AYER -- The Finance Committee is stepping up to suggest minimal funds for the Planning Board and Zoning Board of Appeals after their budget was completely cut at spring Town Meeting.
The lack of a budget has presented myriad problems that led to the resignation of Planning Chairman Morris Babcock. Babcock had stressed the need for funding, arguing the committee could not even legally print on a piece of paper to create an agenda without violating tax laws.
The cuts came after residents at Town Meeting voiced concerns with the performance of the boards, beginning when former Selectman Carolyn McCreary said the boards were not running efficiently.
The funding eliminated the salary of Susan Sullivan, the administrator for both boards, who has a harassment-prevention order against Planning Board member Jeremy Callahan.
The Planning Board came before selectmen, who have argued that Town Meeting has spoken.
In the meantime, the selectmen's office has taken up administrative duties for the board, while an agreement is reached between all parties, including the union to which Sullivan belonged.
Finance Committee Chair Scott Houde suggested going to selectmen to request a warrant article calling for a minimal budget that would be presented at Town Meeting in October. The minimal budget for both boards, which he estimated at about $1,500 each, would not include the administrative position.
But he said the boards would have the funds to use supplies and services that would get them through the rest of the fiscal year. This way, he said, it gives the boards the ability to actually do some work.
"I know that there's workaround going on right now within Town Hall, but I think that no action has been taken," he said. "We did lose the chairman of the Planning Board because there's no budget."
FinCom member John Kilcommins said he agreed with the idea of approaching selectmen.
"I have my own feelings on the issue, and here isn't the place for it, but what I keep going back to in my own mind is, Town Meeting said 'No' -- done," he said.
Who are we, Kilcommins asked, to say the group is going to bring the matter back in?
Houde said he did not think people at Town Meeting understood the total impact of eliminating the entire budget.
"Even at the point of Town Meeting, I knew there would be some issues zeroing out the budget, but I didn't understand the absolute ramification," he said.
Houde said he agreed with Kilcommins about the fact that Town Meeting spoke, which is why the group could just suggest a minimal amount. Further discussions about funded positions could be for the next budget cycle, he said.
Another problem arises with state law, which allows plans for certain developments to automatically receive approval if local planning boards do not act on them within 90 days. Plans normally would be filed and processed with the administrator.
"My fear (is) if there's nobody watchdogging it at all, any developer comes in here and does what they want," said committee member Chris Meusel.
Member Pauline Conley also argued there is a need for funding in the budget.
Houde said he would send a note to the Board of Selectmen's chairman about the matter.
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