HARVARD -- The Annual Town Meeting warrant was due to be sent to the printer this Wednesday, March 5. The Harvard Board of Selectmen met last Thursday to button up the 45 warrant articles.
The selectmen approved Articles 1-9 at their Feb. 26 meeting. On Thursday, the board approved Article 10, asking if the town wished to hire of a Town Planner to assist with the Master Plan, as recommended by the Planning Board.
Raise, appropriate, borrow, transfer
Voters will be asked to approve and fund Articles 11 through 22. Some figures were estimates, with final figures to be presented on Town Meeting floor.
Article 11 seeks $107,000 for Capital Planning and Investment debt service for Fiscal Year 2014. Article 12 seeks $52,000 for the evaluation and engineering of town-owned fire ponds.
Article 13 seeks to replace Fire Department rescue equipment. Article 14 seeks $39,000 to provide handicapped access in the Bromfield School basement to house the new Harvard Cable Television Studio.
Article 15 asks to borrow to fund improvements to the Pond Road parking lot aside the Bromfield School. An accompanying Proposition 2 1/2 capital exclusion ballot question for the April 30 Town Election could get stripped out by Town Meeting, it was noted.
Article 16 requests $19,000 to renovate the Bromfield School science lab. Article 17 seeks $10,000 for a ventilation system for stored chemicals at the school.
Article 18 asks for $10,000 to replace the steel trailer aside Hildreth Elementary School with a wooden shed. Article 19 seeks $14,000 for the installation of steel safety gates aside the school to control bus lanes and traffic flow.
Article 20 seeks up to $75,000 for structural assessment and repairs at the Bromfield House. Article 21 requests $21,000 to wire an emergency generator for the library. Article 22 seeks $125,000 to connect the Center Fire Station and Hildreth House to the downtown sewer district.
The Community Preservation Committee (CPC) provides its annual report to Town Meeting via Article 23. Five CPC articles follow.
Article 24 seeks $16,000 from Community Preservation historical fund reserves for the preservation of historical town documents. Article 25 seeks $100,000 to fund the Harvard Municipal Affordable Housing Trust ($25,000 from Fiscal 2014 Community Preservation revenue and $75,000 from Community Preservation unspecified reserves).
Article 26 looks to channel $200,000 to the Conservation Fund ($100,000 from FY14 Community Preservation revenue and $100,000 from unspecified Community Preservation reserves). Article 27 seeks $55,000 for the restoration of the Bromfield Stone Wall ($25,000 from FY14 CPA revenue and $30,000 from Community Preservation historic reserves).
Article 28 requests $2,500 from FY14 Community Preservation revenue for the Community Preservation Committee's administrative expenses including membership dues in the state CPC Coalition and legal fees.
Revolving funds, sunsets, police details
Five revolving funds would continue to spend and receive revenue in Fiscal Year 2014 if Article 29 is approved. Those revolving funds include the Council on Aging (with revenue and expenses capped at $35,000 in the coming fiscal year), Fourth of July Committee (capped at $25,000), Harvard Ambulance Service (capped at $100,000), Fire Department S.A.F.E. Program (capped at $15,000) and the backyard burning permit revolving fund.
Article 30 asks Town Meeting to extend the sunset provision enacted at the April 2, 2011 Annual Town Meeting, which required schematics for the renovation of both Town Hall (underway) and Hildreth House (outstanding) to conclude by this June 30. If passed, Article 30 would allow for an additional two years for the work to be done, revising the sunset date to June 30, 2015.
Article 31, if passed, would ask the legislature to enact a law permitting retired Harvard police officers between ages 65 and 70 and who logged more than 20 years of honorable, continuous, full-time service to the department to serve as special police officers on in-town police details.
Dogs vs. cats
Article 32 asks to waive annual dog license fees for residents over age 70. To offset the projected $800 in annual revenue, selectman Tim Clark suggested a cat tax. Clark admitted "I have a feeling it's not going to carry."
"You're presenting this as a serious thing?" asked Chair Lucy Wallace. Selectman Ron Ricci provided an assist, making the motion on Clark's behalf to put the issue before Town Meeting. Clark seconded the motion before conceding that the cat tax wasn't yet ready for voter consideration.
Wallace moved on after pondering, "How will you keep those collars on those little cats?"
Article 33 asks voters to "enact a series of regulations, restrictions, and/or fees with regard to the use and access to the town beach area or take any action thereto." The goal was aimed at regulating how residents may park at the Bare Hill Pond beach parking lot.
Article 34 asks to establish a loan fund, seeded with $300,000 and overseen by the Harvard Board of Health for loans, to provide assistance for the repair, replacement or upgrade of septic systems as permitted by state law (MGL Chapter 29C, Section 1).
Article 35 seeks a legislative act to establish an Elderly and Disable Taxation Aid Committee consisting of the COA director, Town Treasurer and 3 residents.
Article 36 was split by the selectmen into Articles 36 and 37. First, Article 36 asks to establish the town's own Other Post-Employment Benefits (OPEB) Liability Trust Fund to serve as a repository for funds to finance retiree life and health insurance costs. If successful, Article 37 follows, asking to seed the account with $250,000 - the minimum initial balance required for the state Pension Reserves Investment Management (PRIM) Board to manage the funds for the town.
Local liquor licenses
Article 38 seeks legislative approval to embrace MGL Chapter 138, allowing the selectmen to issue both liquor and package store licenses, but also on-site consumption licenses for restaurants or taverns.
"It's time to ask the voters how they feel about it," said selectman Ron Ricci.
Some expressed concern with the maximum number of licenses Harvard may approve by adopting the law. But Town Administrator Tim Bragan assured the license issuance "is still up to the local licensing authority" and that the state Alcohol Beverage Control Commission tends to uphold local license authority decisions on granting and denying licenses.
"Let's not pre-judge" voter sentiment, said selectman Bill Johnson. Johnson noted that each license request would still require a local public hearing before the selectmen.
Prevailing wage relief, etc.
Article 39 seeks legislative approval to revise the prevailing wage law regarding work on municipal projects. Ricci admitted an aggressive request would have a "snowball's chance" of passage. Ultimately, the selectmen opted to play it safe, cribbing language from successful measures enacted for the benefit of two towns.
Chatham received prevailing wage law relief for work performed on municipal buildings but privately funded. North Andover secured relief for projects under $50,000.
Instead of pushing the envelope, Johnson suggested "we get some immediate relief, assuming we get this" and seek more later "but if we push it [now] we might get nothing."
Article 40 seeks to take by eminent domain for conservation or other town purposes four parcels of land on a non-adversarial basis, including a (1) 11.5 acre parcel off Still River Road, (2) a parcel off Codman Hill Road, (3) parcels of land on St. John Lane, and (4) land on Prospect Hill Road.
Article 41 seeks to establish a stabilization fund for Montachusett Regional Vocational Technical High School District, where Harvard is a member.
There are two citizens' petitions filed for Town Meeting consideration. Article 42 seeks a zoning bylaw amendment to exempt "institutional use" structures (such as Town Hall) from the protective bylaws. Article 43 (like Article 10 before it) seeks to hire a Town Planner.
Perfunctory Articles 44 (to accept gifts of land) and 45 (acceptance of state highway funds) round out the warrant. The selectmen sought a final cleanup of the warrant before visiting Bragan's office to sign the final product -- following town counsel review -- on Monday. Annual Town Meeting is set for Saturday, April 6, at 9 a.m. in the Bromfield School gymnasium.
Follow Mary Arata at twitter.com/maryearata.