A Preview of Town Meeting with Kate Fitzpatrick

April 29, 2024
• With close to 50 articles up for consideration, Town Manager Kate Fitzpatrick highlighted a few items to appear in the warrant next week.

In what is expected to be a several-day affair, Town Meeting will decide where and how to spend millions of dollars. Fitzpatrick spoke with Needham Local about several of those items to be discussed. The first session will be held next Monday, May 6.

Removal of Fire Alarm Wiring

As phones went wireless, so too did fire alarms, rendering the existing wiring across town obsolete. But Fitzpatrick said the process to remove that wiring is “a long, complicated procedure” — to move a utility pole, you have to remove everything from the pole: phone lines, cable company wiring, town wiring and electric last. That’s why double poles tend to stay put for a period of time, Fitzpatrick said.

With all the entities involved, it’s best to do the removal all at once, she said, which is what the $200,000 in funding would facilitate.

“We’re going to appropriate the funds and then take it all down at once so that we don’t have to, every single time somebody needs to move a pole — which is not that uncommon — take them down,” Fitzpatrick said.

School Technology Consolidation

A new line item in the town’s expenditures is for municipal information technology at Needham Public Schools. The $1.9 million allocation connects with Article 12, which would consolidate the district’s and town’s information technology services into one in the next fiscal year.

The two have run their own departments with occasional overlap, but after the town lost staff at the end of 2022, Fitzpatrick said the district stepped in to assist. They now hope to make that partnership permanent, after a consultant recommended they merge under the school’s department, she said.

“The reason it’s in the schools is they really have a very much more sophisticated program running right now,” Fitzpatrick said. “They have the staff and the capability of doing that.”

The funding came out of the Finance Department budget, which intended the money go to IT. They are now one-time funds, but they will reassess next year which items will remain.

Electric Vehicle Chargers, Fire Truck

The schools may also receive a high-voltage electric vehicle charger to enable an electric bus conversation as part of an $800,000 allotment from the general fund. Fitzpatrick said it would likely be a level 3 charger, which has a faster charging ability.

As the town explores transitioning to more electric vehicles, additional chargers could be funded at other locations if there’s a need, Fitzpatrick said.

An electric fire truck, however, seems a distant reality.

“There are heavy equipment [electric] pieces that are coming, and school buses are kind of first,” Fitzpatrick said.

Needham will vote to receive nearly $1.3 million for a new fire engine. The current truck is a 2005 model, and the town funded the truck’s new ladder last year. The new truck will take a couple years to build, she added.


Four articles up for discussion concern the large-scale Linden/Chambers renovation, which would transform the affordable housing complex and accommodate more residents. The units would be restricted to those making no more than 80% of the median area income, Fitzpatrick said.

A proposed zoning bylaw change would allow the Needham Housing Authority to build the larger property there, and another article would amend the zoning map in conjunction with the bylaw.

Because it’s a phased project, residents have previously expressed concerns over where they’ll reside during construction, but Fitzpatrick said that’s accounted for.

“One of the things that people worry about the most is displacement, but state and federal regulations require that nobody be displaced,” she said. “Everyone will have a home during the construction and afterwards.”

The project is also up for $5.5 million in funding, a majority from the Community Housing Reserve and nearly $1.9 million from Community Preservation. Fitzpatrick explained the funding is a grant for reimbursement, meaning it won’t be spent until all the financing is done and construction is ongoing.

A final article would enable the Select Board to remove restrictions limiting the housing complex to just elderly tenants.

Athletic Facilities

Big projects, like the Sunita Williams Elementary School redesign, often are fully permitted prior to Town Meeting, but small money items can wait until after, Fitzpatrick said. In the case for the Needham High School tennis courts, “this one is a convergence that was unintended,” she said.

The project is currently in its public hearing phase before the Planning Board, and the next session is scheduled for May 14, after Town Meeting begins. The appropriation on the warrant is set for $2.6 million.

For Claxton Field, Town Meeting members will vote whether to approve $3.6 million for renovations: an irrigation system, new plantings, a pathway, spectator seating and more. The town planned to bring the appropriation to a vote at a previous Town Meeting until soil testing revealed the need for remediation. Fitzpatrick called the remediation “significant,” and the town swapped the item for funding for McLeod Field instead.

“McLeod opened, and now we’re all eyes turned towards Claxton,” Fitzpatrick said.

Another key budget item is a $417,000 appropriation to the DeFazio Complex, which would replace the fencing and other features now “showing signs of age and heavy use,” according to the warrant.

Fitzpatrick said there’s been a strong interest in improving athletic spaces across town, as they’re “very heavily used.”

“I think the community is very, very [open] to investing in recreation amenities,” she said, “and I would say they were before the pandemic, and now it’s even more. People want to be outside.”

For more information on the citizens petitions also up for consideration, Fitzpatrick suggested contacting individual petitioners to learn more. A copy of the warrant is available on the town’s website.

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