PEPPERELL -- Selectmen are starting from the beginning on an initiative to pass a Proposition 2 1/2 override, after an initial $1.1 million override failed by six votes last Monday.
Rather than calling a revote on the override as allowed under Massachusetts General Law, selectmen opted to schedule a Special Town Meeting to approve a ballot question for what will likely be a reduced amount. If it passes there, it will be voted on by residents in a ballot vote Sept. 9.
The amount of that override would be determined by selectmen and the Finance Committee in the coming weeks.
Although no vote was taken to set the Special Town Meeting and election dates, selectmen tentatively plan to holding the Special Town Meeting Sept. 2 and the election Sept. 9, in conjunction with the state primary election. The override would be voted on on a separate ballot.
Selectmen will vote on dates for the Special Town Meeting and election at their next meeting on July 1.
Selectman Michael Green suggested calling another Special Town Meeting as a "middle ground" between calling for a revote and accepting the override's failure. A revote was being considered because of the low voter turnout, about 12.5 percent, and the narrow margin.
"I don't believe in calling a revote and I think the vote needs to stand, but I do believe this town needs a vote that is more reflective of the whole town," Green said.
Green and Selectman Stephen Themelis said while they did not believe in calling a revote, doing nothing would be the wrong decision for the town.
"I can't sit on my hands as a selectmen for the next year knowing we don't have the assets to do what we need to do," Themelis said.
The decision followed an hour-and-a-half long discussion in which nearly 100 residents gathered to voice sharp opinions on whether to have a revote.
Several voters agreed with an opinion voiced by Selectman Michelle Gallagher early in the meeting, that calling a revote circumvented the democratic process and eroded trust between officials and residents.
"You're disrespecting the whole election process if you just throw out the vote because the minority didn't like it. The majority voted against the override and you must live with the decision, otherwise you're a Third World dictatorship," said resident Christine Budd.
Resident Bill Butler said he did not know how he could tell his children and grandchildren that they live in a democracy if a revote was called.
"It's setting a precedent that my grandkids and my children have already told us there's no sense in us even going to vote," said resident Bill Butler.
Former Selectmen Joe Sergi said because the revotes were allowed under state law, calling a revote would not bypass the democratic process. He said not addressing the town's structural deficit would be irresponsible.
"The commonwealth is allowing you to do multiple votes for this very reason, because we are in dire needs. The capital needs of this town have not been addressed," Sergi said.
Some residents said the cuts resulting from the failed override would mean a town that was less safe, or property values that would drop from the town not funding basic services.
Others said confusion and a lack of communication about the vote was reason enough to call for a revote.
Virginia Boundy, who worked as an election worker during the override election June 16, said many residents were confused about what the vote was for. She said several people told her they thought they had voted on a resolution against a proposed natural-gas pipeline, which the town will address at a Special Town Meeting on June 30.
"People did not know and they did not understand and I heard that over and over and over again both from the people who came and the next day," Boundy said.
The override had been proposed as a way of addressing the town's structural deficit and starting to fund a capital plan to address the town's building and equipment needs.
Failure of the override means cuts of about 5 percent to the town's department budgets. Those cuts include the elimination of two police-officer positions, currently unfilled, and reduced hours at the library and Senior Center.
Finance Committee Chairwoman Melissa Tzanoudakis said a reduced version of the override would not be enough to meet the town's needs.
"We need everything we asked for, so if we come to you for something less, it would be with the caveat that it isn't what we need and we'd be coming back to you next year," Tzanoudakis said.
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