” The Finance Committee also unanimously voted against Article 11, which, if passed, will authorize the town to borrow $2.5 million for the purchase of 34 acres of open space near the Ridge Hill Reservation. The acquisition is a collaboration between the Town of Needham and the Concord-based developer Northland Residential. On the plan of purchasing the entire 64-acre Castle Farm at the Select Board meeting on October 11th, Northland president Jack Dawly said the developer would purchase the entire property with $21 million first, and then sell the two parcels totaling 6.3 acres along Charles River Street and the 28 acre meadow land along the Charles River to the town for $2.5 million. The developer intends to build 70 age-directed townhouse units on the retained 28 acre parcel, and some of the units would be designated as “affordable”. The select board stated this collaboration is critical to preserving the rest of the land from development, and to expand public access to open space. In their video, Select Board Chair Marianne Cooley states, “The town, working with the Northland, had a bid rejected by the sellers in February. The family put the property on the market. Our spring bids were also rejected and the property was sold in May to a buyer who intended to build single-family homes on the property. We were deeply disappointed by this outcome because we believe that our proposal preserved the greatest amount of open space. Twenty to twenty-five additional acres of land will be clear-cut on this property by a single family home developer.” The finance committee was worried that borrowing money for this project would hinder the town’s ability to achieve other priorities, because Needham has almost reached its three percent debt limit. Said James Healy, “We are clearly making a decision to defer other projects, as yet unarticulated, and I’m not sure. That might sway me as to what it is that we’re really believing to be a priority here.” Added Fin Com chair John Connelly,”If we’re going to be using our last borrowing amounts to get us up to three percent, we should be spending it on things that are ‘necessary’ as opposed to ‘nice’, and that’s how I view this property.”