Back to Board of Selectmen Meeting Minutes
June 9, 2009
Regular Session 7:00 pm
Ms. Burns, Mr. Rabuffo, Mr. Burns
Bond Anticipation Notes
Ms. Burns noted that this morning’s Bond Anticipation Notes resulted in the lowest interest rate that our financial advisors had ever seen. The bonds will pay for the current school project, the renovations to Plymouth River and Foster Schools, the final portion of the Department of Public Works facility, school engineering, etc. The bond issue was given the highest possible rating for a bond issue of this kind.
The not-so-great news is that last night Moody’s issued a negative outlook for the Town of Hingham. Their concerns are the level of our reserves. This underscores the need to bring up those reserves because of the danger of losing the Town’s triple A rating. The rating company indicated the Town has 18-36 months to turn things around. Mr. Rabuffo said he had only a few minutes to look at the Moody’s write-up. The issues are the reserve fund and beginning to fund OPEB and etc. In addition they wanted to be sure that the revenue process was addressed and managed with diligence. The Town Finance Director indicated he would like to look at what other towns around us have done to address these issues. All department heads have been working to find opportunities over the course of the current fiscal year to save money. The Town was trying to prevent a revenue shortfall. Department heads are likely to return approximately 1 million dollars of appropriated but unspent funds for FY ‘09. This is quite an accomplishment. Many towns have tried something like this without much success. The accomplishment is the result of many people trying – department heads, schools, etc. Mr. Paicos said he is confident that the million dollar mark will be eclipsed and that there will be a significant savings. Every time the state produces another monthly revenue report revenues go down. He said when the state announces local aid it is likely that we could see state aid right around where we anticipated it to be or, on the other hand, it could drop and we may have to have a special town meeting in the Fall in order to amend the budget.
Voted: to approve the sale of a $6,100,000 2.50 percent Bond Anticipation Note of the Town dated June 18, 2008, and payable June 18, 2009 (the “Note”), to DEPFA First Albany Securities LLC at par and accrued interest plus a premium of $43,740.00.
Further Voted: that in connection with the marketing and sale of the Note, the preparation and distribution of a Notice of Sale and Preliminary Official Statement dated June 4, 2008, and a final Official Statement dated June 10, 2008, each in such form as approved by the Town Treasurer, be and hereby are ratified, confirmed, approved and adopted.
Further Voted: that the Town Treasurer and the Board of Selectmen be, and hereby are, authorized to execute and deliver a material events disclosure undertaking in compliance with SEC Rule 15c2-12 in such form as may be approved by bond counsel to the Town, which undertaking shall be incorporated by reference in the Note, as applicable, for the benefit of the holders of the Note from time to time.
Further Voted: that each member of the Board of Selectmen, the Town Clerk and the Town Treasurer be and hereby are, authorized to take any and all such actions, and execute and deliver such certificates, receipts or other documents as may be determined by them, or any of them, to be necessary or convenient to carry into effect the provisions of the foregoing votes.
Temporary Audit Committee
Mr. MacCune, Mr. Manning and Mr. Alexakos have joined with Mr. Rabuffo in order to find a new town auditor. The town has not had a new auditor in over 18 years. Under normal purchasing arrangements under MGL 30b a vote of the Board is not necessary but in the interest of transparency it is being discussed at a meeting. The RFP Scope of Services outlines the expected services. The “departments to be included” covers all the usual departments as well as the Lincoln School Apartments and the Cable TV Studio. The committee will make recommendations. Mr. Riley asked if there was a sliding scale or a number that should be expected in terms of cost of the audit. The past cost of $45,000 may be exceeded to some degree. Mr. MacCune said it is likely $65,000 to $70,000. A new firm and an expanded scope could result in a higher number. Mr. Rabuffo noted that the town is fortunate to have such a talented committee. He said that it is the plan that there will ultimately be a permanent audit committee. The scope of services calls for an audit of the Affordable Housing Trust which has only about 20 transactions per year, The Lincoln School managers should be audited because it is a separate LLC. The Town should not have to pay for an audit every year for the Affordable Housing Trust but the Lincoln School managers should pay for their own audit.
Cable TV Advisory Committee
Ms. Burns advised that she and four committee members had visited the cable studio in Plymouth which also serves Kingston and will soon be serving Duxbury as well. Mr. Conrad said that Hingham has been a bastion of volunteerism which is what makes things tick. He reported that Verizon and Comcast have agreed to very superior contracts without resorting to the expensive and time consuming “ascertainment” process. There has been IT expertise, studio site visits and the Committee has secured money from the Verizon Foundation to bring students and seniors together for a project. The Committee has secured equipment from Comcast and that equipment is going to the schools. Mr. Conrad said that they are confident that there is a superior opportunity here.
Eric Connerly, the Committee secretary and financial guru, explained that each person with cable pays $1.30 per year, 50 cents of which goes to Hingham. When the Town contracted with Comcast, several years ago, they agreed to provide a studio and buried the cost in the cable bill. When the renegotiation of the contract began Comcast indicated that they were not interested in providing a studio. The committee then negotiated a percentage payment to the Town in lieu of the studio. The percentage is structured as follows: 4.5% for 3 years and then 4.2% for the remainder of the contract. The Cable Committee doesn’t know what the studio was costing when Comcast ran it.
