Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Storrs Library- A Resource for All Ages

For some people in Longmeadow... having access to high speed Internet at home is an expensive non-essential "luxury". However, many of the new "social media" like YouTube, LinkedIn, Facebook and others being adopted as standard methods of communication require the use of a recent vintage computer as well as high speed Internet. In today's difficult economic environment, having access to high speed Internet is crucial to finding a new job.

Storrs Library with its state of the art computer technology provides an important resource to many people in our town.

Below is just one example....

Long time resident Ruth Brenner watches
her granddaughter's college piano recital on YouTube

As our town leaders work through this years' budget crisis and are confronted with difficult choices regarding cuts in services.... let them not forget that our town library is a critical resource that we cannot afford to lose. Perhaps, rather than closing our Storrs Library we might consider reducing or eliminating the library services at Longmeadow HS (+ middle schools and elementary schools) and centralize these services at Storrs Library so that all town residents can benefit. Access to library services for high school and other students would likely increase significantly since Storrs Library is open at night and on Saturdays.

In addition, many of the resources for Storrs Library are accessible 24/7 via the Internet. If you haven't visited Storrs Library "on the web", please consider doing so. Here is a link - check it out for yourself and I think that you will be impressed!

Just an idea... thinking outside the box!

Monday, December 7, 2009

WMRLS Night at MassMutual Center

The Springfield Falcons Hockey Team is dedicating the Saturday, January 23 game to benefit the Western Massachusetts Regional Library System which supports all western Massachusetts libraries. Tickets (regularly $17) are only $10 for everyone who orders using the special form. This offer of discounted tickets to the January 23 game is extended to the general public.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Tough Times Ahead for Longmeadow- Part III

I attended the Tri-Board meeting last Monday night (11/30/09) and came away disappointed with the discussion that took place between our town leaders. It certainly wasn’t the meeting that I was expecting and left me feeling that this year’s approach to resolving difficult budget issues may not be much different from previous years.

I believe that there are some major planning and budgeting hurdles to overcome this year.

On the horizon there is a decision that will likely be made by town voters next June regarding the funding of new high school (Proposition 2½ “debt exclusion” override) and the possibility of a large budget operating deficit that will result in a significant reduction of town/ school services and/or the need for an Proposition 2½ “operational” override. At this latest Tri-Board meeting there was no clear budget strategy outlined as to how the town will successfully navigate these difficult times.

Given that our last Proposition 2½ override in Fall 2007 passed by only 5 votes with a 40% voter turnout… I believe in today’s financial world that the probability of passing two Proposition 2½ overrides by Longmeadow voters in a single year is very low.

There was much dialog about the gloomy state of town finances for the upcoming FY11 and FY12 budgets. Paul Pasterczyk, Longmeadow's Finance Director presented an overview of these budgets with projected deficits ~ $2.1 million in both FY11 and FY12.

These budget projections by Mr. Pasterczyk were made based upon the following assumptions:
  • Level funding (not level services) for both schools and town departments.
  • A 15% cut in state aid for FY11 vs. FY10
  • COLAs for teachers, fire and police were not included since collective bargaining is still ongoing.
    Note: A negotiated 1% COLA for each of the contract years (FY09, FY10 and FY11) will add an additional $900K of annual spending to the FY11 and FY12 budgets.
  • Step increases were included for teachers at $450K in FY11 and $900K in FY12.
  • There was no change in capital funding of projects for FY11 and FY12 vs. FY10 ($681K) which is significantly lower than FY09.

As of November 30, the Operational Stabilization Fund (OSF) has $1.9 million (vs. $2.15 million as last reported in mid October). There is currently $0 in the Free Cash Fund.

The Select Board will spend time discussing the upcoming budget process at their meeting tomorrow night (December 7). The official FY11 budget planning process begins next with instructions from the Town Manager going to Town departments on December 15.

