After a heated three-hour debate on whether Arlington should consider consolidating town and schools finances, Town Meeting members on Wednesday adjourned without a vote.
The matter up for discussion was Article 51, a proposal unanimously approved by the Board of Selectmen asking the town manager to compose a feasibility plan on whether there should be a body or official to oversee finances at and .
The proposal comes in the heels of a dire 2010 for Arlington schools, which last year faced a $1.5 million budget shortfall. Still, town officials said Article 51 was not in relation to last year’s situation.
“From an organizational standpoint, it makes sense for financial operations to be consolidated this way,” said Selectman Annie LaCourt, “to facilitate an appropriate level of communication amongst the various people working in various departments.”
The language of the article is as follows: “To see if the town will vote to request the town manager to work with the Board of Selectmen and the School Committee to take all necessary measures for the implementation of a consolidated Town-School Finance Department; or take any action related thereto.”
After the meeting, Town Counsel Juliana Rice said the article is non-binding. Any changes related to the proposal would have to come before Town Meeting and put to a vote by Arlington citizens, she said.
“All we’re asking here is for your consensus to our making a plan,” LaCourt said.
But for most opposing Article 51, it was exactly that lack of a clear plan that appeared to be the cause of their hesitation.
Maria Romano, Precinct 7, said she was concerned that Article 51 could tilt the scale of power in Arlington. Although no firm proposal was at hand, one of the options of creating a town-schools finance head could be to eliminate the town treasurer and hire someone directly, according to town officials.
“In my opinion, it does not protect our system of checks and balances,” Romano said.
Michael Healy, Precinct 13, agreed. “I think we should be increasing the number of elected positions, not decreasing it,” he said.
After nearly three hours of intense discussion on the matter, a motion to terminate the debate failed by a 103-65 vote, when it needed a two-thirds majority to pass. The meeting was adjourned minutes before 11 p.m.
Town Meeting members will take Article 51 back up on Monday, May 9.