BILLERICA — A plan to outfit an office for two employees with $4,728 worth of office furniture stirred tensions on the Community Preservation Committee in recent weeks.
After at least two discussions, the committee voted 5-2 to allocate $1,800 from the Community Preservation Act, or CPA, for the furniture on Thursday. The remainder will be paid by the town, according to Chair Doug Meagher.
The money will outfit a “small” room — about eight by 10 feet — on the main floor of Town Hall, he said. Town employee and Community Development Director Rob Anderson, who already works in the office will be sharing the space with Katie Mahoney, the new community preservation coordinator/economic development coordinator.
Mahoney, who is also the chair of the School Committee, will split time between CPA duties (15 hours) and the economic development office (10 hours). She started the job about a month ago and is working out of the Department of Public Works office where she was previously employed, according to Meagher.
“She basically has no business being (in the DPW office)” Meagher said. “She can’t work there indefinitely.”
Much of the conversation revolved around whether office furniture was a wise or eligible expense to pay using CPA funds.
The CPA, which is distinct from the town’s budget, is funded by a 1 percent property tax surcharge. It’s used to fund projects related to open-space protection, community housing, outdoor recreation and historic preservation.
According to Meagher, about $45,000 of the total fund is set aside annually for administrative costs, including the community preservation coordinator salary. The office furniture also will be funded by this portion.
Marlies Henderson, member and former Community Preservation Committee chair, said the expense should be ineligible under the “spirit of the law.”
“Is this a capital expense or is this an operational expense?” she said. She said the issue spurred a “healthy discussion” at the Thursday meeting.
Henderson and member Mary Leach voted against the expenditure. Two of the nine members were absent on Thursday.
The issue was tabled at a previous meeting, until the committee could get input from town counsel. Meagher said Anderson and Mahoney spoke to both town counsel and the accounting department. At the most recent meeting, they reported that neither objected to this use of funds for this purpose, Meagher said.
Henderson and Meagher said splitting the almost $5,000 cost with the town was not discussed at earlier meetings.
In addition to Mahoney’s salary, Henderson said other administrative expenses like a land survey may arise while working on projects and the committee needs to have enough money to fund this.
“In my eyes it is not a wise decision to spend it on furniture,” she said.
Meagher said by stationing the community preservation coordinator in this office, the employee will receive other necessary services and items — like a computer, shared printer, phone and office supplies. He said the committee saved $3,500 by having the town, instead of the North Middlesex Council of Governments, draft a community preservation plan in February.
Meagher said “it’s amazing” the input this purchase generated, compared to the minimal public response the committee received for the $1.6 million allocation approved at Fall Town Meeting, despite well-advertised hearings.
The town voted to establish a community preservation committee in fall 2016 and made it’s first allocation for eight different projects this fall. In 2017, Henderson described a “power struggle” over the CPA in advanced of an ultimately successful vote to add two spots to the then-seven person board.
After Town Meeting approved this month’s allocations, Meagher said the committee is reviewing informal eligibility requests for the spring Town Meeting, including the preservation of a 300-year-old deed for the town from the city of Cambridge and the restoration of an antique fire truck.
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