Let’s hope that town leaders start showing the necessary leadership to get us through these difficult times.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Joy of Giving

Celebrate the joy of giving this season at the Storrs Library. Once again the Storrs Library is sponsoring a Giving Tree to benefit the Gray House, a human services agency located in the North End of Springfield. Anyone can participate by choosing an ornament from the tree located in the library’s lobby area. Each ornament, listing a toy requested by a child, is replaced by a heart ornament with the toy donor’s name on it. All toys must be purchased and brought unwrapped to the Philip Michael Lauro Discovery Room at the Storrs Library, 693 Longmeadow St., Longmeadow, by December 12 for delivery to the Gray House.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Visit Storrs Library this holiday season

Did you know that a visit to the library may save you money this holiday season?

Before you brave the malls or log on to do your holiday shopping, come to the library. Spend a few minutes in the periodical room and check out Shop Smart for ideas to get the best value on your purchases.

The December issue includes 24 shopping secrets that can save hundreds of dollars, and 16 great websites for holiday gifts under $50.00. Looking for safe, age-appropriate children's toys? Don't rely on the packaging--last year more than 25 million toys were recalled, many because of lead. Shop Smart suggests four safety strategies that will ensure you don't purchase an unsuitable toy. Food and wine purchases are covered as well, with several top chardonnays in the $10.00-$12.00 range a bottle.

Consumer Reports, the "bible" of savvy shoppers, publishes a special issue every December. It is a handy one-stop source for making intelligent, informed, money-saving purchases. This year the editors have added a Comparing Retailers section. In it, Consumer Reports staff discusses buying trends and presents useful information on service, selection and prices found at dozens of retailers selling appliances, computers and many other electronic products.

Holiday preparations are featured in many other periodicals as well. Martha Stewart Living's December issue is full of ideas for elegant home entertaining and decorating. Real Simple caters to more casual hosts as do Better Homes and Gardens and Bon Appetit. And the library itself uses the holiday season to showcase it extensive collection of beautiful cookbooks with a special display in the lobby.

So, whether you need help and advice on smart shopping or ideas for creative entertaining, come to the library this holiday season.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Tough Times Ahead for Longmeadow- Part II

Monday, November 30 is the next Longmeadow Tri-Board (Select Board, School Committee and Finance Committee) meeting during which serious dialog about the FY11 budget process will begin. Select Board chair Bobby Barkett stated at a recent SB meeting that this next Tri-Board meeting was likely to be “very contentious” because of the difficult financial issues facing the town and the likely need to make significant cuts in both town and school services in order to balance the FY11 budget. The difficulties in setting priorities for cutting town and school services presents some major challenges for our elected leaders.

In my previous post summarizing the Tri-Board’s first meeting on October 19, I highlighted some of the major financial issues facing the town of Longmeadow including the following….
  • There are continuing significant reductions in state aid for the current FY10.

  • The Longmeadow Teachers, Firefighters, Police and other town employee unions have not as yet settled contract negotiations for FY10 and beyond. Each 1% annual increase in COLA would be an additional $300,000 in annual budget costs. The current FY10 budget does not include any COLA provisions.

  • Longmeadow faces a projected $2.1 million budget deficit in FY11 without consideration of the financial impact of current union contract negotiations.

As labor contract negotiations continue without agreement, significant budget uncertainties are created which makes the upcoming budget process even that much more difficult. Let me explain further….

  • Assume that both unions agree to a 1% COLA adjustment for the current year and for each of the next two years.

  • This COLA would add an additional $900,000 in additional operational costs to the FY10 (+$300,000) and FY11 (+$600,000) budgets.

  • The total budget deficit (FY10 [adjusted] + FY11) that must be dealt with by the Tri-Board would balloon to $3,000,000.
The Town currently has very little free cash (appropriated most of it at the October 27 Special Town Meeting); there are monies in special purpose reserves funds (water/ sewer, CPA, etc.) and $2.2 million in the Operational Stabilization Fund (OSF) which is considered the “rainy day” account for funding special circumstances and events. According to Mark Barowsky- Finance Committee chairman, a portion of the money from the last successful Proposition 2½ override ($2.15 million- Fall 2007) was placed in this OSF account for use to maintain services for FY08 --> FY10 and beyond so it might be considered for possible use to help balance the FY11 budget.