The money from the newly negotiated Verizon and Comcast contracts can be used only for cable-related services. This means services related to providing programming on one of the three channels – Public, Educational or Government. The federal law has two tiers, the license fee and the maximum of 5%. The state has said the difference between the license fee and the maximum can go to cable related services – equipment, personnel, and programming. Mr. Rabuffo asked if smart boards could be cable related services. The Committee said they would not qualify.
The Cable Committee is required to provide programming and training to those who request it. Cable TV used to provide these services. Mr. Conrad advised that the contract with the cable providers requires that the Town provide these services or we would have gotten considerably less in the contract. In Plymouth the money goes to the 501c3, not the town. Plymouth has no capital payments but they do receive 5%.
Jim Dellot who is on the Dedham access board and runs the Dedham School Department channel as well as serving on Hingham’s Cable TV Committee contacted Dedham’s vendor who said an upgrade to the existing Town Hall equipment would be about $12,000. Up to three additional rooms would be an additional $5,000 for a portable unit that plugs in. Katie Gallagher Woolley said that the high school studio also needs upgrades. She distributed a wish list which included an updated digital control room and a three camera system. She said approximately 72 students participate in the TV studio classes.
The Committee reviewed the three service options for a public access channel.
The Low Service Option simply gives the ability to put content onto the channel, not create it. It would be up to the people in town to make the DVDs on their own. The requirement is that the Town or Cable Committee would show some people how to use the “juke box” in order to play the DVD on the cable channel. There are some costs, both
capital and operating. There must be equipment to play the DVD on the public channel ($11,000), equipment to train individuals, equipment to edit ($5,000) and someone to do the training on equipment (about $25,000 per year). Mr. Conrad said this option would not allow for regular evening classes and any excess moneys not used for the studio would not be available for other uses.
The Middle Service Option would be to contract with another entity that already has a studio. A shared studio could be done with a town that already has a studio such as Weymouth and Hull. Weymouth has had a studio since 1996. It is a non-profit and is run by a former Comcast employee. Hull has a studio at the high school but it would be expensive to go to the end of Hull with Inet. The other option would be to start up a studio with another town that is in the same boat, possibly Cohasset, or Norwell. Norwell is interested in creative content. Cohasset negotiated 3.25% and $25,000 capital which will not allow them to do much. Scituate has hired an executive director and wants to do its own thing. Hanover is somewhat interested.
The Highest Service Option would be for the Town to create a non-profit to operate a studio. Sandra Peavey said one of the things that Committee was insistent on was three public access channels. One will be government, one education and one public access. The Government channel allows people to see government in action: Board of Selectmen, School Committee, Recreation Commission, etc. The Public Access channel allows people to exercise their first amendment rights. Citizens need a place to exercise their freedom of speech in order to convince others as to their point of view, entertain, etc. Ms. Peavey noted that, as a government body, the Board may not want to be associated with what people want to put on the public channel. The KKK has as much right to put on their point of view as the Rotary. If there is only one channel, the Town runs the risk of people calling up saying why are you allowing this on a public government channel. She said the Town could be sued if it is operating the public channel. Under the federal law the 501c3 gives the town insulation. It is unlikely that any first amendment claim against a 501c3 would succeed. The committee voted unanimously that the best option would be the 501c3.
Mr. Rabuffo asked if the school studios or the Linden Ponds studio had been investigated as possible sites for the public access studio. Mr. Dellot said that Dedham had looked at the school as a public access studio but there were CORI issues during the day and students took equipment out.
Mr. Paicos said he did not know if the Town had thought out what it would like to do. It is exciting to hear about the possibilities. His other concern is about the efficiency issue. Towns are learning the lessons of every community having their own administration. The rest of the country has learned regionalism. Mr. Paicos said he would hate see the mistake of creating 351 separate studios, PEG access channels, etc. There could conceivably be 7 full time employees for the three channels in town. The Town should not make the entity that is not efficient and respectful of the dollars to be used. Mr. Paicos suggested that we step back and take a look at this. He had spoken to some colleagues and they are not aware of the possible regional approach. He urged a good look at regionalism before this gets off the ground.
Carol Meyer asked how the Committee would gauge community support for this and if there would be enough people to be involved and to watch a public access channel. The Committee said if there is not enough community support and sponsorship they will cut cost. It was noted that moneys from sponsors and other towns can go to the general fund; dedicated money from Comcast and Verizon cannot.
David Ellison noted that this appears to be an expensive option for the community. The ratepayers are paying .63 to 2.90 per month. And those contracts are going forward for 10 years. Previously Comcast was providing the service as part of the overall bill.
Ms. Burns thanked the cable committee for their hard work.
The Board voted, by roll call vote, to adjourn to executive session to discuss pending litigation, contract negotiations and real estate and not to return to open session this evening.
Mr. Riley – yes
Mr. Rabuffo – yes
Open Session adjourned 9:15 pm.
Betty Foley, Clerk