2017-02-02 / Princeton News

Selectmen reject advisory committee recommendation for second time

By Phyllis Booth

Selectmen at their Jan. 23 meeting voted for the second time against a recommendation by the advisory committee to have Bill Holder fill a vacancy on that committee.

Bill Holder was recommended and supported by members of the advisory board and supported by selectman Jon Fudeman at the Dec. 19 selectmen’s meeting. Select board chairman Stan Moss and selectman Edith Morgan started a discussion about diversity, such as finding a woman to fill the seat.

After some discussion, with the advisory board supporting Holder, chairman John Shipman asked what the issue was with Holder. Morgan referred to a report given by Holder that talked about finances of the town and what it would mean in the future, calling it “a bleak headline in the local paper.” (The headline was “Town facing a financial storm.”) She felt he had made allegations that were not based on facts while Fudeman said it was valuable to have someone disagree to see issues in a different way. Morgan accused Holder of making statements with no knowledge of selectmen’s previous work, misrepresenting the town which resulted in “financial ruin” headlines.

At the Jan. 4 meeting, Town Administrator Nina Nazarian announced that resident Judy Dino had expressed an interest in the position.

At the Jan. 23 meeting, advisory committee chairman John Shipman said his committee had met with both candidates and voted to have Holder fill the slot.

“My position hasn’t changed,” said Morgan. “I appreciate the advisory committee has its preference but my decision is two-fold, I still believe in diversity and would like to see different opinions brought forth. I still have trouble with Mr. Holder going off and sort of slammed the town of Princeton and the board of selectmen with the ‘tsunami’ story in the paper. I believe it was uncalled for. I’m still a bit bruised over that.”

“My position hasn’t changed either,” said selectman Jon Fudeman. “I think Bill was talking about the financial environment.”

“I don’t want a discourse on this,” said Moss.

“Bill raised some viable points,” said Fudeman. “I don’t see where he slammed the board of selectmen. It’s a disservice to the town not to have someone on the advisory committee that has the expertise.”

“You need to look at more than numbers,” said Morgan, who said she felt there were enough committee members with a financial background. “Not everyone needs to be a CPA,” she added.

“I disagree,” said Fudeman. “The advisory committee should advise us and should have financial expertise with the board of selectmen providing the other view.”

Moss said he spent 12 years on the advisory committee and that there were always women on the committee, and they came forward with the best ideas. He said he would support Dino for the position.

“I was extremely disappointed in Holder’s presentation [he presented the financial obligations the town would be facing in the future] at the Princeton Center and the assumption being Princeton is in trouble,” he said. “We are one of a handful of towns that have funded anything toward Post Retirement Employee Benefits. We have available reserves, excess levy capacity. Almost no town our size has that.” Moss said he felt Holder didn’t take time to work with town officials, and presented an inaccurate and incomplete picture.

“It’s more than just a budget,” said Morgan. “There’s the people factor.”

“The advisory committee has focus that is very narrow,” said Shipman. Selectmen have the charge to fill any vacancy, he noted, but the slot has been vacant since last summer and there was only one application, until Dino stepped forward. “These are artificial objections that are harmful and that’s a slippery slope when you start setting this up the way you are,” he added.

“Sometimes there are social issues, where people only see number issues and don’t see the social aspects of a community,” said Morgan.

The vote to appoint Dino was unanimous.

Holder thanked the board for their consideration and read into the record a statement regarding his intentions to bring information forward regarding the rising costs for pensions and health and life insurance for retirees and how it could impact the town. “Throughout this process, my only concern has been to contribute to the betterment of the citizens of Princeton. I need to reinforce for the record that I stand by my analysis,” he added.

Holder said the Worcester County Retirement System recently announced that the town’s pension bill will increase by 9.95 percent in both fiscal 2018 and 2019, resulting in an additional $32,358 and $35,578 in each of the respective years. Holder said the liabilities should be added to bonded debt when considering the financial stability of any municipal entity and would affect how financial agencies look at the town, he added.

“My interest was to raise a red flag and I believe my analysis is correct and I think we do need to be careful,” said Holder. The big factor is what the Wachusett District is going to do about the pension liability, he added.

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