HARVARD -- This year's Annual Town Meeting was held Tuesday, the first weeknight schedule after years of all-day Saturday sessions.
With 341 of the town's 3,899 registered voters signed in, the first leg of the ATM adjourned shortly before 10 p.m., with a targeted handful of articles left on the 53-item warrant.
At about 9:20 p.m., having reached Article 37 and aiming to wrap up by 10, Town Moderator Robert Eubank entertained a motion to skip over a potential logjam of 10 articles that promised to be either controversial or particularly time-consuming or both and move on to the final 14 articles on the warrant, all fairly routine business items.
The motion passed, setting aside Articles 38 through 48 for later consideration. A substantial number of people promptly got up and left.
The Waiting List
Article 38 seeks to amend the town's dog bylaws and could create a stir.
Article 39, a bid by the Board of Health to participate in the Central Mass Mosquito Control Project, revisits an issue that has caused a lot of buzz in the past.
The next six articles, 40-46, propose zoning changes.
Article 47 seeks Home Rule legislation to manage the town's "other post-employment benefits (OPEB) liability," in part by establishing and/or changing its health insurance premium contribution rates and eligibility factors for retired employees.
Article 48, a citizen's petition article initiated by principals in the Harvard Solar Garden, seeks Home Rule legislation to exempt shares in community solar arrays from local taxation.
Faster than expected
As it turned out, the last few articles were completed even more quickly than anticipated, prompting Eubank to ask if voters wanted to continue or adjourn until the next night.
A motion was made to take up Article 38 with a 10 o'clock deadline for discussion. Someone objected, however, arguing that people who left early did so believing the dog law discussion had been tabled until the next session so it wasn't fair to take it up now. Others disagreed and the issue went back and forth before the vote. The motion failed.
During the three-hour first half of town meeting, motions on all but one article passed, including the multi-page Omnibus Budget. Without discussion or a single objection, Town Meeting agreed to spend $20,947,368 to operate the town for the next fiscal year.
Finance Committee Chairman Alice Von Loesecke said it had been an "excellent budget season" due to volunteer effort.
"Fortunately," the town had enough money this year to cover reserve fund transfers and make positive changes such as upping the hours of the Council on Aging coordinator and the health board's executive assistant and to add jobs to the town payroll, including a consultant town planner, a part-time human resources director/assistant town administrator and a new teacher at The Bromfield School.
The only input from the crowd about the budget was positive, too. The schools represent more than half the town budget, the resident commented, but spending went up only one percent this year, a feat he called "outstanding."
More budgetary good news from the school came before Town Meeting when the School Committee, with money in the bank due to revenue anomalies that Chairman SusanMary Redinger explained in some detail Tuesday night, decided to use a one time reserve surplus to fund capital items that would otherwise have been on the warrant.
Motions on a pair of articles -- 26 and 27 -- calling for debt exclusions to be voted on in the April 8 Town Election also passed.
Article 26 seeks to buy a $160,000 front-end loader for the DPW to replace an aging "workhorse" with only a year of useful life left.
Article 27 asked for $70,000 to buy a new light duty dump truck for the DPW.
Article 28, which sought $30,000 to create four new parking spaces at the town beach to replace parking space lost last year due to the water retention project, failed to muster the 2/3 majority required for the motion to pass. The vote was "not even close," Eubank said.
One resident said the expense was too much for such a small improvement that would benefit relatively few people, mostly boat owners, while another disputed the "safety issues" Park and Recreation commissioners cited as a key reason for the added parking. Commissioners also noted disputes with student volunteer parking lot attendants that arose when boaters couldn't find a place to park. The space would help to diffuse tension, they said. But the vote failed.
Articles 1-3 were housekeeping and passed by the required numbers.
Article 4 transferred $20,000 from "Certified Free Cash" to the Stabilization Fund to reach the five percent (of the total Omnibus Budget) set by law.
Article 5, which passed unanimously, allowed the Treasurer to make debt payments with $156,053 transferred from Free Cash.