Recent efforts led by Town Manager Robin Crosbie and Select Board member Mark Gold to identify new revenue sources ($>10K) which might help balance the FY11 and beyond budgets have not been highly successful and do not seem likely to significantly improve the FY11 revenue situation.

To make the financial crisis facing the Town even more difficult.... it is likely that taxpayers will be asked to vote at the Annual Town Meeting next April (and Town Elections in June) in favor of a Proposition 2½ “debt exclusion” override to fund the new High School project. The Massachusetts School Building Authority has recently approved Longmeadow’s new High School project –estimated at ~ $80+ million- and allowed it to move forward to the Schematic Design phase. It has been estimated by the Longmeadow School Building Committee that approval and passage of this project by town voters will add ~ $1 to the current mil rate which translates to ~ $300/year for a house assessed at $300,000 (~6% increase in annual taxes).

The Town can certainly decide to allocate a portion of the monies in the OSF to help balance the upcoming FY11 budget but not without other implications. If the Town uses a significant portion of the OSF to avoid major services reductions for the upcoming FY11, then there could be a large impact on our bond rating (lower rating --> increased interest costs) when we go forward with the new high school project unless the Town shows how it plans to meet growing budget shortfall in future years (FY2012 --> FY2015).

If one looks at Longmeadow’s annual budget for both school and town related services, you will see that the major component is employee salaries. Any significant reduction in budget spending via reduced town/ school services means employee layoffs. A previous post on LongmeadowBuzz blog asked teachers and other unions to consider a 0% COLA for FY10 as a good faith effort to help avoid/ minimize town employee layoffs.

I would not like to see headlines in the local newspapers….

followed by:

Given today’s financial reality for many town residents, it will be difficult for Longmeadow voters pass two large Proposition 2½ overrides come next spring. The last successful override in the Fall 2007 passed by only a small majority (6 votes with a 41% voter turnout). We need a new high school but we also need to maintain the quality of life and town related services that make Longmeadow a great place to live.

Let’s hope that both our town leaders can successfully navigate these turbulent financial waters.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Successful Longmeadow Food Drive

LongmeadowBiz and LCTV want to thank all of the people who stopped by the Longmeadow Big Y parking lot this past rainy Saturday to drop off their food donation for the Longmeadow Food Pantry. You can be assured that the Longmeadow Adult Center will make sure that this food is given to needy individuals and families in our community.

(l-r, Dave Bartlett, LCTV Station Manager + Jim Moran, LongmeadowBiz
delivering donated food to Ellen Gold, Program Coordinator- Longmeadow Food Pantry)

On tonight's NBC Nightly News, it was reported that 17 million households or 14% of the people in the United States now have difficulty putting food on their table sometime during the year. Below is the video clip with this news story...

If you missed the opportunity on Saturday to donate but still want to do so.... contributions are accepted at the Longmeadow Adult Center, 231 Maple Road on Monday - Friday from 9 am - 3 pm.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Food Drive- November 14

LongmeadowBiz and LCTV are co-sponsoring a food drive for the benefit of the new Longmeadow Food Pantry on November 14 from 10 am - 3 pm in the rear of the Big Y parking lot. Look for the LCTV mobile unit.

LCTV and LongmeadowBiz wish to thank Longmeadow residents in advance for making this food drive a great success!

For additional information on this great new resource in our town, please view the recent video interview with Karen Michelman, Director- Longmeadow Adult Center and Ellen Gold, program coordinator that was posted on this blog.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Flu Season Update- November 4, 2009

Beverly Hirschhorn, Longmeadow Director of Public Health is the guest on a new LCTV show called "The Upside" moderated by Paul Santaniello. In this week's segment Ms. Hirschhorn provides an update on seasonal + H1N1 virus season.

