Thank you for your insightful questions regarding Fall Town meeting Article number 10. The Town received a total of 27 informational requests. Many of the inquiries were similar in nature, others were comments only and others were multi-faceted questions that can only be answered when further data is collected and analyzed; that data collection is now underway. It is hoped that the following will provide the information necessary to answers the questions and concerns presented.
The Cemetery, Parks and Trees Department currently maintains approximately 79 acres of fields and commons and 67 acres of cemetery space. It consists of seven employees; one (1) superintendent, one (1) foreman, five (5) heavy motor equipment operators and one (1) maintenance craftsman. It is the position of this office that the existing department is not sufficiently staffed to consistently and satisfactorily maintain the parks and commons of the town. It has also been observed that the demands of the cemetery (i.e. burials, etc.) often conflict with the department’s ability to provide regular maintenance to the parks and commons.
The concept of combining the Town and School grounds has evolved from these same observations by many other groups and individuals. Specifically, the concept was initiated by the Board of Selectmen (BOS) in their goals and objectives document of Fiscal Year 2015 (October 2014). Initially, some members of the BOS believed that this measure could save money for the Town. However, as the issue was explored it became apparent that this was not the case because many fields are either maintained by volunteers or not maintained at all. Therefore, any future plan to address the maintenance of Town fields would require additional personnel. Subsequent to this revelation, the BOS recognized and understood that the goal of combining Town and School Grounds would be to increase the quality, safety and consistency of maintenance of these fields.
Meetings with Stakeholders (Youth Organizations)
The Town Managers Office has met with Youth Organizations both through publicly posted meetings and meeting individually with each group to understand exactly what level of maintenance and care they provide through their organizations and volunteers. It is important for the Town to know this information so it can ensure that the fees the youth organizations pass on to the youth participants are not affected by this change. The Manager’s Office has also met on many different occasions over the past three years with school officials to discuss how this transition could be accomplished. There seems to be a general agreement among Town and School Officials that this is the right direction to combine these two grounds departments.
What are the needs of a Parks and Trees department and how did the Town arrive at them?
The Town Manager’s Office and the DPW Director met with several different communities to understand how they provide Parks Maintenance Services to their communities. Special consideration and comparison was given to the amount of park space these communities maintain as compared to Billerica. As previously noted, the Town currently has 79 acres of fields and commons and 67 acres of cemetery space. Adding the school properties to the Parks and Common spaces would bring the total up to 188 acres.
Burlington has a staff of nine (9) employees that care for 288 acres of parks and common space with a total budget of $956,000. Woburn has a staff of six (6) people that care for 110 acres of parks and common spaces with a total budget of $486,000. The Town of Lexington employs fifteen (15) people to maintain 630 acres of parks and commons with a total budget of $1.1 million. These communities were selected because they do an excellent job maintaining their parks and commons.
The Town through its’ DPW and through the gathering of this data proposed separating the Cemetery, Parks and Trees Department into two new departments; a Parks and Trees Department and a Cemetery Department. A new Parks and Trees Department budget would serve the operational and capital needs of the Town of Billerica in the FY2019 budget; that budget is projected to be$818,000. The Cemetery budget in FY2019 is projected to be $380,000.00. This would be a total increase in funding for all of these operational and capital services of $448,000. This budget was presented at the Fall 2017 Town Meeting as information outlining the Town’s plan to implement a new Parks and Trees Department and a new Cemetery Department.
The budgets and compliments of employees arrived at by the Town are consistent with those that were interviewed and with the particular needs of the Town of Billerica. The Towns proposed budget is most like the City of Woburn. This correlates well with the similar sizes of these two communities. Woburn Parks Department has a staff of six (6) people for 110 acres Billerica is proposing a staff of seven (7) employees to maintain 188 acres. Conversely Lexington and Burlington have much larger staff compliments but they maintain larger tracts of parks and commons, 685 acres and 285 acres respectively.
The capital needs are derived from the equipment the Town currently has and the expanded needs based on the combined school and Town grounds (188 acres). The Town currently owns four (4) 60 inch rider mowers and one (1) 14 foot deck wing bat mower. The Cemetery Department would retain the four 60 inch mowers for the four employees projected in that department to maintain 67 acres. The Parks and Trees Department would retain the 14 foot wing bat mower and purchase a new enclosed cab 16 foot wing bat mower and three additional 60 inch rider mowers as provided in Article 10 of the Fall Town Meeting. These capital acquisitions are based on the specification of cutting regulation fields two to three times a week in the busy season. One wing bat mower can cut 65 acres per week. The Town will acquire two which should cover the need to cut 110 acres as specified. Additionally, the Town would strive to irrigate all the fields using our own personnel in the down times of the year.
Over the past three years, it has become apparent that due to the stakeholders involved, the challenges created by past negligence of field maintenance on the part of the Town and the low level of public trust and confidence in the Town’s ability take over field maintenance necessitates this process must be done in phases. The first phase was endorsed and passed by 2017 Fall Town Meeting. This involves the hiring of two laborers in April of 2018 and the upgrading of a foreman’s position to a Superintendent. It also included a $100,000 capital appropriation to purchase the equipment detailed earlier. The Town will begin to maintain the Town fields in earnest in the spring of 2018. It is expected that the full implementation of the two new departments will be presented in the FY2019 Budget process. It is also expected that the School Committee would need to take a formal vote to turn over the fields prior to the 2018 Spring Town Meeting. The full implementation would not take place until the spring of 2019.
Permits, Fees and Cost Impacts
One of the primary concerns of local youth organizations is what kind of impact will this have on the fee structure. This is also a primary concern of Town Officials. The Town does not want this transition to a fully staffed Parks and Trees Department to have an adverse impact on the fees the youth organizations charge the youth of Billerica. Accordingly, the plan is being presented in a phased approach. This first phase was to upgrade the Cemetery Parks and Trees Department. This is intended to expand the current maintenance of the current Town Fields and Commons. This phase will be implemented between April 2018 and June 30th, 2018. The second phase will be to create the new departments through the FY2019 Budget process. This will involve getting the departments up and running in FY2019. The School Department would maintain their grounds through the fall of 2018 and the Town would take over in January of 2019.
During this time period there will be no change to the fee structure. The Recreation Director will be analyzing and reviewing the permit process between now and the end of FY2019 (June 2019). This will give the Town over a year of data to establish a fee structure that will be implemented based on a more equitable and efficient permit process. However, the fees that are implemented will be based on fees that reflect the funding that youth organizations currently spend on field maintenance. It is expected that this fee structure would be implemented in FY2020.
This strategy will be implemented based on revenue projections known to date and additional information we hope to get in the future from Youth organizations. Based on the following facts we can make the following conservative projections:
PROJECTIONS ATTACHED HERE!
It should be noted that because the Town is over $10 million under proposition 2 and ½, it is able to eliminate adverse impacts on fees to the children of Billerica. One of the primary goals of this proposal is to ensure that the fees passed on to Billerica families are not affected by this proposal but to recoup costs Billerica Youth Organizations dedicate to routine field maintenance.
As is this case with any working document, this proposal may be amended as additional information is provided and analyzed.