Article 6 allowed the transfer of "a sum of money" from Free Cash to the Capital Stabilization and Investment Fund. With a 2/3 majority required, the motion passed unanimously.
Article 7 was the Omnibus Budget, which easily passed.
Article 8, which passed unanimously, allowed the transfer of $350,000 to the Reserve Fund. The amount includes $175,000 for "traditional energy needs," plus $175,000 to cover "potential unforeseen Special Education costs."
Article 9, which passed unanimously, assigned $10,000 to allow the Finance Director -- with the selectmen's approval -- to conduct annual actuarial valuations required by the Government Accountant Standards Board, or GASB.
Article 10: With no discussion, voters agreed to spend $44,165 to hire a Human resource/assistant town administrator.
Article 11 sparked some discussion but ultimately passed. It called for $20,000 to electronically convert the town's file documents. Some questioned if the town has the technology to effectively make the transfer, but Selectman Leo Blair, who introduced the article, said it was just the first step in an ongoing process.
"The town generates a lot of paper, which accumulates over time," Blair explained. This initiative, backed by Town Clerk Janet Vellante and Town Administrator Tim Bragan, would begin to address the paperwork storage issue.
"Is this for a backlog of documents plus new ones" being generated, asked Billy Salter, of Elm Street. He also asked what the recreated documents would look like and if files would be accessible to taxpayers as well as Town Hall employees and whether the town would then get rid of the excess paper.
The answer to two of his questions was yes. Old and new documents would eventually be stored electronically, Blair said and they would be readable and accessible.
Bragan said that most paper documents could be shredded after they were stored electronically, but not property records, which cannot be destroyed.
When another resident worried that magnetic storage could be lost with "one electronic pulse," Bragan said there was both "backup" and "redundancy" via various devices in the system to ensure the files would be safe.
Former Selectman Tim Clark asked if the system's "architecture" was up to the task.
Bragan said the kind of structural review Clark seemed to be suggesting would be costly and there were no plans to do that any time soon. For now, it's enough to start the process, he said, which will begin with the Building Department.
"Clearly we need a more comprehensive plan, but this effort needs to start somewhere," Blair added. The measure passed by the required 2/3 majority vote.
Articles 12 and 13, sponsored by the Water Commission, asked for $9,500 to replace 500 feet of water pipe on Pond Road, the last remaining "old" pipe in the system and for $8,700 to waterproof the exterior of the Bolton Road water tank, which hasn't had routine maintenance for 15 years, according to Selectman Ron Ricci, who introduced the article. To extend the life of the tank, which holds 310,000 gallons of water, divers need to scrape the inside of the "giant" concrete tank every so often and its exterior must be patched and painted, he said. "It's time."
Nobody disagreed. Motions on both articles passed unanimously.
Article 14 called for $8,750 to provide "basic care" of the DPW fuel tank, installed in 2000 with no maintenance since. The tank must be "electrostatically" painted to ensure it won't rust, Selectman Lucy Wallace said. The motion passed.
Article 15 called for $15,000 to hire a seasonal worker to mow town roadsides while the big "boom flail mower" completes other town-wide tasks, Wallace said, adding that it's a one time expense that will allow DPW crews to catch up with roadside weed growth. The motion passed unanimously.
Article 16: A motion to spend $10,000 for the Town Clerk to preserve historic documents passed unanimously.
Article 17: The Planning Board received $60,000 to pay the independent contractor hired last year to continue his work, which member James Breslauer mapped out in detail as he ticked off a virtual truckload of accomplishments and items the planner/consultant has assisted various boards with over the past several months.
Article 18: This article was considered in a single motion along with Articles 20, 21, 22, 23 and 25, all of which were for work at the schools. School Committee Chairwoman SusanMary Redinger asked Town Meeting to "take no action" on the articles, which called for total expenditures of about $300,000 for various repairs, replacements and other work at Hildreth Elementary and The Bromfield School.
For reasons she explained in some detail, the School Committee previously voted to cover those expenses with reserve funds, she said.
