Chairman, Billerica Board of Selectmen
I ask Billerica residents to support Article 10 at the Dec. 2 special election to invest in recreation and to meet our contractual needs. This article has four sections, three of which do not have any impact on fields but will impact the town if not supported. These sections are the Medicare assessment, funding for the Senate special election, and a union contract. These three items amount to $140,000 of the article’s $269,000 total value.
The Medicare tax assessed on each salary is 1.45 percent. As contracts were not settled at the time of the budget’s passage, we have this correction. We had to hold a special election in July because of the passing of state Senator Ken Donnelly, which cost $25,000. The third item seeks to fund the costs of the negotiated contract. There was a language dispute that resulted in an amendment adding $15,000 to the cost.
The last portion of the article begins an investment by the town in its fields, which are used by many Billerica residents. This funding results from a longstanding discussion by selectmen and among other boards, and was approved by Town Meeting. It would add two employees to the Cemetery, Parks, & Trees Department and upgrade a foreman’s position to superintendent. It also would fund the purchase of four mowers.
This investment, combined with reorganization of departments in the spring, will ultimately result in a Parks and Fields Department, which will be responsible for maintaining all town parks, cemeteries, school fields (currently overseen by the school department), and league fields.
Maintaining the fields has been a labor of love for the leagues using them, costing them tens of thousands of dollars and numerous volunteer hours. This should be a government-provided service. The town is actively partnering with these organizations to set needed standards for quality, and has met with many different leagues to understand their maintenance strategies and costs.
The eventual creation of this department is designed to maintain superb conditions across all the fields to meet the requirements for safe play. The town seeks to support these organizations with greater resources, thus reducing the leagues’ maintenance burden so they can concentrate on enjoyment of the fields.
Billerica voters should vote “no” at the special election on Dec. 2 and defeat this spending request.
We as a town already have $172 million in borrowed debt. We also have $260 million in projected retiree health insurance liabilities. The proposal — Article 10 — will raise taxes and add two full-time employees. It also includes funding for more field maintenance equipment.
The school department gets the lion’s share of our annual $141.6 million budget. If we go forward with the reorganization plan that this funding request would initiate, the school district would be almost entirely cut loose from its current field maintenance responsibilities.
Our taxes are rising in part because we are building a new high school that includes new football and soccer fields, both of which will have have artificial turf. We are already paying taxes to care for our fields and grounds; we should manage our current resources better before committing new dollars.
The proposed school/town field merger is big government getting bigger, all at taxpayers’ and youth sports’ expense. The schools, which have the vast majority of our 1,070 municipal employees, will lose responsibility of not only their currently budgeted field care but nearly all grounds care, except for small areas adjacent to schools that school custodians will continue to maintain.
As a member of the Board of Selectmen, I have been asking for more discussion of this situation. Educated people knows their options. We have many landscaping contractors here in Billerica and some of the town’s athletic organizations already subcontract for some field services. The Middlesex Jail & House of Correction in Billerica currently cuts and cares for one of our fields. Why couldn’t we possibly expand their services? We could give each outdoor youth sports group a financial stipend to help their organizations.
This issue should have been a separate warrant article, not merged into Article 10. The Board of Selectmen should not have passed the article without more discussion.
Town Meeting did not do its job when this Article 10 passed through without a full cost impact study and a discussion on alternative plans. Billerica town government has let the people of Billerica down. Please correct this problem on Dec. 2 and vote “no.”
Last argument: Should Gloucester ban the retail use of plastic bags?
Yes: 67.03% (122 votes)
No: 32.97% (60 votes)