The Longmeadow Select Board (SB) meeting this past Monday (2/01/10) turned into a marathon 4+ hour session with the first hour dedicated to visitor comments (vs. normal five minutes). The primary subject for these comments was the proposal by the School Building Committee (SBC) to have a separate Town Meeting and Town Election for the School Building Project. The proposed timing for both was before the Annual Town Meeting scheduled for May 11. This school building project is currently in final design phase before being submitted for approval by the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) in March 2010. The estimated project cost is ~$81 million which will require a Proposition 2½ override vote (2/3 majority) at a Town Meeting and at a townwide election (majority YES vote). Estimated taxpayer annual property tax increase is $1/1000 or $300 for a $300,000 home payable every year for 25 years.
Below is a 10 minute video (courtesy of LCTV) with selected excerpts from this “public comments” agenda item…
The primary argument used by most people speaking in favor of a separate special town meeting was that people needed ample time to ask their questions so that they could decide which way to vote. As I conduct my own unscientific poll around town, I do find many residents who do not have a good understanding as to what is happening. The SBC has made a good attempt so far to help educate town residents about this project through numerous public forums but there appears to be a lot more that needs to be accomplished….
I strongly agree with town resident Arlene Miller (see video excerpt) who stated that waiting for the town meeting (annual or special) is too late to learn about the project in order to make an informed decision. Longmeadow voters need to do their homework on this project before the town meeting and only look for clarification on key points.
Voters also need to be able to factor in the operational side of our town finances. With a potential major cut in town/school services and/or operational Propositional 2½ override for FY11, town residents need to have this information at the same time as this school building project decision is made.
After considerable discussion, the SB decided by a vote of 4:1 in favor (Rob Aseltine against) to schedule a special town meeting on May 25 (after the Annual Town Meeting on May 11) and not to grant the request of a special election.
I strongly agree with this SB decision and feel that any attempt to circumvent it through a SBC initiated voter petition or other means should be met with public skepticism as to its motive.