Click here if you want to view the above video using Windows Media Player.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Plastic Fences Make Good Neighbors ?

As I drove through Longmeadow this past week I spotted the many signs of the fall season. In addition to all of the trees still ablaze with remnants of a spectacular season of fall colors, there are the many different methods that abound in Longmeadow for dealing with the leaves after they fall. Longmeadow for many years has not collected leaves at curbside so residents have had to make their own arrangements.

Bagging leaves on some streets is sometimes a contest to see who can bag the most leaves...

Some people rake the leaves to curbside (or into the street) and have them removed..... I've always been a little bit frustrated that the leaves from my neighbors' trees and lawns blow onto my lawn (I have no maple trees but have a lot of maple leaves)....

Here is a possible solution that one Longmeadow homeowner is trying this year....

It will be interesting to see how effective adding a 3 ft plastic fence around the perimeter of your property is to reduce the volume of leaves.

Perhaps, next year this will become a new "sign" of fall in Longmeadow.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Longmeadow Food Pantry

The Longmeadow Adult Center is pleased to announce the opening of the Longmeadow Food Pantry. With the downturn in the economy and rise in unemployment, the need for a food distribution program in Longmeadow has become apparent. The pantry will be housed in the Adult Center at 231 Maple Road, Longmeadow and is open to all Longmeadow residents in need.

Residents will be able to shop, on a drop-in basis, each Tuesday from 10 am – noon and 6:30 pm – 7:30 pm. For those physically unable to come to the Adult Center, food delivery is available. Emergency situations will be handled as they arise. Donations are still needed and are accepted at the Adult Center. We would welcome community organizations interested in holding a food drive for the pantry. For further information contact the Adult Center, 565-4150.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Defend our fire fighters and our voters!

VOTE NO on the Charter Amendments at the Special Town Meeting this Tuesday. They are warrant articles 7, 8, & 13.

Each of the three charter amendments proposed and approved for consideration at this Tuesday’s Special Town Meeting (7pm @ LHS) by the Longmeadow Select Board would make profound changes to our town’s form of government, our constitution, our charter. Each one would also increase the power of the Town Manager and the Select Board and decrease the power of residents to influence local government decisions.

These amendments deserve to be rejected on two distinct fronts; process and content. The process by which they are being put forward amounts to an assault (sneak-attack really) on transparency in government and the integrity of our form of government. The actual content of each amendment not only reduces transparency, but also flatly reduces the power of residents to question the policies of the town government.

To date, NONE of these significant changes to our town’s form of government have been publicly debated. Articles 7 and 8 would completely eliminate the referendum process - the ONLY vehicle for residents to challenge the votes of town meetings - and reduce the Select Board’s obligation to inform the public in a timely way prior to town meetings. Today is October 22nd. The Town Meeting is in 5 days. The only information available to residents on these very significant changes to our form of government are the one-liners that the Select Board is required by law to include with each Article on the warrant. When pressed on this failure to give residents a real opportunity to participate knowledgably in these very important decisions, members of the Select Board have actually said that the board is not legally required to allow the public to participate in these deliberations until the actual town meeting. In other words, they can avoid any public accountability for these sweeping changes until 7pm on October 27th when residents will have a couple of minutes each to argue with them under strict rules of debate. When public officials defend their failure to facilitate meaningful public involvement in sweeping proposals for change by saying that they “haven’t broken any laws,” something is very, very wrong.

The only opportunity for public comment granted by the Select Board, which involved only one of these amendments (Article 13), was an October 7th “Public Forum” at which residents were warned that the event would not be a debate or negotiation. The members of the Select Board present made it clear that they merely wanted the public’s comments on the one amendment, Article 13 (which they already approved and put on the STM Warrant) and would refuse to answer any questions on any subject they deemed outside the parameters of the Article 13 proposed amendment. Ironically, they also refused to answer many questions that were about the Article 13 amendment because they deemed the questions “inappropriate for public discussion.” Among the questions they refused to answer was my question about the content of the other two amendments, which had yet to even be revealed to the public. Additionally, my request for the citations of the “scientific” studies that the board claimed were “the entire basis” for their proposal to take away our fire fighters’ ability to participate in determining their own work schedules was ignored. Based on the board’s 15 minute presentation of this “scientific” evidence, it is clear that members did not properly understand the data on which they were relying.

