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Town Meeting wrap up: Historic CPA vote approves $8 million for 11 projects, world language amendment rejected

A Town Meeting session in November 2023. Photo by Artemisia Luk
June 4, 2024
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Town Meeting approved historic funding for eleven new town projects through the Community Preservation Act on the final night of its session last week. Members also voted down a budget amendment to restore funding for the Brookline schools’ world language classes for kindergarten through fifth grade.

Town Meeting is Brookline’s 263-person legislative body, typically meeting twice a year to vote on issues including the town’s budget.

For the first time, Town Meeting overwhelmingly voted to allocate nearly $8 million from the Community Preservation Act (CPA) for affordable housing, open space and historic preservation projects.

“There was some big news out of a New York City courtroom today, but we’re making some big news tonight in voting on the CPA,” said Town Meeting member Sean Lynn-Jones, referring to the conviction of former President Donald Trump earlier that day.

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State law allows towns to charge a 1% extra property tax to fund certain projects in those three categories, which are submitted by the town or other organizations in Brookline and reviewed by an appointed committee.

The bulk of the funds approved by Town Meeting, around $6.5 million, will be used for community housing projects. That includes a major redevelopment of Brookline Housing Authority properties, and work to preserve buildings owned by the Brookline Community Development Corporation, a nonprofit developing affordable housing.

Read more about all of the CPA-approved projects here.

Before the final approval on CPA funding, Town Meeting rejected a proposal from Tommy Vitolo, a state representative and at-large Town Meeting member, which would have called for a vote on each of the 11 projects being funded.

A few of the projects had been under scrutiny in the weeks leading up to Town Meeting, including $800,000 for the restoration of the roof at All Saints Parish, a Beacon Street church, which was included in the historic preservation category.

Nancy Heller, chair of the committee which made the CPA funding recommendations, said the church is historic and that there is a legal basis for using town funds for its preservation. She also pointed out that the church is frequently used as a community gathering space.

“The grant is completely secular. We are not funding any religious items,” she said. “We cannot single out churches in denying them the secular benefits that other community organizations are eligible for.”

World language vote

Town Meeting members also rejected a budget amendment that would have reversed cuts to the schools’ world language classes for kindergarten through fifth grade.It was opposed by a vote of 153 to 67 with seven abstentions.

The roughly $1 million amendment was filed by Town Meeting member Robert Miller, in an effort to save world language instruction for the schools’ youngest students and bring back the jobs of laid off language teachers. (Read more about the School Committee cuts.)

“Do not kill the K-5 world language program,” Miller said in introducing his amendment.

Town Meeting member Wendy Stahl spoke about her childrens’ experience with beloved Spanish classes, and warned that the cuts could set a precedent that would harm other programs in the future.

“Brookline shouldn’t be making cuts to education, period. We need to push back on this,” Stahl said.

But town leaders prevailed with their argument that the amendment would throw the budget out of balance, cut into reserves unsustainably, and that there was no guarantee the School Committee would use the funds for the world language program.

School Committee chair Andy Liu said the school budget committee did not support the amendment and had been forced to make “hard choices” like cutting the world language budget.

Baldwin School renovations go forward

Also on Wednesday night, Town Meeting members approved an allocation of nearly $276,000 to renovate the Baldwin School, which is not currently used for teaching. The renovations will make the space usable as office space and for professional development and workshop spaces. Town Meeting members voted 152 to 87 in favor of the funding, with five abstentions.

The vote resolved a disagreement between the Select Board, the town’s executive board, and the Advisory Committee, an appointed board charged with giving budget recommendations to Town Meeting. The Advisory Committee had recommended roughly $180,000 for renovations at the Baldwin School, but Town meeting members granted the higher amount.

Other votes

Town Meeting also took the following other votes on Thursday night, with vote counts below (Yes-No-Absentions):

Article 14 (Zoning Bylaw Change RE: Reducing Barriers to Electrification)

232-2-4

Article 15 (Staggered Terms for Constables)

213-3-4

Article 16 (Change Commission on Diversity, Equity, Inclusion & Community Relations Members from 15 to 9)

223-9-2

Article 17 (Home Rule Petition RE: Police Details)

222-8-9

Article 19 (Resolution on Ceasefire and Lasting Peace)

Tabled. Read more here.

 

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