Budget Coordinating Group this morning
Good thing about being a fly on the wall at public meetings not usually attended by reporters is town officials are a tad more forthright with their comments.
Take this morning's Budget Coordinating Group meeting for instance. During his update on the Echo Village negotiation with mega-property owner Jamie Cherewatti, after lamenting the deal falling through at the last minute, Town Manger Musante closed with, "That really stinks".
The town had put all their eggs in one basket with a proposed Community Development Block Grant request of $800,000 because $600,000 of that would have gone towards purchasing from Cherewatti the 24 unit Echo Village Apartment complex.
James Cherewatti on left
The deadline for the grant application was February 14 (how romantic) and Cherewatti's last second rejection (by ignoring it) of a "fair market" purchase offer means the grant application is now dead. The price offered is exempt from Open Meeting Law public disclosure, although the principal party who made the offer could probably release it.
The Town Manager pointed out to the BCG, "That has a domino effect on three other programs: Homeless Shelter, Food Pantry Program at the Survival Center, and $20,000 in emergency funds for the needy."
His proposal, which seemed to garner the support of the group, is to now take a $125,000 recommendation to Town Meeting using Free Cash.
He specifically wants it to be a stand alone item separate from the overall budget to telegraph that it's a "transitional" emergency appropriation, and not a return to the old days of annual town funding of Social Service programs.
Finance Director Sandy Pooler floated the idea of having the money come out of Stabilization Fund which requires a two thirds vote to reinforce that this is a one time thing, and that Town Meeting "would really have to think about it."
BCG Chair Stephanie O'Keeffe cautioned it could send the message that town officials were setting too high a hurdle and it could be "off putting" to Town Meeting members.
Pooler responded that many things -- including bridge replacement or DPW snow and ice budget increases -- requires a two-thirds vote, so this is not "singling out" social services.
Finance Chair and Select Board candidate Andy Steinberg thought perhaps the $125,000 should simply be in the routine general fund budget. Stephanie O'Keeffe quickly responded the Select Board voted Monday unanimously that it be a stand alone article. This reinforces the notion that we are simply "bridging the gap."
Select Board member Alisa Brewer (always a tad more forthright) added, "I will say it more aggressively: NO!"