Town Meeting: Here's What Went Down
A recap of last night's legislative extravaganza.
Town Meeting 2012 has come and gone. The town approved its $81 million budget, the Bradstreet building will be sold, and drive-throughs will be allowed on Route 114. It was a relatively uneventful evening -- nothing like last year's meals tax battle royale -- but it had its highlights.
For a riveting play-by-play, check out the transcript from last night's live blog.
The CPA real estate tax surcharge will stay at 3 percent, but there was much debate about it.
William Callahan, one of the article's co-sponsors, said that the CPA was great for saving the drinking water when it passed, but also said that was a "Pandora's Box" on spending and that now it's no longer needed.
Ted Tripp urged passage of the article, saying the meals tax would pay for needed projects.
"It's not like these things can't be taken care of out of other tax money," Tripp said.
Selectmen, who voted to oppose the article, vehemently disagreed.
"There would be less done and more borrowing," Selectmen Chair Tracy Watson said.
Election Stays in March
Voters also rejected Article 14, which sought to move local elections to June.
Supporters of the article said the new election date, after Town Meeting, would make candidates and incumbents to campaign on Town Meeting issues.
"An advantage would be that candidates for town office would have to know about, and take a stand on, budget issues," Frank MacMillan said.
One young man said that March elections disenfranchise college-aged voters.
But opponents said it would be too difficult to hold elections in June when so much is going on to prepare for Town Meeting (and someone mentioned the massive amount of work that would be involved for Town Clerk Joyce Bradshaw if she had both Town Meeting and elections at the same time), as well as the fact that hosting elections at the schools in June would be too difficult given all that happens with the schools then.
Selectmen said they didn't want to have to take focus off of Town Meeting preparations to run campaigns.
"The way the article's worded tonight, the election would be today," Selectman Bill Gordon said. "Also, the amount involved in running a campaign, I guess I'm speaking for incumbents, preparing for Town Meeting is also very involved."
Reserve Fun Wrestling Match
Article 31 passed, which means the town will have its $25,000 Capital Stabilization Fund.
This represents a victory for Town Manager Andrew Maylor, who pushed for this in his budget. While the money was not major -- $25,000 is crumbs in the perspective of the whole $81 million budget and the money was just coming out of another fund -- but the Finance Committee was opposed to it.
Selectmen agreed with Maylor, and in the end so did voters. It passed with the two-thirds majority needed.
But the town will not have a $25,000 retirement reserve fund, which Maylor and Selectmen also pushed for and the Finance Committee opposed.
The Finance Committee insisted that the problem was too large and nationwide, and that it was the federal or state governments' problem to fix. Maylor said he doesn't think the federal or state governments will pay for it and the price tag is only getting bigger.
"How do you address the $118 million gorilla in the room?" Maylor said.
But people who opposed it said they were uneasy about the fact that once put into the account the money could not be used for anything else.
Eventually Maylor jumped back in and negotiated the $25,000 added to the general stabilization fund if this fund article failed.
So Town Meeting moved to Article 32 (transferring $200,000 from free cash to general stabilization fund), which passed unanmously with an amendment to increase it to $225,000.
So basically, after more than an hour of debate, Maylor and Selectmen got their capital stabilization fund and the town voted to add the $25,000 for the proposed retirement fund to the general reserve fund.
Now that's what you call a negotiation.
Capital Improvement Yes, But...
The Capital Improvement Plan article (25) passed, but without the Route 125 sewer design, which the Finance Committee motioned successfully to scrap.
What this means is that the town will not fund a design plan for sewer along Route 125 but will fund a design plan to move school administration offices to the old Police Station on Main Street and building a gym for Kittredge Elementary School, among other things.
Town Manager Andrew Maylor and Superintendent Chris Hottel pushed for the article as a means of longterm development and streamlining of town offices.
For the school administration transfer and the new gym ($359,500), this will fund the design only. Town Meeting next year will have to vote whether or not to fund contruction.
Opponents questioned the expense. The Finance Committee opposed the sewer design funding and school administration transfer. Advocates pointed out the cost savings that could be involved with not having to pay rent at Osgood Landing for school administration.
Selectman Rosemary Smedile spoke out against the sewer design funding because she said it needs to be studied more, and she also said businesses are not developing now.
In the end, voters chose to approve the plan without the $300,000 sewer design.
"We talk and we talk and we talk about 125," Selectmen Chair Tracy Watson said, adding that she and other selectmen had campaigned on it. "It's the last corridor in town that can be developed without infringing on our community. The time has come to do something about it."
And the town will say "bye bye" to Bradstreet. Town Meeting voted unanimously to authorize the Board of Selectmen to sell it.
Energy Savings... Not Now
Article 26 did not pass, though. That was an article to fund more than $4.3 million for energy savings initiatives.
The Finance Committee opposed the article based on its cost, and they questioned whether or not these projects are needed now. They also pointed out that, with interest, it would cost $6.4 million.
Town Manager Andrew Maylor and Superintendent Chris Hottel pushed for the article, pointing out that the guaranteed savings from it would be $7 million in 15 years, so the project would pay for itself and then some.
In the end, the vote was a tie, 96-96. A two-thirds majority was needed to pass it, so the article failed.