LONGMEADOW — Town Manager Lyn Simmons is looking ahead toward a standard Town Meeting on Tuesday, May 14, with important but not necessarily controversial issues going to a community vote.

The most critical, she said, among the 38-article Town Meeting warrant is the adoption of the budget.
“That’s what guides whether we can operate next year and how we can operate,” Simmons said. “For the average resident it probably isn’t [the most critical item].” The recommended $83.3 million fiscal year 2025 budget marks an increase of just over $2 million from FY24, reflecting an increase in general government operations and school appropriations.

Article 5, a new elementary literacy curriculum is on the other hand, likely to garner significantly more interest among the taxpayers.

“That’s essentially the culmination of almost a year’s worth of work by school teachers and administrators to really vet out the next best new elementary literacy curriculum,” Simmons explained.

Simmons said that is a major issue that she expects will bring people to the meeting to vote as well, she believes will be the request for borrowing authority of nearly $1.65 million to address the costs of the Bliss Park Playground Renovation Project.

“What’s interesting about that one is it’s essentially because we are applying for a very large federal grant,” she said. “If we’re successful it will provide a 50% match on this playground replacement.”

Noting the capital improvement items, particularly water and sewer, Simmons said significant headway is being made on some of the aging infrastructure issues as is reflected in the warrant which contains requests to utilize enterprise funds.

While not necessarily exciting to members of the community, Simmons said they are paramount to the smooth operation of town government and services.

“They are really important,” she said. “Especially if you’re in one of those neighborhoods that has deficient or 100 year old pipes.”

Another article of particular interest to the community, Simmons said, is the first of two necessary votes to approve the town’s formation of a municipal light plant which by public request would permit the exploration of a municipal fiber optic network, allowing the town to expand broadband-based services to residents and businesses.

Simmons said the 38 articles in the warrant is a relatively consistent number noting that many are annual, particularly the budget, capital planning and community preservation items. She also said that so far there are no apparent issues or articles that are likely to meet with significant challenges as has been the case in past years.

“This time around it’s been fairly quiet,” she said. “We haven’t had a lot of inquiries here in my office, it’s pretty cut and dried right now, it’s really just a preservation.”

Citing the Bliss Park playground project as an example, Simmons said the town is trying to be creative in achieving the completion of important projects by partnering with other funding sources and not relying only on taxpayer money.

In a climate where public interest in local government and operation is visibly challenged by low voter turnout, limited participation in public service and meeting attendance, Simmons said Longmeadow has been taking steps to get the word out about what’s happening in town.

“This is something we’ve focused on a lot in the last few years that I’ve been here,” she said.

“We’ve massively increased our engagement efforts,” she added, noting that much of the local interest is based upon social media interaction, the number of subscribers to town’s mobile app and the distribution of a monthly newsletter from her office.

There is also a direct mail approach which she notes is different from what some other communities do.
“The warrant for the annual Town Meeting physically gets delivered to every household,” she said. Reminder Publishing delivered these warrants to approximately 5,600 households in its May 2 issue.

Charged with keeping the actual meeting in check is Town Moderator Rebecca Townsend, a former communications professor with specific study of town meetings and past president of the Massachusetts Moderators Association.

For Townsend, along with guiding the procedure, a major challenge for the evening is the unknown warrant article or discussion.

“[It’s] not knowing which issue is going to be the sleeper hot topic,” she said. “When there’s a controversial issue, that draws people to a meeting.”

The catalyst for such a change in the tone of a meeting can be a topic that nobody expects and wasn’t anticipated to be raised in conversation or debate.

Part of Townsend’s role as moderator is making sure the rules and procedures are followed correctly and when they are not, she is ready to help.

“If people don’t know how to do something, I am more than happy to explain,” she said. “People don’t have to be experts in the process, they just have to be willing to communicate what they would like to see done.”

Information ahead of the Town Meeting, including a copy of the warrant can be found at longmeadowma.gov.