AYER -- Town Meeting cut about $37,000 from the budget Monday night after voting to reduce the budgets for the Zoning Board of Appeals and Planning Board to zero.
The omnibus budget originally projected for a 5.06 percent increase, passed at a lower value of $11,760,637 after residents voted to zero out the budgets for the two boards.
Former selectman Carolyn McCreary took the floor to say that the departments are not running efficiently.
She began to speak about the administration for the boards, but faced objection from Jim Lucchesi, a member of both boards, who argued that her presentation would slander a current town employee.
Town counsel and Town Moderator Tom Horgan urged McCreary to explain the motion only with respect to the budget and not staffing.
McCreary said, "We have paid financially through unnecessary legal fees and untimely bond releases, our talented volunteers have resigned because of threats and personal legal actions, the town has even forfeited a gift of valuable acres of property."
No employee name was mentioned but the ZBA and Planning Board have one paid employee. Susan Sullivan, an office manager and administrator for the boards, currently has a harassment prevention order against Jeremy Callahan, a member of the Planning Board who resigned but was reelected by 34 write-in votes this year.
During his previous time on the board, Callahan had a dispute with Sullivan over meeting minutes from 2009 and 2010 that were not posted online at the time, The Public Spirit reported earlier.
Callahan resigned in April 2013 after the town missed an opportunity to buy land from Phil Berry at $1, The Public Spirit reported. The Planning Board approved the purchase of land at 217 West Main St., but a letter to the Board of Selectmen approving the purchase was never sent. Voters never heard the offer at that fall 2012 town meeting.
Resident Susan Tordella also spoke for the motion to zero out the budget.
"I would like to speak in support of this motion because Ms. McCreary has said we are paying for something and not receiving quality service," she said.
Resident Robert Williams got up and said he has dealt with the Zoning Board of Appeals and did not think it was worth a penny.
"While the members of the board are just fine, the administration of their decision has not been fine," Williams said. "It cost me two days worth of lost work because improper paperwork was provided to me to register at the Middlesex Registry of Deeds."
He added that there is no one there in the office during office hours, and when he went to the administrator of the zoning board, the person did not appear to be conducting town business.
"From my standpoint, I would view this as being a good item to save the town some money, so I would support zeroing out this," he said, garnering a few claps from the crowd.
McCreary noted that there is a volunteer who will undertake the administration duties.
The vote was 54-20 to empty the ZBA budget of $18,234 and 51 to 18 to empty the Planning Board budget of $19,081.
Town Administrator Robert Pontbriand said Lucchesi handed in his resignation letter from the Zoning Board after the vote.
Former selectman Connie Sullivan later asked the floor to reconsider the omnibus budget, but Town Meeting voted no.
The new zero-dollar budget for both boards will begin July 1, the start of the town's new fiscal year.
Reached by phone at her office Tuesday morning, Susan Sullivan said she didn't know what to think of the vote. "I haven't really heard much about it and I haven't talked to my boards about it," she said. She did not want to discuss the matter further.
The omnibus budget also included funding for two new positions, a town engineer at $70,000 and a day position in the Fire Department at $75,000.
Ayer's portion of the school assessment passed at $9,365,752, an increase of about $446,000. Debt from the high-school building budget passed at $1,015,018.
The regional school budget has been rife with problems this fiscal year, as Shirley's Finance Committee has maintained it cannot fund its part of the assessment if passed as is.
Elizabeth Bodurtha said Shirley got its operating budget down to bare bones, but Ayer has an increase.
"I don't see how that's fair, especially when they don't have the money," she said. "The question I'm having today is, if they can't bring that money to fruition, what are you going to do?"
School Committee member Dan Gleason explained the process that might follow, according to state law, but said he can't speak for what Shirley may do.
"I don't think it's appropriate to discuss what Shirley may or may not do. They have their own entity, they have their own Town Meeting," he said.
The assessment for the Nashoba Valley Technical High School was approved at $583,059, a decrease from last year.
Voters also approved $1 million to replace the East Main Street water mains and $750,000 to replace the sewer mains.
Approved capital-budget requests include $150,000 for other water-main replacements and $35,000 for a cardiac monitor for the Fire Department.
Voters agreed to transfer $475,000 in free cash for a heavy-rescue truck for the Fire Department. Voters also passed $31,000 to replace the police chief's car and $168,000 for Town Hall window replacements.
Alcoholic beverage sale hours can now be held between 10 a.m. and noon on Sundays with authorization.
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