Having tried to justify Article 13 with spurious data that they refused to make available to residents, the Select Board’s only other effort to inform residents of their proposed amendments are the very brief “summary explanations” included under each proposal on the STM Warrant itself. Which, given their minimalist approach to transparency in government, were probably included only because the law requires it. To justify the elimination of residents’ ability to challenge Town Meeting decisions (Article 7) the Select Board’s entire public argument to date is as follows: “By deleting this section, the Town gains more time for budget deliberations and to enable the annual election to be conducted before the end of the school year.” In addition to being ridiculously brief, this explanation doesn’t even make sense. Eliminating a fundamental element of our democratic form of government for what the board admits are reasons of convenience at best is unconscionable. This Tuesday, concerned residents need to declare it unacceptable as well.

The reduction of required public notice of warrants (Article 8) is accompanied by the following justification: “By adopting these changes, Town officials will have additional time for budget deliberations and can provide more complete information to town meeting. It takes more than two weeks to prepare a warrant after the closing date, and the warrant must be to the printer three weeks before the publication date, so information may be more than six weeks out of date when delivered to the voters.” This explicitly gives the TM and SB “more time.” To obscure the fact that it will correspondingly give residents less time, the SB claims this change will result in “more complete information” at Town Meeting. There are at least two problems with this. First, they have obviously obscured the reduction of public notice intentionally. Second, they have wrongly assumed (or intentionally pretended) that a Town Meeting cannot be given up to date information.

The published “summary explanation” for the proposed amendment (Article 13) that would prevent fire fighters from converting to a shift schedule considered safe and effective by 75% of the fire departments in Massachusetts was as follows: This will limit regular employee shifts to a maximum of 14 hours, in order to prevent fatigue and adverse effects of fatigue. It is clear that the Select Board’s claim to have “thoroughly researched” this issue by reviewing vast amounts of “scientific data” was exaggerated, to say the least. Unfortunately, their “exhaustive” study did not include ONE SINGLE SCIENTIFIC STUDY that declared, or even implied, that 24 hour shifts, which have shown to be safe and effective all over the country and have been in use in our state for more than 10 years, would reduce the effectiveness of fire fighters or endanger public safety. In fact, the counter-argument that our fire fighters current shift schedule (10 and 14 hour shifts), which the Select Board wants to set in stone in by amending our town’s constitutional instrument, appears to be MORE likely to endanger public safety. For a clear articulation of this argument I would refer you to an essay by a town resident who initially favored the amendment and who, upon closer inspection, now opposes it. Go to Jim Moran’s post “Is the 24-hour shift safety issue a red herring?”

The Select Board’s position on the Article 13 amendment is particularly troubling. They are wrong on the science, wrong on the policy, wrong on the process, and wrong on the law. Amazingly, the board admits this last point. They have admitted to having chosen the charter as a vehicle for this proposed policy change because all efforts to accomplish this by ordinance – undertaken to weaken fire fighters’ collective bargaining rights in the eastern part of the state- have been thrown out by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court as violations of state law. Trying to accomplish this policy change through the charter is a sort of legal “Hail Mary” pass, the enormous litigation costs of which will be paid by Longmeadow tax payers.

on the
at the

Authored by Longmeadow Resident:

Jerold J. Duquette, M.P.A., Ph.D
Associate Professor of Political Science/Public Administration
Central Connecticut State University

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Tough Times Ahead!

I attended the Longmeadow Tri-Board Meeting this past Monday (October 19) to get an appreciation of the current financial situation facing our town in FY2010 and FY2011. The overall message was that things were going to get much more difficult before they get better.

