Select Board roundup: Town manager presents pair of FY22 budget options

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Town manager Norman Khumalo on Tuesday presented the Select Board with two Fiscal Year 2022 budget options, one with a 2.5 percent tax impact on existing property owners, the other with a 1 percent tax impact.

Khumalo termed the budget for FY22 a “recovery budget,” addressing the COVID-19 public health emergency while recognizing that the economic hardship and recovery could last for a few more years.

“To be clear, both recommendations include adverse impacts to the town’s long-term financial health and stability, and those impacts involving the use of one-time funding to support new recurring costs are unsustainable over the long term,” Khumalo stated. “These actions are recommended as temporary measures during the current economic downturn and COVID-19 public health emergency with the aim of sustaining the expected high level of municipal and educational services, while being sensitive to tax and pass-through rent impacts on residents experiencing financial hardship.”

The budget priorities include sustaining municipal (including educational) services at FY21 levels; meeting contractual obligations; funding expansion in the Hopkinton Public Schools and Health and Human Services programs related to town growth and the pandemic; resuming funding of the town’s capital renewal program in a measured way; balancing spending, the use of reserves and tax impact in a way that meets service level expectations while minimizing adverse impacts on the town’s long-term financial health and stability; limiting use of stabilization reserve funds to meet priorities while minimizing tax impact during the pandemic.

According to Khumalo and chief financial officer Tim O’Leary, the 2.5 percent budget would essentially mean level-service funding as well as enhancements for the schools and Health and Human Services, while the 1 percent budget would mean $1 million less from stabilization funds, a reduction in school department requests for new initiatives plus $185,800 in reductions from other departments.

Select Board member Brian Herr said he preferred the 2.5 percent option, but he was concerned that taking a big chunk of money from the stabilization fund might hurt the town’s strong bond rating, which could lead to future issues.

“It’s important to let this process play out, let Mr. Khumalo do what he does,” Select Board chair Brendan Tedstone said. “We’re very early in this process, so it’s senseless to fire the cannons right yet. Let’s let Mr. Khumalo and [superintendent Carol] Cavanaugh and all the others involved work their magic and, as they do every other year, come up with a doable budget.”

Cornell’s gets OK for permanent outdoor expansion

A request by Cornell’s Irish Pub to allow for a permanent outdoor seating area for 50 people behind the Hayden Rowe Street restaurant passed unanimously, despite objections from two neighbors.

The Select Board previously had voted to allow for a temporary expansion of the outdoor seating area in an effort to help the business better cope with the COVID-19 restrictions. Similar approvals were given to other establishments in town.

Cornell’s owner Ellen Scanlon said the additional seating area has been a boost that she would like to see continue.

“I just figure that even after this virus is gone, people do enjoy sitting outside eating in the summertime,” she said. “We’re very conscious of noise. We only have low background music. It’s the same as people coming in if they were going to sit inside or outside, there’s the same amount of cars in the [parking lot]. So I’m just basically asking just to keep what I have, because nobody knows how long this is going to last. And even when it’s finished — please God — we’d still like to have the outdoors, because people just find it very comforting.”

Eric Rockey, who lives across the street, said the temporary change has made it clear it should not be permanent.

“We’ve experienced a lot more loud noise until late at night, loud music until late at night, and a considerable amount of extra traffic late at night,” he said. “While we do not want to affect Cornell’s business during these tough times we are living through, the business must also realize this is also a neighborhood with residents and must be considerate of their impact on us as well.”

Neighbor Mike Arakelian added that the lights are an issue as well.

Herr suggested including a restriction that the outdoor music be lowered after 10 p.m. so that it cannot be heard off the premises, and no lights should shine off the premises after 11 p.m. Assistant town manager Elaine Lazarus suggested a requirement that the Planning Board approve the site plan for the establishment. All three conditions were included with the motion.

Misc.: Proposed tree-cutting restriction sent back to ZAC

The board voted to place a number of items on the Town Meeting warrant. The only one that did not make the cut was a proposed tree-cutting general bylaw, which the board voted 4-1 against.

The impetus for the proposed bylaw is the clearing of forested land in order to construct commercial ground-mounted solar arrays. It was recommended by the Zoning Advisory Committee, which has been working on ways to limit commercial solar.

Herr said he felt it should be a zoning bylaw, presented by the Zoning Advisory Committee or Planning Board, rather than a general bylaw sponsored by the Select Board.

“We’re going to wade into a big fiasco if we’re going to start talking about trees and people’s land,” Herr said. “If you guys want to go there, I just caution you that you’re going to wade into a big fiasco. It will not be simple or straightforward.”

Herr and Tedstone said it felt like the article came out of nowhere and should get more vetting from the appropriate boards and personnel.

Amy Ritterbusch countered that the issue has been discussed for two years, adding, “I think making them wait one more year is too long to not try.”

Ritterbusch was the lone dissenter in the voting. …

In other Select Board news, the board voted to approve signing notices of taking for Legacy Farms Road North, which the board previously voted to accept as a public way. Lazarus noted that this is the next step in the process, and it means the abutters will receive official notification. …

The board also voted to lift the hiring freeze to allow for the hiring of two new police officers and an executive assistant to the town manager, in all cases replacing individuals who left.

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