PowerUP talks finances and Town Meeting

PowerUp founder Megan Sweeney. Photo by Megan Sweeney

PowerUP, a Marblehead coalition that supports civic engagement, held a forum Tuesday evening to discuss “the financial implications of the Town Finances” at the May 1 Town Meeting, according to a press release from PowerUP.

“We are a grassroots coalition that believes in the power of civic engagement. We believe that the more that we all understand about town governance, the more engaged you become, and that our community is better for it,” PowerUP Founder Megan Sweeney said.

Tuesday’s forum had five special guests: Sarah Fox, chair of the School Committee, Tom McMahon, candidate for Board of Health, Bret Murray, a previous candidate for Select Board and former Select Board Member, Jim Zisson, a previous candidate for Select Board, and Ron Grenier, citizen article sponsor.

Grenier went over Town Meeting Warrant Article 45 “Enhancement to the Comprehensive Annual Financial Review,” or CAFR.

According to the PowerUP presentation, this article is “to adopt best practices of reporting the Town audit (CAFR) and oversight of the Town audit by directing the Town’s independent Auditor to include specific sections in the final audit report, by directing the Town Finance Director to post the report on the Town’s web site; by requiring an open meeting of the Auditor & Select Board to discuss results and findings of CAFR; and by establishing a Town Audit Committee.”

McMahon, who is a Marblehead native, is running for the Board of Health in the 2023 town election. He discussed his observations of the current Board of Health, pointing out the lack of transparency the board has.

“Transparency and really paying attention to fiscal responsibility, having a plan is just so crucial. And the board of health, they haven’t done a good job of this,” McMahon said. “So, transparency is key, it needs to happen better going forward.”

The presentation also defined the role of the Select Board.

“As we move through the budget process, it’s important to remember that all of the power, or a lot of it, resides in this one board and therefore in their majority,” Jenn Schaeffner, the co-host of the forum, said.

She also brought up the role that the Finance Committee has when it comes to the budget.

“The primary responsibility of the Finance Committee is to advise and make recommendations to Town Meeting on the budget and other areas of finance,” Schaeffner said.

In addition, Fox discussed the school budget, which has been cut by nearly $5 million. These cuts are putting jobs and programs on the line.

On Monday, the Committee voted for Superintendent John Buckey to present two budgets to the town before its budget hearing next Tuesday. The committee voted to have Buckey present a budget including all cuts requested by the town and one including an override with no additional costs.

“We’re at the point right now we’re kind of just in a holding pattern. We’ve been done with a lot of our budget stuff for several weeks right now, we’re just waiting for the town to finalize the books and to let us know where they are,” Fox said at the PowerUP event.

At the end of the forum, Schaeffner encouraged citizens to “make a plan to vote and speak up at Town Meeting.”

“This is our opportunity to control the destiny of our town,” she said.