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As the 250th anniversary of our charter approaches, we are entering a time that will, for a long time to come, determine, who we are and what we stand for. We face serious challenges to our way of life, but with simple, commonsense courage and a willingness to work together we can look those challenges in the eye, fight for our way of life, and preserve it, not just for ourselves, but for our children and their children. Tonight, we come together as Town Meeting, and while the fate of our town is not at stake, our decisions, like every decision, affect our future. In times like these, it is easy to come apart. Those who take pleasure in complaining will find plenty to complain about. Those who enjoy criticism will find it easy to find fault. Those who enjoy creating divisions will find plenty to divide us. Disagreement is inevitable, and constructive criticism is always welcome. We are, after all, a democracy. But we cannot afford to wallow in pessimism. As Theodore Roosevelt warned, “The poorest way to face life is to face it with a sneer.” Now is the time for us to embrace who and what we are: the citizens of a small town who want to preserve it. We may disagree on the means for doing so, but we are, I think, united in our goal.

Doing more with less has been the Granby way of doing things for a long time. You could credit our Yankee ethic or our farming heritage or our being a small town, but we do not spend beyond our means. This has been made relatively easy because previous select boards negotiated lucrative contracts with the company that owned the landfill. As we all know, however, the landfill has finally closed. Our transition to this brave new world will be easier because the finance committee and select board decided years ago that we would stop using landfill revenue for operating expenses. Taxes, fees, and state aid are about equal to the amount we are spending on operating expenses. However, we have been financing capital expenses—things we need to purchase—from landfill revenue. Now those expenses must be met through tax revenue and state aid. If we had been using dump revenue to operate the Town, we’d now be looking at draconian cuts and a lot of chaos.

Because the landfill featured so prominently in our lives, we tend to regard its closing as the sole cause of our fiscal problems. Unfortunately, cuts in state aid are also a major cause of our troubles. Like every other municipality, Granby depends on the Commonwealth of Massachusetts for millions of dollars a year in state aid for revenue. This aid is more than helpful. It’s essential. About 30% of our $20 million budget is paid for by some form of state aid. Between FY 2008 and FY 2013, local aid to Granby dropped by 38%. We aren’t alone in experiencing this reduction, but other communities may be in a better place to weather it.

On the eve of Fiscal Year 2015, we face a significant shortfall in income with both major and minor expenses on the horizon. We are in a tough situation, but we have some alternatives, none of which is guaranteed. Each of these areas comes with if’s, and’s, but’s, and or’s, but they are alternatives and opportunities for action.

Our first opportunity for action is local aid. There are a number of reasons for the decrease in local aid, but the amount of money, as I’ve said, is sizable. When state aid drops by hundreds or even tens of thousands of dollars, we are in pain. Quite simply, state aid must increase if we are going to thrive. Local aid is distributed by a formula, and Beacon Hill can’t just throw a little extra in there for Granby. But every community is feeling the pinch. We must add our voice and help our representatives pressure the leadership on Beacon Hill. Other communities are feeling the same pain. We must lobby our state representatives and state senator for more local aid.

Our second opportunity is saving money. Granby squeezed the excess out of the budget a long time ago, but we will continue to squeeze. Discretionary spending may be insignificant, and duplication of services may be minimal, but we must continue to look for ways to save. The select board and the school department, for example, have been working on combining services, and expect to bring forward a plan for combining some services. Town meeting will need to approve these changes. As a Town, we are obligated to try to save as much money as we can. We can’t save enough to money to make up for landfill revenue, but we can help.

A third opportunity, though the least appealing, and potentially the most self-defeating, is cutting spending. Because we’ve been making small cuts for many years, new cuts will likely be large cuts. When the fat has been trimmed, what’s left are muscle and bone. Some of our departments—such as the Council on Aging and library–are so small and constrained by regulations that a major cut to them would mean closing them all together. Other departments—such as police and fire—are running well enough, but cuts would mean a loss of services and efficiencies. Continued major cuts to our schools, I might add, are likely to be self-defeating making our small town education less appealing not only to the parents of Granby but to the parents of school choice children. If cuts lead to fewer students, Granby also receives less state aid. We may eventually end up making large spending cuts, but doing so is close to a last resort.

