In Plympton Monday evening, heated exchanges occurred between Linda Leddy of the Open Space Committee, and former Selectman John Henry. Henry was at the meeting to dispute money being spent on several ongoing projects by the Open Space Committee and the Community Preservation Committee. He frequently sparred with the Board and with Leddy, mainly about the acquisition of a long controversial USDA-owned property at 59 Parsonage Road, for about 45 minutes.
The CPC and Open Space Committee expressed interest in exploring the possibility of purchasing the property which has been used for farming for nearly 80 years. The committees have begun their due diligence as a first step in investigating a possible purchase.
Two years ago at Town Meeting, in Article 18, pre-acquisition funds were approved for this and other projects. This led the CPC and OSC to move forward with environmental studies, and to research possible issues with the property including several trailers on it and how to dispose of them. The committees thought they had authority to move forward to commit to payment for work done within the voted budget and according to what had been approved at Town Meeting, they began their pre-acquisition work.
But, Town Counsel informed the Board of Selectmen that it had to approve expenditures by the OSC and CPC after a concerned citizen who was a former selectman saw contractors on the property that he did not believe had the proper permits.
Thus, Leddy was at the meeting to explain expenditures to-date, have them retroactively approved by the board with one vote, and approve further expenditures in the rest of their budget for pre-acquisition work with a second vote.
Leddy presented the Board with a spreadsheet detailing their budget. Leddy, and the Selectmen, were concerned about a clear and streamlined procurement and acquisition process across the town, so as not to create future confusion. Chairman Russo held this topic for another meeting when it can be discussed as an agenda item.
As Leddy explained her spreadsheet to the Board, Henry asked a dozen or more questions, of both Selectmen and Leddy. Among the exchanges, Leddy and Henry told each other that they were “Sick of each other.” Henry demanded that Chairman Russo recuse himself because as Henry stated, “You’re in on this.” Russo did not recuse himself or respond.
Leddy demanded of Henry, “John, don’t you cross-examine me; you wait until I finish,” and they repeatedly disagreed on whether a Community Preservation Grant was an expenditure to the town. Henry, visible upset, bellowed at Leddy, saying, “Will you get it through your head that Community Preservation money IS town money?”
Henry, multiple times as the Board attempted to vote, would ask for items to be clarified or re-read after it had already been explained, interrupting the ability of the Board to conduct business.
Twice, Selectperson Joy asked the two to calm down, and finally Russo stated that he wanted to narrow the focus down to just the two votes for the Open Space Committee and Community Preservation Committee, and not have to try to answer a larger philosophical question about whether the town should spend money on this property, as that was not at issue.
The votes were on an already approved Town Meeting article, and approving or not the OSC and CPC to spend funds, both retroactively and moving forward. Actual purchase of the property would require a Town Meeting vote.
Finally, the votes were taken, both unanimously approved, and the Board moved on to other business, most notably a brief presentation by Silver Lake School Committee representative Jason Fraser. Appointed in late-January, Fraser told the board of his attempts to liaise with state officials about the way regional schools assess their constituent towns.
Fraser contacted State Senator Thomas Kennedy and State Representative Thomas Calter and invited them to meet with the Board of Selectmen to discuss two areas of concern that he believes are beginning to “pinch” the town budget.
There are two state mandates, the first being the State Foundation Budget for Education. This, each year, is presented to the towns as what the state believes is the minimum amount that should be spent per student to provide an adequate education.
It is common for towns to spend 130%-150% of this amount, according to Fraser, but Silver Lake Regional Schools has dropped from 113% in FY 2006 down to only 104% in the last fiscal year.
Fraser believes this indicates money needs to be invested to improve this low percentage. If the district falls below the base, the towns could lose control of their financial autonomy.
Yet, as Plympton, which has historically troubled finances, improves, and the State Department of Revenue recognizes this, the Silver Lake District assessment would go up as this number is determined by the state with its complicated regional school assessment formula.
Thus, the better the Town of Plympton handles its finances, the more it will be assessed by the Silver Lake Regional School District.
Fraser asked Selectmen for their input, and they agreed to present a united front. They asked Fraser to coordinate a meeting with state officials to see how this issue might be creatively addressed.
The Board finished up quickly after this. Russo stated that the agreement to join Area 58 Television, formally CHAT, the public Carver Halifax Access Television cable station, was being drafted and negotiations with Comcast are in the works.
The Town House will soon begin summer hours, to be announced. All other items were held over for future meetings, including the solar projects, still stalled by on-going litigation, a uniform procurement policy, and how the Selectmen will split up work on the Public Safety Building projects and Department of Revenue report planning.
The next scheduled Selectmen’s meetings will be June 15, June 29, July 13 and July 27, all tentatively scheduled for 6 p.m.