Essex Town Administrator’s Report | May 12


Board of Selectmen’s Meeting of May 1, 2023 (cont)

Report covers from April 22, 2023, to April 28, 2023

School Budget Collaboration Group & Class Size Data Request Summary

Chairman Pereen, Finance Committee Buttrick, and the Town Administrator (TA) participated in a School Budget Collaboration Group meeting on April 27, 2023.  The meeting featured a discussion with respect to the progression of events that led the District to authorize borrowing for the replacement of two turf fields on March 7, 2023.  The TA explained that the Town never supported the idea of using Town money to pay for the fields at all.  Rather, the Town was in favor of the District’s proposal to use its own reserves to fund the projects (especially in light of the fact that Essex was originally told at the start of the budget season that the District would not be using its reserves to lower the required operating apportionments to the Town because it had to use the reserves to fund the turf field work).  Both that option (the District’s own original proposal) and an option for the Towns to pay for the fields with the District using the reserves to lower the FY24 proposed apportionments had been revised/rejected by the School Committee.

Mr. Zubricki explained that the Town had objected to the District’s plan to ask the towns to share in the turf field funding in any way at the District’s budget hearing on January 24, 2023. Even at that hearing, the parties were discussing a possible Proposition 2 1⁄2 capital exclusion – not the prospect of the District borrowing money for the work, both of which options no Essex official or staff member suggested as an idea (the idea came from others, at a later date).  At its meeting of February 27, 2023, the Board and the Finance Committee made clear that the idea of borrowing for the fields was not favored by Essex at all and that the Town Meeting would consider funding the Town’s portion of the projects using cash.  At the time, the Town did not realize that the District did not necessarily have independent authority to authorize and implement borrowing (this was the impression the Town got on a call to explore possible bonding the previous week but the Regional Agreement actually has a provision that may mean otherwise).  This lack of understanding was due to the fact that the matter had just begun to be discussed in detail late in the prior week among all parties and that certain provision in the Regional Agreement had not come up.  On February 28, 2023, the TA sent the following e-mail to School District and Manchester personnel and officials:

Last night, the Selectmen considered the figures on turf field borrowing presented by Avi recently after last week's call with First Southwest.  This was the first opportunity that the Selectmen had to discuss the matter since the information was provided.  The Finance Committee was also present and in session.  Both the Board and the Committee prefer to pay for the Town's portion of the field replacements in a one-time, cash payment via an Intermunicipal Agreement with Manchester that will allow Manchester to pay its portion of the District's borrowing off over time via the regional agreement and will allow Essex to avoid interest costs and borrowing fees.  The Board and the Committee wish to make this payment after the field replacements are completed and the Selectmen have pledged to put the necessary appropriation article on the Fall Town Meeting warrant this coming November.  This preference will require the District to borrow the funding, use its cash for the project, arrive a final accounting for the project, and receive the Essex one-time payment after the project is completed.

It was made clear at the February 27, 2023, meeting, attended by the Chairman of the School Committee, that the Town was not interested in borrowing and that no article with respect to turf fields would appear on the Annual Town Meeting Warrant for May 1, 2023 (which was also quite evident from the e-mail above).  In fact, even at the District’s January 24, 2023, hearing, discussion was held about not conflating the operating budget override vote and a vote about turf fields at the same Town Meeting.  Given that the discussion at the Collaboration Group on April 27, 2023, indicated that there was confusion with respect to the Town’s position over time (including the first e-mail shown above), during that meeting, the TA issued the following e-mail to provide clarification:

Yes, I am aware of this message.  However, this came just after the call with Bond Counsel at which he said that the District could independently borrow.  If that was the case (or so we thought at the time), then Essex was talking about its preference if borrowing was going to be used.  The prior exchange from the Selectmen about this issue, at the public hearing the District had at EES, was that the Town would have preferred a give/take -- we will not receive the benefit of an apportionment decrease using reserves, but we would under the give/take scenario get the fields paid for.  Selectman Bradford explained that no apportionment help AND the Town having to come up with money for the fields, via borrowing or otherwise, was a take/take [after I sent this e-mail I reviewed the recording and realize he said “give/give” – with the same intent] and clearly not preferred.  That part never changed.  You were getting input from Essex about not wanting to incur interest and fees since it was our understanding that you could independently borrow (no choice on the Town's part).  If the Town has some say in whether borrowing is done, the Town is sticking with its original position.  I hope that helps clarify things.

 We also discussed that, despite confusion with respect to the Town’s position on borrowing, all parties clearly understood prior to the District authorizing borrowing on March 7, 2023, that Essex would not be taking up the topic of turf fields in any fashion until the fall of 2023.  As such, the District’s choice to authorize borrowing was made knowing that Essex Town Meeting would not be taking a vote within 60 days of the borrowing authorization vote (a provision contained in the Regional Agreement which, as noted above, the Town was not aware of as part of its original discussion).  The Selectmen have asked Special Counsel to opine on whether Essex’s pre-March 7 choice not to consider the matter for ratification within 60 days of the authorization vote constitutes “constructive approval” (meaning the borrowing can proceed so long as Manchester approved it within the 60 days), as the District presently asserts, versus an Essex vote representing an impediment to the District actually implementing the borrowing the School Committee voted to authorize.

Council on Aging Town Meeting Warrant Discussion

The Essex Council on Aging asked that the Town Accountant and the TA offer a discussion at the Senior Center concerning the Annual Town Meeting warrant. We offered that discussion on April 27, 2023, and answered a wide variety of questions. School District officials and personnel were also on hand for the presentation and assisted with the discussion of the proposed Proposition 2 1⁄2 operating budget override article.

Review of Final Annual Town Meeting Motions

Town Counsel has reviewed the proposed motions for the Annual Town Meeting and has approved final versions.

Placemaking Grant Status Update

Chairman Pereen and Mr. Zubricki participated in a meeting with our consultant, Civic Space Collaborative (CSC), business leaders, and other Town personnel and officials on April 26, 2023. CSC has been working to firm up recommendations that will be included in the Town’s Placemaking Plan as part of a Mass Downtown Initiative (MDI) technical assistance grant from the Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD).  The meeting featured a presentation concerning how a recent open house and on-line survey may be used to shape final plan recommendations and features.  The design theme is most likely going to be nautical in nature.  The plan is expected to be completed between June 7 and June 14, 2023, and will be presented to the Board by CSC at the Board’s meeting of June 26, 2023.  The next step includes a more focused design meeting of the Working Group on May 3, 2023.

Apple Street Project Monthly Report

The TA worked with our engineering consultant to develop and submit the subject report during the week of April 24, 2023.  The report highlighted the ongoing permitting effort and an upcoming effort to acquire property rights private property abutting the proposed project area.

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