Our final opportunity is bringing in more revenue. Fees and taxes are the simplest way to raise revenue, but certainly the least popular. I completely agree with the finance committee that tax increases should be saved for necessities. One of these necessities will be addressing the deficiencies at West Street School. Whether we end up renovating or building new, improvements will definitely require a tax increase. The feasibility study, incidentally, is progressing. We have hired a project manager and will soon have an architect. We may also need to raise taxes to keep existing services or pay for capital expenses.

A more popular way to raise revenue is by broadening our tax base. Because of the planning board’s good work on rezoning parts of town, Granby is now in a better position to accept business development. One obstacle to new business, however, is our lack of infrastructure. Many of you will have heard that the select board is now looking at a sewer project on the Route 202 corridor. Both the scope and the financing of the project need to be worked out before it is presented to the Town. This project could jumpstart new business development. However, it should be noted that it would take an incredible amount of development to make up for the closing of the landfill and it’s not too difficult to picture. Here’s how:

1)  Our tax rate is between $16 and $17 per thousand dollars of property value.

2)  One million dollars is 1000 thousands.

3)  One million dollars in in property brings in between $16,000 and $17,000 a year.

 What does $1 million in property look like? It looks like CVS. Every year our CVS brings in less than $17,000 in tax revenue. It would take the equivalent of ten CVS’s—$10 million dollars in property value—to bring in between $160,000 and $170,000 a year. That $170,000 a year would certainly be helpful—even $50,000 a year would help—but given the economy and Granby’s demographics and location, it’s unlikely that we’ll see $10 million business development any time soon.

 So when it’s time to consider a sewer project, we need to consider the potential benefits along with the inevitable costs. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to develop a sewer project, but we want to be sure our investment doesn’t exceed our return.

 Tonight I’ve focused more on our general situation and less on specific plans. The select board, however, does have some specific plans. I have proposed the formation of Financial Forecast Committee composed of Town Administrator Chris Martin, me, two representatives from the schools, and a member of the finance committee. The purpose of this committee will be to analyze the financial state of our affairs, determine the extent of our structural deficit, and produce a report to inform our budgeting. My colleague Lou Barry has also proposed a committee to guide and promote Granby’s economic development.

 Our future is not going to be easy. There will be missteps. And at times we will fall short, as Teddy Roosevelt once said, “there is no effort without error and shortcoming.” And at times we will succumb to pessimism and cynicism, but as long as we persevere, our future is not bleak. And as long as we stick together, we will not fail.

The next few posts concern articles that will be decided on June 16. We have both an annual and a special town meeting. Why a special town meeting? Because annual town meeting can only consider articles for the coming fiscal year. The special town meeting wraps up this fiscal year.

I’ll add more explanation for articles 6-11 on the special town meeting, but I’ve been working on this for an hour or two and I’ve had enough.

Please feel free to ask questions here or on the Granby Town Meeting Facebook page.

I’m too tired to blog these articles today. They are all transfers from FY 2014 line items.

ARTICLE 6. To see if the Town will vote to transfer from Contract Services account number 01-135-5301-000 to Full-Time Wages account number 01-135-5112-000 the sum of $7,500, or take any other action in regards thereto.

ARTICLE 7. To see if the Town will vote to transfer from Gasoline account number 01-194-5480-000 to Electricity account number 01-193-5211-000 the sum of $15,000, or take any other action in regards thereto.

ARTICLE 8. To see if the Town will vote to transfer from Diesel account number 01-194-5481-000 to Propane/Gas account number 01-193-5212-000 the sum of $15,000, or take any other action in regards thereto.

ARTICLE 9. To see if the Town will vote to transfer from Diesel account number 01-194-5481-000 to Telephone account number 01-196-5342-000 the sum of $8,300, or take any other action in regards thereto.

ARTICLE 10. To see if the Town will vote to transfer from Overtime account number 01-423-5131-000 to Part-Time Wages account number 01-420-5120-000 the sum of $10,000, or take any other action in regards thereto.

ARTICLE 11. To see if the Town will vote to transfer $350 from Telephone account number 01-212-5342-000 and $350 from Office Supplies account number 01-212-5420-000 to Full-Time Wages account number 01-212-5112-000, or take any other action in regard thereto.

ARTICLE 1. To see if the Town will vote to amend the Bylaws of the Town of Granby Volume I by inserting Chapter I-a TOWN MODERATOR, or take any other action in regards thereto.