Note: The Tri-Board consists of the Select Board, School Committee and Finance Committee which provide most of the financial guidance for our town.

Here are some of the key numbers that were shared for FY2010 and FY2011….

  • There are continuing reductions in state aid for FY2010- not all of which have been identified but there is a high likelihood that the town will receive less state aid money than originally expected. All available free cash including that used at the April town meeting (total = $1.43 million) will be used at the upcoming Special Town Meeting on October 27 to help balance the current FY2010 budget. With an estimated additional 3.5% shortfall in state local aid, there is a projected $197,000 deficit for the FY2010 budget which will likely be balanced by use of the monies from the Operational Stabilization Fund. The actual FY2010 cut to local aid is unknown at this time.

  • Longmeadow faces a projected $2.1 million deficit in FY2011. This projection includes an estimated additional 10% cut in state aid vs. FY2010 projection but does not include any COLA’s for teachers, firefighters, police and other town employees. There are currently 6 town employee unions actively engaged in the collective bargaining process with the town of Longmeadow, as well as the school unions negotiating with the School Committee. Contracts for these groups expired earlier this year. Earlier estimates by Paul Pastercyzk- Longmeadow Finance Director indicated that for every 1% increase in COLA there would be an additional $300,000 in annual costs.

  • There is currently ~ $2.2 million in the Operational Stabilization Fund. This was originally targeted to be 5% of the annual budget and was created as a “rainy day” fund. Rating agencies look at this account in order to rate municipal bonds which determines interest rates. If the new high school project is passed next spring, it will likely be one of the factors determining the interest rate on our bonds.

  • There is ~ $2.5 million in special accounts including Community Preservation Act and ambulance reserve funds. Many of these accounts have defined purposes and cannot be used for ordinary operating expenses. There was general agreement that all of these accounts need to be identified including possible uses. Some of the monies in these accounts are already being used to pay for indirect costs. There was a continuing discussion from earlier this year to use available CPA monies to refurbish the historic exterior of Center School.

The Tri-Board spent a large portion of the meeting trying to figure out how to meet the financial challenges for the FY2011 budget. The Select Board must provide budget instructions before December 1 to the Town Manager who is responsible for developing the Town Budget.

Here are some of the questions (+ follow-up discussion) that were asked during this portion of the meeting.

  1. What is the definition of a balanced budget?
  2. Will reserves be used and if so, how much?
  3. Does a FY11 budget include provisions for collective bargaining agreement costs? If not, is it a balanced budget?
  4. Is the budget based on level services? Or level $ budget?

  5. If town/ school services are to be cut, how should the priorities established?
    After some discussion, there was some general agreement that prioritization of services should be set by the individual groups (Select Board- town services, School Committee, school related services). Roger Wojcik, member of the Finance Committee, suggested that town residents should be allowed to weigh in on the prioritization of town services. There was no proposal as to how that might happen.

  6. What should be the level of capital spending?
    In order to help balance the FY10, targeted capital spending was reduced from a targeted $1 million (~ 2% of annual operating budget) to $681,000. The projected FY11 capital budget maintains the spending level at $681,000.

  7. How about the solid waste subsidy (~ $761K in FY10)? Should the town consider imposing a user fee for curbside trash removal? How about increasing water/ sewer fees?
    A number of Tri-Board members voiced opposition to increasing trash/ water/ sewer user fees as an means to balance the budget because it is simply an additional tax on homeowners. In addition, it would shift the homeowner payment from a deductible tax to a non-deductible user fee.

  8. How much of the Operational Stabilization Fund should be used to balance the FY11 budget?
    There was serious concern voiced by a number of Tri-Board members that the Town should be careful about “spending down” the Operational Stabilization Fund or “rainy day” fund since there are likely to be difficult years ahead in FY12 and FY13 as well. For this reason Finance Committee chairman, Mark Barowsky urged the group to consider developing a 3-4 year financial plan for the town.