Article 19: The motion on this article passed unanimously, changing certain policies, processes and procedures in Chapter 17 of "The Code of Harvard" regarding the Capital Planning and Investment Committee.
Article 24 passed, but not without some questions and a dash of contention. Jointly inserted on the warrant by the Harvard Cable Committee, School Committee and CPIC and recommended by the Finance Committee, the article requested $19,850 to install air conditioning in the new HCC TV studio at Bromfield.
Located in a previously vacant area of the Bromfield basement, part of which once housed the school library before the addition was built, there were mold problems in that area of the building that started to resurface after the studio moved in, HCC Chairman Bill Johnson explained, calling the A/C add-in a "health issue."
Air doesn't circulate properly in the basement area now occupied by the studio and it's hot, making it uncomfortable, unhealthy and endangering costly TV equipment, Johnson said. Installing central air conditioning will solve the problem.
Resident Billy Salter recalled a Special Town Meeting when the town was asked to pitch in some amount for the studio while it was still under construction and the HCC spent more money than it had available.. "Does anybody else remember that?" he asked. Now comes another "unanticipated expense." Salter asked for assurance that this would be "the last trip to the well."
Johnson said it would be. He acknowledged that the HCC knew about the A/C issue at the STM Salter referred to and that they'd need more money to cover it. The situation was spelled out in a handout, he said, but it should have been pointed out more clearly.
Keith Turner, of Littleton County Road, lodged a complaint. Since the TV studio is now partially taxpayer funded rather than solely by private user fees levied by Charter, town residents are legally entitled to use it and the equipment. But he and his own film crew were denied access, he said.
In a nutshell, he wanted members of his crew to be able to use editing equipment at the new facility but as it turned out, they could not, and he believed the situation might be illegal.
Town Counsel Mark Lanza said it was not.
Apparently, it's a requirement under the town's contract with Charter that any films made by private citizens using HCC facilities and/or equipment must be available for broadcast on the town's public access channel. But the movie Turner and his crew were making at his home studio was filmed in HD, which the public broadcast cable channel can't handle, he said.
Turner clearly didn't agree with the attorney's opinion, but before he could launch a follow-up, Eubank stepped in. Time to move on, he said. The motion passed.
After Article 28 -- beach parking -- failed, Articles 29 through 36 passed. They were all transfers from Community Preservation Act funds.
Article 29 was simply a request to accept the CPA report, printed on Page 16 of the Finance Committee booklet. The motion passed unanimously.
Article 30 placed $4,300 in the Community Preservation Fund Affordable Housing Reserve and $8,000 from DPF "unspecified reserves" to SPF Historic Reserves. The motion passed unanimously.
Article 31 transferred a total of $150,000 from CPA funds to the Harvard Municipal Affordable Housing Trust Fund.
Article 32 transferred a total of $100,000 from CPA funds to the Conservation Fund administered by the Conservation Commission and used to purchase open space land.
Article 33 transferred $66.000 from CPA coffers to the Hildreth House Improvement Committee to replace 19 faulty or broken windows in the old manse on the hill, which houses COA offices and serves as a senior center.
The window replacements are not part of the pending renovation the HHIC is working on but will make it more comfortable now. Asked if any of the replacement windows would be sacrificed, HHIC members said that about 12 of them would be displaced by the planned addition but could be reused elsewhere in the building.
Article 34 committed $120,000 from CPA reserves to resurface the McCurdy Track.
Article 35 gave $17,000 in CPA funds to the Historical Commission to remove perimeter trees at the Shaker burial ground.
Article 36 authorized the CP Committee to expend $2,500 in CPA funds to cover administrative expenses.
Article 37 called for $12,000 to repair the Hildreth House parking lot but the COA asked Town Meeting to take no action.
Skipping over the next 10 items on the warrant, to be taken up later, Articles 49-53 passed, with the exception of Article 52, with a motion to "take no action" passed unanimously.
The ATM was adjourned, to reconvene at 7 p.m. Wednesday.