(Copies of the amendment are available in the Select Board Office)

This article would change the moderator’s term from 1 to 3 years.

ARTICLE 2. To see if the Town will vote to accept the provisions of M.G.L. Chapter 40 Section 22F and amending the Bylaws of the Town of Granby Volume I by deleting Section 2 of Chapter XVIII FEES, or take any other action in regards thereto.

(Copies of the amendment are available in the Select Board Office)

The Town contracts with the City of Northampton as the sealer of weights and measures. This article would allow the Town to include the fees in the contract with the City. This change would allow the Town to circumvent a bylaw change every time the City changes its rates.

ARTICLE 3. To see if the Town will vote to authorize the Select Board to negotiate a Payment In Lieu Of Tax (PILOT) agreement with Hecate Energy, or take any other action in regards thereto.

Two property owners in town are working with Hecate Energy to create solar farms. State law allows the Town to negotiate a Payment In Lieu Of Tax (PILOT). This article would authorize the Board to negotiate this payment.

ARTICLE 4. To see if the Town will vote to authorize and appropriate, borrow or transfer from available funds the sum of $7,839, or a greater or lesser amount, for the purpose of  purchasing a handheld GPS unit hardware and software for the Highway Department, or take any other action in regard thereto.

This article would allow the Highway Department to purchase a replacement for its existing GPS hardware and software.

ARTICLE 5. To see if the Town will vote to authorize and appropriate, borrow or transfer from available funds the sum of $14,785, or a greater or lesser amount, for the purpose of purchasing computers, or take any other action in regards thereto.

The Town needs new computers that can run software that is up-to-date. We have reached the point at which our computers can’t accommodate new versions of software.

ARTICLE 12. To see if the Town will vote to authorize and appropriate, borrow or transfer from available funds the sum of $3,115, or a greater or lesser amount, for the purpose of funding the Select Board expense budget for FY2014, or take any other action in regards thereto.

This amount is generally used for mailings and advertising for hearings, etc.

ARTICLE 13. To see if the Town will vote to authorize and appropriate, borrow or transfer from available funds the sum of $8,100, or a greater or lesser amount, for the purpose of funding the Computer expense budget for FY2014, or take any other action in regards thereto.

This article would cover new software for the Town’s computers.

ARTICLE 14. To see if the Town will vote to authorize and appropriate, borrow or transfer from available funds the sum of $5,430, or a greater or lesser amount, for the purpose of funding the Legal Services expense budget for FY2014, or take any other action in regards thereto.

This article would fund the overage for Granby’s home rule petition for Granby residents in South Hadley’s Fire District 2.

ARTICLE 15. To see if the Town will vote to authorize and appropriate, borrow or transfer from available funds the sum of $16,854, or a greater or lesser amount, for the purpose of funding the Public Buildings expense budget for FY2014, or take any other action in regards thereto.

We have saved a lot of money by having our Highway Superintendent do a lot of the engineering necessary in our public buildings. The newer buildings–the public safety complex and library–have required a lot of work with their building systems. This article would cover the costs of that work.

ARTICLE 16. To see if the Town will vote to authorize and appropriate, borrow or transfer from available funds the sum of $6,800, or a greater or lesser amount, for the purpose of funding the Police Department Personal Services budget for FY2014, or take any other action in regard thereto.

Precisely anticipating police overtime is impossible. An investigation can require huge amounts of overtime. This article would pay for the overage in overtime incurred over the last year.

ARTICLE 17. To see if the Town will vote to authorize and appropriate, borrow or transfer from available funds the sum of $17,767, or a greater or lesser amount, for the purpose of funding the repair of the Pleasant Street culvert, or take any other action in regard thereto.

This year we had a culvert failure on Pleasant Street. Thanks to the expertise and hard work of the Highway Department, the cost was $17,767, rather than the $100,00-200,000 it would have cost if we had hired it done.

ARTICLE 18. To see if the Town will vote to authorize and appropriate, borrow or transfer from available funds the sum of $23,429, or a greater or lesser amount, for the purpose of funding the Worker Compensation budget for FY2014, or take any other action in regard thereto.

When it comes to workman’s compensation insurance, there is an experience rating akin to safe driver points on auto insurance. The Town had to make a lump sum payment to an injured worker that led to an increase in our premium. Selectman Lou Barry has looked into programs the Town might be able to participate in so we can lower the premium.

