Sunday, June 10, 2012

Town Meeting Issues Continued

As promised here is a follow-up post to the post I did after the Town Meeting. I received several comments and thought I would discuss them a little further.
One comment had to do with the general "rudeness" of some of the attendees at the meeting. While the commenter said it was the firemen, I think it was more than just them. I sat in the balcony, which I have since concluded is not a good place to sit since there were times when I felt like jumping, and I heard plenty of noise from both sides.
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But this got me to thinking about firefighters, cops, DPW workers and teachers, and even the Town Administrator. How many town employees do not live in town? 25%? 50%? 75%? I know the TA doesn't reside in Sturbridge. Could this be why the town employees always want pay increases which the town can't afford? They aren't stakeholders, their taxes won't go up. Maybe it's time to think about a residency requirement.

Another comment referred to the comment from Mr. Morrison of the Finance Committee regarding town employees going to the Yellow Pages and looking up unions. What I beleive he was referring to was that the current non-union employees would try to find union representation, not that they would leave their jobs and go find a union job as the commenter seemed to think. I am pretty certain that most town employees have already been contacted by various unions. It isn't always more pay that the employees are looking for when they vote to unionize. I recall when we unionized at the Fire Department, money was the least of my concerns. Worker's compensation, however was, since I could never get a straight answer on how much would I make if I was hurt while on duty, would I only get my fire department pay or my full time pay? Others had other concerns as well, and as I recall wages weren't on the top of the list.

Another comment dealt with a comment the TA made to the Telegram saying the new budget would only add $150 a month to the average tax bill. While I didn't see the article, that seems a little high, but even $150 a year is too much. Some people seem to feel a buck here or a buck there doesn't matter, but it does. There are many in this town, seniors and others, who can't afford even a measly increase of $150 a year, never mind a month, if that is indeed what was said. As hard as it might be for some to beleive, we all care about this town and really do want to be able to live here, and for some of us we want our children and grandchildren to be able to live here as well.

And finally most of the comments mentioned the confusion on the Article 3 and 4 mess. Many people had no idea what they were voting for. I am not sure what the answer is when this happens, but there has to be some way to make it less so.

The Town Meeting will be continued on June 18th. It is still important to go as there are still some important articles to come, including Article 30 which asks to change the day of the Town Meeting to Saturday. In addition there are some more articles dealing with fiscal issues which should be discussed.


  1. 1) I agree with you that perhaps there should be a residency requirement, especially for the higher paying positions.

    2) I do think that Mr. Morrison's comments to justify approving the non-union raises were inappropriate--more of approve or a bad thing is going to happen.

    As someone who "organized" a small group of workers in the 1980's, being approached by a union organizer is one thing, deciding to go forward where ALL salaries/benefits are "fair game" to negotiate is another thing. Whether or not employees are union or non-union, the town needs to keep salaries in check. Non-union employees should not get a raise just because the union employees negotiated a raise during their contract negotiations. In many cases, non-union employees receive compensation/benfits that union employees do not. Union employees also pay dues for their union representation.

    The fact of the matter is that there are many hard-working residents in the town who have not received increases (cost or living or merit) in several years due to the economy and there are many who are unemployed (or underemployed) through no fault of their own. The town has many seniors living on a fixed income choosing between food, medicine, and heat. Mr. Creamer spoke about the "dire" circumstances some residents are facing and asked voters to think about that. He admitted that the people determining the budget "could do better". Perhaps some of the higher paid town employees could forgo their raise in light of other citizen's circumstances. Voters certainly could not have been thinking about their fellow citizens when they voted for the brick sidewalks!

    3) There are may different scenarios affecting the property tax bill of Sturbridge residents--depending on whether you have town water v. private well, septic v. town sewer. In addition to their property tax, some residents are paying betterments for sewer (an additional $580 in my case). Then there is the CPA fee ($69). Compounding their high tax bill is the ever increasing water/sewer rates (in my case, $600/yr. for sewer). My current total for property taxes+betterment+CPA+sewer use equals $5343/year. Our taxes are not just different based on our property value.

    4) In my opinion, the confusion on Article 4/3 was the fault of the moderator. He kept on calling Article 4 (both substitue and initial) Article 3 and "oops-ed" too many times--leaving voters confused. I applaud Mr. Miller for the work he did. I think the "scare tactics" that were used by some members of the FinCom and BOS that Mr. Creamer spoke of were because there was a fear that Article 4 (or something similar) would pass. When all else fails, keep them confused.

    It seems to me that the voters had way too many articles to consider for this annual town meeting (Can this be limited? What's to stop a board/committee from sponsoring all these articles at once?). Of course it would be impossible to complete discussion plus voting on all these articles in one 3-4 hour session. I left the meeting after the approval of Article 3 because it was obvious it was going to be a very late night (and I was disgusted at the fiasco I had just witnessed). I was amazed that voters allowed the meeting to go beyond 10:30 PM. I did watch the remainder of the meeting on cable. However, this seems like a very unfair way to conduct the process. Too many important articles for the voters to consider, not enough time. I'm curious as to how many voters were there at the beginning v. the end. On TV, it appeared a lot of voters had left.

    Voters are discouraged at the process. I will attend on June 18th, but if I see more of the same, I'll put my efforts into cutting my losses and relocating out of Sturbridge.

    1. If you go back to the meeting when it is continued on June 18th, you will get to vote on Article 30 which would change the meeting from Monday night to Saturday morning.

      Regarding the bricks, we never got to vote on those, we should have becasue of the amount but we didn't I wrote about them at the time.

      We also had a chance to stop the CPA at the town election in April, but the ballot question was soundly defeated. Now if we don't want that spending to go up, we will have to vote against each new product as it comes up.

      Actually I thought the amount of articles was smaller than normal. The problem is you need to vote on each line item in the budget, this is what takes time, especially when there are some ridiculous amounts. Of course we don't get to do that with the biggest budget in town, the school budget.

      See you on the 18th!


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