January 22, 2024 Select Board Meeting Notes

February 1, 2024

Finances update

At the January 8 Select Board meeting the Board asked Town Manager John Mangiaratti to prepare a budget that reduced the level services budget by $1 million. Before presenting the revised budget, Mr. Mangiaratti gave a brief update on health insurance, saying that a hiring freeze and other measures would allow health insurance costs to be handled without using free cash. Mr. Mangiaratti said that he would keep the board updated on that issue, and that the town and a health insurance working group are engaged in collective bargaining to find ways to reduce health care costs.

Turning to the municipal budget, Mr. Mangiaratti described a series of changes that resulted in meeting the Select Board’s request for a $1 million decrease in the level services budget. Unfilled staffing positions that had been funded in the earlier budget were eliminated from a variety of departments, and contracted services budgets were reduced. Capital spending plans were adjusted following the Board’s January 8 prioritization exercise.

Some of the listed revisions have yet to be approved; one (increased ambulance fees) was approved unanimously at the meeting. Select Board member Dean Charter had earlier suggested that the public be informed of the tax increases if an override is passed; the proposed changes to free cash usage and new borrowing will factor into the Acton Leadership Group model that is used to predict tax rates.

Solar panels coming to Grace land

The 2021 Town Meeting approved Article 16 that authorized Syncarpha Solar, LLC, to install a solar panel array on the WR Grace Superfund site. Select Board Chair Jim Snyder-Grant briefly summarized how a 2009 agreement resolved a dispute over sewer fees, resulting in Acton holding a lien on the WR Grace land. The issue before the Board was whether to agree that, in the event that the town came to own the land, the lease agreement for the Syncarpha solar energy facility would be honored by the town; the Board voted unanimously to approve a motion to honor the terms of the lease agreement.

Planning Updates: South Acton MBTA Zoning, Auto dealerships

By virtue of hosting the South Acton Commuter Rail stop, Acton is an MBTA community, and as such is subject to mandated zoning changes, in particular in an area within 1/2 mile of the station. The rezoned area must comprise land without wetlands, flood zones, and protected open space. Acton Planning Director Kristen Guichard presented revisions to the South Acton Vision and Action Plan, shown as two new overlay districts on Central Street, Main Street, and in the Powder Mill Corridor. A Metropolitan Area Planning Council website describes the South Acton Vision & Action Plan, and more detail is contained in links within that website.

During discussions of the Nagog Park redevelopment Acton residents’ comments included resistance to the perception of an ‘auto mile’ along Great Road. Noting that perception, Select Board member David Martin worked with the planning department to address the issue. Ms. Guichard presented an overview of Acton car dealerships on Great Road and and on Powder Mill Road; mentioned the possibility of a town-wide survey on the issue; and noted the short timeline if a related Warrant Article was to be brought before the upcoming Town Meeting. Select Board discussion encouraged a public survey and discussed possible action with respect to Town Meeting timing.

Energy use regulation and electric vehicle requirements

Acton is one of ten Massachusetts communities that have chosen to restrict the use of natural gas or other fossil fuel in new construction or in specified building renovations, under the Municipal Fossil Fuel Free Building Construction Demonstration Project . Acton sustainability director Andrea Becerra and Assistant Planner Nora Masler described the process that would be required to request a waiver of those regulations. 

At a December 4, 2023 Select Board meeting, Ms. Becerra had presented the Board with an “Electrical Vehicle First” policy requirement for Acton Town government including schools. At the January 22, 2024 meeting, the Board discussed exceptions to the policy for heavy duty vehicles and added an exemption for Department of Public Works vehicles. The Board voted unanimously to approve the policy with the changes that were discussed.

Additional items

The Board moved quickly through the remaining agenda items. Ellie Anderson, Acton Financial Solutions Analyst, presented a recent financial history of the wastewater treatment facility and proposed a method for funding the facility, showing its projected financial future, including renovation costs, planned borrowing, and projected income from the Powder Mill apartments. The Board unanimously approved the proposed plan.

In further sewer business, the Board discussed a request for proposals to find consultants who would evaluate the Board’s options for obtaining expertise, opinion and advice on wastewater treatment-related technical matters.

Following the Board’s approval of a Citizens Library Governance Advisory Committee, the Board approved Board member Alissa Nicol as Select Board Representative to that Committee. And finally, the Board heard from Fire Chief Anita Arnum regarding the increased costs of ambulance services, and approved rate increases for those services.

During his report, Town Manager John Mangiaratti announced the appointment of new Deputy Fire Chief Christopher Sammet. 

CORRECTION:  The article originally stated that the Board unanimously approved a request for proposals on waste-water treatment related matters.  In fact, the draft request was discussed and returned to the Town Manager for further work, according to the meeting minutes.  The matter is on the agenda for the Feb 26 Select Board meeting

Tom Beals is a volunteer reporter from Acton.


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