ARTICLE 19. To see if the Town will vote to authorize and appropriate, borrow or transfer from available funds the sum of $32,000, or a greater or lesser amount, for the purpose of funding the Ambulance Department Personal Services budget for FY2014, or take any other action in regard thereto.

We came up short this year because we underbudgeted the overtime account. 

ARTICLE 30

To see if the Town will vote to transfer from the Capital Equipment Needs Stabilization Fund $155,400, or a greater or lesser amount, for the purpose of reducing the funding from tax levy for the fiscal year 2015 appropriations, or take any other action in regard thereto.

This article takes money that was deposited in Capital Equipment Needs Stabilization Fund in Article 23 and applies $155,400 to the budget.

ARTICLE 31

To see if the Town will vote to transfer from Free Cash $42,077, or a greater or lesser amount, for the purpose of reducing the funding from tax levy for the fiscal year 2015 appropriations, or take any other action in regard thereto.

Free cash is the difference between the amount appropriated in last year’s budget and the amount spent. This money would be applied to the budget and reduce the amount of money needed to be raised in taxes.

ARTICLE 32

To see if the Town will vote to assess the amounts raised and appropriated under these articles and warrants on the estates and personal property of the Town of Granby.

This allows the assessors to assess properties for the purpose of taxation.

ARTICLE 29

To see if the Town will vote to raise, appropriate, or transfer from available funds such sums of money as may be necessary to defray the expense of the Town including debt and interest for the ensuing year and to carry out any vote passed under this article.

This is the town budget minus everything included in other articles. I can’t format it here, so please see pp.17-18 here. The total is $14,866,695. Last year, it was $14,538,221.

ARTICLE 11
To see if the Town will vote to transfer from available funds the sum of $281,608, or a greater or lesser amount, authorized under Chapter 291 of the Acts of 2004 for highway construction and improvements defined under Chapter 90 of the General Laws, or take any other action in regard thereto.

This article authorizes the Town to spend state money to fix our roads. This is a routine business article.

ARTICLE 12
To see if the Town will vote to appropriate as offset receipts fire permit fees in the amount of $2,250, or a greater or lesser amount, for Forest Fire Warden Expense, or take any other action in regard thereto.

This article authorizes the Town to spend burning permit fees. The fire chief is the Forest Fire Warden, and the money is spent on forest fire expenses.

ARTICLE 13
To see if the Town will vote to appropriate as offset receipts subscriber fees in the amount of $934, or a greater or lesser amount, for Cable Committee Expense, or take any other action in regard thereto.

This article authorizes the Town to spend subscriber fees for negotiating the Town’s cable television expenses. Revenue comes from a 50 cent franchise fee paid once a year by each cable customer.

ARTICLE 14
To see if the Town will vote to raise and appropriate, transfer from available funds, transfer from the stabilization fund, borrow or bond $35,000, or a greater or lesser amount, for the purpose of replacing the Jr.-Sr. High School kitchen dishwasher, or take any other action in regard thereto.

This article was requested by the school department and was approved by the Capital Improvement Committee. The dishwasher is still used.

ARTICLE 15
To see if the Town will vote to raise and appropriate, transfer from available funds, transfer from the stabilization fund, borrow or bond $40,000, or a greater or lesser amount, for the purpose of replacing the Jr.-Sr.High School steamer and kettle, or take any other action in regard thereto.

This article was requested by the school department and was approved by the Capital Improvement Committee. The steamer and kettle are still used. 

ARTICLE 16
To see if the Town will vote to raise and appropriate, transfer from available funds, transfer from the stabilization fund, borrow or bond $130,000, or a greater or lesser amount, for the purpose of updating the security systems at the West Street School, East Meadow School and the Jr,-Sr. High School, or take any other action in regard thereto.

This article was requested by the school department and was approved by the Capital Improvement Committee, Finance Committee, and police department. It provides Granby’s school buildings with the audio and video security to allow the school offices to buzz in people after they are identified. 

ARTICLE 17
To see if the Town will vote to raise and appropriate, transfer from available funds, transfer from the stabilization fund, borrow or bond $28,000, or a greater or lesser amount, for the purpose of purchasing new voting equipment, or take any other action in regard thereto.

This article was requested by the town clerk. Our existing voting equipment is going out of date. As with computers, software often makes the machines obsolete. 

