Monday, March 8, 2010

FMW - #59 - Week ending 3/7/10

This internet radio show or podcast is number 59 in the series for Franklin Matters.

The Oscars are underway, on the West Coast as I record this session. Let's just take about ten minutes to keep current with what matters here in Franklin, MA as the week ends March 7, 2010

Time: 9 minutes, 59 seconds

MP3 File

Session Notes:

This internet radio show or podcast is number 59 in the series for Franklin Matters.

The Oscar's are about to begin on the West Coast as I record this weekly review. Let's take about ten minutes to keep current with what matters here in Franklin, MA as the week ends March 7, 2010. As a reward for paying attention to this session you can give yourself an Oscar for civic engagement!

In this session I’ll cover the Town Council meeting on Wednesday, Mar 3. The meeting lasted only one hour and is available for review via video on demand on the Town website here.

During this quick and effective meeting, three major items occurred that you should be aware of.

1 – for senior citizens, there were four changes made to four items that should help cash flow
  • Property Tax Deferrals For Seniors – Gross Receipts Limit is now indexed to the State/Federal Cost of living calculations.
  • Exemption amount for those who are blind, is raised from 437 to $500
  • Property Tax Exemption is increased from $500 to 750
  • Senior Citizen Property Tax Work-Off Abatement Program, the hourly wage is raised to equal the minimum wage at $8. 

If you are a senior citizen, you can check with Karen Alves, Bob Fahey, or the Board of Assessors for further details on how you may qualify for these changes.

2 – The bio-tech changes
to the zoning bylaws were reviewed in a formal hearing and moved to a second reading. Assuming passage at the second reading, which is likely during the meeting March 17th, they will go into effective and help improve Franklin's ability to attract bio-tech business to our two industrial parks.

3 – the third major item covered was the audit report for Fiscal Year 2009. The audit was clean, there were a couple of minor items recommended, they did not rise to a level of significant or of any serious nature. This is very good for Franklin, The process and procedures put into place with the new accounting system, and especially since the School Dept problem that occurred in FY 2005/2006, the town audits have been clean. It will still take some time for some folks to truly believe that the Town is operating fiscally responsibly but for the rest of us, we can rest easier.

So that was the week that was!

Looking ahead
Two major meetings will happen this week that you should be actively involved with.

First up, the School Committee meeting on Tuesday. Aside from the normal school business, a lot of good does happen in these meetings, the single major item to be concerned with is the first look at the FY 2011 school budget.

The proposal is for $1.9 million more than last year (which is the current operating school year) or a 3.9% increase. Amongst the many details is only a 2.5% increase for salaries which is what they are already obligated to based upon the teacher contract deferral for the current year. You may recall that the teachers, administration and other school district employees did defer their scheduled cost of living increase this year. Does it really mean the Sch Com is going to negotiate with the teachers for no increase for FY 2011 and beyond as part of the new contract? This should be interesting to see.
Another item that caught my eye is why you won't hear the budget called a “level service” budget. There is a proposal to restore the late bus. Now you should be well aware that while this made it into the 2008-2009 calendar year at the last minute, it fell out of the current 2009-2010 budget. For now, it is proposed to return for next September.

The final item that caught my eye was the lack of a starting point tying this budget to last year. They mention the Town funded amount as a starting point to calculate the basis for the 3.9% increase. You may recall, the School Budget for this year was referred to as “level funded plus”. Plus because the influx of Federal and State stimulus funds were all added to the budget that those of us in the Town funded. This created the disconnect last year where they were going to be cutting up to 60 teaching positions and ultimately ended up cutting 23. Now don't miss-read that this was not a good thing for the school system, the teachers and students. It did significantly cut into the trust factor that the School Committee has worked hard to build.  

They did commit to providing a single page summary sheet to keep track of the budget changes as the budget season progresses, I was hoping they would start with a reconciliation from last time which we did not get.

You can review the budget document details on the School Committee blog:

2 – the second meeting of importance this week is a new one on the calendar. It was apparently added after the Town Council meeting last Wednesday which is why they missed an opportunity to advertise it. There  is a special meeting on Wednesday March 10th in the Council Chambers to review and discuss the proposed charter changes. Exactly what the charter changes are remains to be seen. There is not yet a document posted and hopefully there will be something to review before arriving at the meeting.

Why is the Charter so important? Let me read the preamble:
We, the people of the Town of Franklin, Massachusetts, in order to form a more
perfect community, reaffirm the customary and traditional liberties of the people
with respect to the conduct of our local government and take fullest advantage of
the Home Rule Amendment to the Constitution of the Commonwealth, do ordain
and adopt this Home Rule Charter for our Town.

Please participate in this meeting, this is how we decide to do business.
If we don't like it, our time to change it is now.

We talked about the Town Council meeting of 3/3
Tax relief for seniors, bio-tech zoning changes move along the process and the audit came out clean.

All reasons for Franklin voters to celebrate!

And we talked about the two important meetings this week, the School Committee meeting on Tues, the  Charter review meeting on Weds

I look forward to your active participation in both meetings

As I close this session this week, let me remind you that
If you like what I am doing here, please tell your friends and neighbors
If you don’t like something, please tell me
Thank you for listening!

For additional information, please visit
If you have questions or comments you can reach me directly at shersteve @ gmail dot com
I hope you enjoy!