Here are some additional highlights…

  1. Regionalization of local services is being considered for cost reduction opportunities.
  2. Other revenue sources are being developed through ongoing discussions with town departments led by Mark Gold, Select Board member. Some of the ideas being considered include: development of a fee based “dog park” for town residents, signage and advertising in ball parks, hiring of a code enforcement officer, use/sale/rental of town owned property in the Meadows.

Overall, this meeting was a good step forward.

Select Board chairmen Robert Barkett summed it up when he stated at the end of the meeting “there is an extraordinary challenge ahead”.

I just hope that our elected town leaders are up to this challenge.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Some Good News!

Press Release from Longmeadow Select Board

The Longmeadow Select Board voted at its meeting on October 19 to not move forward with Article 13 of the Special Town Meeting, concerning limits on employee work hours. Recent developments have fostered renewed optimism that scheduling issues can be resolved through the collective bargaining process.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Is the “24 hour shift” safety issue a “red herring”?

The first indications that contract negotiations between the Town of Longmeadow and the Firefighters Union were not going very well occurred at the Select Board Meeting on September 22. During the comments period at the beginning of the meeting, Robert Taylor, president of the local Firefighters Union read a strongly worded message charging the Town Manager and the Select Board of not acting in good faith during the ongoing collective bargaining process.

Then, there was the Public Forum on October 7 at Glenbrook Middle School regarding a proposed Special Town Meeting Warrant Article. At this forum the Select Board was seeking public input on the question of public employees working scheduled shifts of greater than 14 hours per day. I attended this public forum and found the discussion to be quite concerning and contentious. The Town Manager and Select Board argued that there were safety concerns for both town residents and firefighters with the move to a longer shift schedule. Firefighter representatives and other speakers argued that the move to a 24 hour shift schedule was being successfully used by 75% of the fire departments in Massachusetts and actually resulted in less sleep deprivation and safety issues as compared to the current shorter duration 10/14 hour shift schedules. Threats of additional lawsuits and additional town charter changes for self interest were made.

A statement made by one of the firefighters’ representatives at the forum confused me.

...The Select Board has already proposed a 24 hour work shift but with a longer work week. How can the Select Board now use the safety issue to argue against 24 hour shifts?

I walked away from the town forum with considerably less conviction about my previous support for the Select Board position. From the tone of the discussion it also sounded like this disagreement was going to be settled in the courts at the expense of us taxpayers. The most surprising thing was that this controversy involved a small group of 21 firefighters whose union in the past has almost been invisible to town residents.

In an effort to better understand this controversy, I spent some time last Saturday night at the Longmeadow Fire Station talking with John Dearborn- a long time firefighter about fire/ medical emergency coverage and long shifts. John convinced me that 2- 24 hour shifts can actually result in less sleep related problems than the current 2-10 hr + 2-14 hour shifts and that the system has built-in mechanisms to monitor fatigue and to adapt to long hours.

Below is a schematic outline of the current schedule….

[click to enlarge chart]

You can see from the above chart that on day 6 of a typical 8 day schedule, a firefighter will get only 10 hours time off between 2- 14 hour night shifts and that time off comes during the day which may make it difficult to get needed rest. John explained to me that going to a 24 hour shift schedule was simply running the 10 hr + 14 hr shifts back-to-back into a 24 hour shift.

A firefighter’s schedule seems a lot more complicated than what I was exposed to during my work career. Occasionally, I did work 24 hour shifts on plant coverage and in most cases it was without “house rest”. My work experience was in large part why I originally supported the Town Manager/ Select Board to change the Town Charter and block the move to 24 hour shift schedules because of safety related concerns.

John Dearborn also shared with me that all affected department members are in favor of the change to a 24 hour schedule.

Here is the red herring question…
Are there additional reasons other than safety for the Town Manager/ Select Board to block by extraordinary means (by changing the Town Charter) the move to a 24 hour shift schedule by the Longmeadow Fire Department?

Unless the Town Manager/ Select Board can provide stronger evidence for the safety related issues regarding longer work hours or identify other reasons, I would urge town voters to attend the upcoming Special Town Meeting on October 27 and vote NO on Article 13.