ARTICLE 18

To see if the Town will vote to raise and appropriate, transfer from available funds, transfer from the stabilization fund, borrow or bond $35,000, or a greater or lesser amount, for the purpose of upgrading the radio system for the Police, Fire and Highway Departments, or take any other action in regard thereto.

I can’t remember this one off-hand.

ARTICLE 19
To see if the Town will vote to raise and appropriate, transfer from available funds, transfer from the stabilization fund, borrow or bond $36,500, or a greater or lesser amount, for the purpose of purchasing a marked cruiser for the Police Department, or take any other action in regard thereto.

The Town purchases a new police cruiser every year.  The old cruiser is either used for non-patrolling functions or other town departments. If there are no better uses, the cruiser is sold.  Police cruisers are driven more than 20 hours a day every day of the year. Once they reach a certain number of hours, they cost more money to repair than they do to replace.

ARTICLE 20
To see if the Town will vote to raise and appropriate, transfer from available funds, transfer from the stabilization fund, borrow or bond $129,000, or a greater or lesser amount, for the purpose of purchasing a hook lift truck for the Highway Department, or take any other action in regard thereto.

This article was requested by the highway department. The truck can accommodate multiple bodies from tanker to dumpster. It can also carry the Town’s Bobcat.

ARTICLE 21
To see if the Town will vote to raise and appropriate, transfer from available funds, transfer from the stabilization fund, borrow or bond $70,500, or a greater or lesser amount, for the purpose of paving the Senior Center parking area, or take any other action in regard thereto.

Town meeting voted down this article last year. The select board is bringing it forward again because the driveway needs to be repaved. There is cracking, patching, and some faulting. The surface is uneven and presents a danger to some of the elderly who use the Council on Aging.

ARTICLE 22
To see if the Town will vote to raise and appropriate, transfer from available funds, transfer from the stabilization fund, borrow or bond the sum of $277,923, or a greater or lesser amount, for the purpose of funding the General Purpose Stabilization Fund, or take any other action in regard thereto.

This article deposits $277,923 from free cash or landfill revenue into the General Purpose Stablization Fund.

ARTICLE 23
To see if the Town will vote to raise and appropriate, transfer from available funds, transfer from the stabilization fund, borrow or bond the sum of $340,000, or a greater or lesser amount, for the purpose of  funding the Capital Equipment Needs Stabilization Fund, or take any other action in regard thereto.

This article deposits $340,000 from free cash or landfill revenue into the Capital Equipment Needs Stabilization Fund.

ARTICLE 24
To see if the Town will vote to raise and appropriate, transfer from available funds, transfer from the stabilization fund, borrow or bond the sum of $340,000, or a greater or lesser amount, for the purpose of funding the Municipal Buildings Construction/Renovation Stabilization Fund, or take any other action in regard thereto.

This article deposits $340,000 from free cash or landfill revenue into the Municipal Buildings Construction/Reservation Fund.

ARTICLE 25
To see if the Town will vote to raise and appropriate the sum of $341,739, or a greater or lesser amount, as its apportioned share of the fiscal year 2015 budget for the Pathfinder Regional Vocational Technical High School District, or take any other action in regard thereto.

This article pays Granby’s share of the Pathfinder Regional Vocational Technical High School District. We have tens of students there.

ARTICLE 26
To see if the Town will vote to raise and appropriate or transfer from available funds $365,141, or a greater or lesser amount, to operate the municipal solid waste department, or take any other action in regard thereto.

This money will be deposited in the solid waste enterprise fund for the purpose of funding curbside pickup.

ARTICLE 27
To see if the Town will vote to raise and appropriate or transfer from available funds $278,847, or a greater or lesser amount, to operate the sewer department, or take any other action in regard thereto.

This money will be deposited in the sewer department enterprise fund, which handles payments and receivables for the community septic system and the sewer system.

ARTICLE 28
To see if the Town will vote to raise and appropriate or transfer from available funds $424,185, or a greater or lesser amount, to operate the ambulance department, or take any other action in regard.

This article will deposit money into the ambulance department enterprise fund. The ambulance doesn’t pay for itself. People often ask whether money that was embezzled has been paid off. The person convicted of the crime is scheduled to pay off his debt next year. He has averaged $25,000 a year in payments.  

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