In addition, I would encourage both the Town Manager/ Select Board and Firefighters Union to return to the collective bargaining process where this type of issue should be resolved and not allow it to move to the courtroom wherein our taxpayer money would be spent in a less than desirable manner.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Select Board Seeks to Remove Safety Valve

From the looks of the Town Meeting warrant, the Select Board seeks to make some major changes to the freedoms currently afforded to the public:

Article 6: Change the date of the Annual Town Meeting to an unspecified date to be set by the Select Board.

Article 7: REMOVE the ENTIRE Referendum Procedure from the Town Charter.

The Referendum is a little-used procedure. It is a safeguard. It states, in part: "No final vote of a town meeting on any warrant article, except:(...); shall take effect until after five days from the dissolution of the town meeting. If a petition seeking a referendum vote on any article is not filed with the select board within the said five days, the votes of the town meeting shall then take effect."

What does it mean? If Town Meeting voted to institute Stupid Bylaw X, then 3% of the voters could petition to have that decision placed on an election ballot. Then, if voters who voted at an election decide to scrap Stupid Bylaw X, they can. If they want to keep it, they can.

Without that referendum procedure however, the Select Board removes a valuable and much requested check & balance. As Clerk of the Charter Commission, I kept detailed notes on our deliberations. Among them include the following.

"Charter Commissioners noted that the number [of Petitioners required to start the Referendum] needs to be high enough to prevent abuse, yet low enough as to be attainable should Town Meeting vastly underestimate the will of the non-attending public" (10-29-03)

Two members "expressed concern that the town voters might use the opportunity to reconsider Town Meeting decisions at the ballot box too frequently." (3-9-04; see also 12-17-03). Clearly that has not happened.

Others called it a "safety valve" (10-29-03, 11-5-03, 12-17-03 )

"Reasons for including the referendum in the charter: no one at the hearings indicated that they disliked this procedure; they were asking questions to clarify it because it is something new. Since Massachusetts General Law requires Special Town Meetings be held if only 200 voters petition for one, the town needs a different safety valve that allows for more people to vote, even with absentee ballots. Special Town Meetings do not allow for absentee ballots. The Referendum procedure is in place to “compete” with, or serve as an alternative to, Special Town Meetings. If the town tried to live with this provision for a few years and decided that it doesn’t work as anticipated, the town could remove this provision" (12-17-03, emphasis mine).

How common are referendum procedures elsewhere? "
Marilyn Contreas (Senior Policy Analyst for the Dept. of Housing and Community Development) ...said that they are very prevalent." (11-12-03, emphasis mine)

"It is the ultimate check on a town meeting run amok" (7-23-03, emphasis mine).

SO WHY does the Select Board want to REMOVE this important right of the people?

According to the warrant, "By deleting this section, the Town gains more time for budget deliberations and to enable the annual election to be conducted before the end of the school year."

This is NOT a good reason, since nothing in the referendum procedure prohibits the election from happening before the end of the school year. Referendum elections may be held as special elections or as part of a general election. No law requires them to be held with a general election. Town leaders have connected the one time a referendum was used with a general election, but that was a choice, not a requirement. The Select Board's reasoning attacks a problem with the wrong weapon.

The Charter Commission set the date of Town Meeting for "the last Tuesday in April"....Perhaps the Select Board would like to have Elections come AFTER Town Meeting, so they cannot be held accountable by the voters for their actions/inactions at Town Meeting?

Who knows....what does matter however, is that the Select Board would like to take away a hard-won right of the people to protest stupid decisions that do not represent the voters.

In addition to Articles 6 and 7, Article 8 also aims to gut the Charter's protections for access to information. By cutting in half the time requirements for descriptions of items on the warrant, the Select Board shortens the public's time to review the items they will vote on.

What to do? Well, voting NO on these articles SAVES our freedoms.

Respectfully submitted,
Rebecca M. Townsend