SHIRLEY -- Only 59 voters signed in at the Special Town Meeting Monday night and only about 54 remained when the meeting wrapped at about 10 p.m. But it was an attentive crowd and the 18-article warrant sparked more than a few questions, comments and objections.
Town Moderator Karen Luddington kept the process on track and by the book, ruling out rhetoric that strayed from the motions on the floor, most of which passed. Voters rejected one and tabled two others.
One that did not pass was an article asking for $10,000 to re-fund a depleted Board of Health revolving fund used to maintain the capped former town landfill. Health board Chairman Jay Howlett said it was needed for ongoing upkeep that includes mowing a hill created by the solar facility a firm called Altus operates on the town-owned site. Prior to the reuse, a local farmer did the job for $500, Howlett said, but reconfigured topography makes that impossible and the work will cost about $2,000 a year now. The
Finance Committee recommended against the request, arguing that site maintenance expenses, while necessary to ensure the landfill stays safe, should be part of the BOH budget. The motion was voted down.
Two articles were tabled: A pair of marijuana questions were "indefinitely postponed" to give the Planning Board time to collect public input, hold hearings and make recommendation on where, if anywhere, marijuana retailers can set up shop. Those articles -- 13 and 15 -- asked if the town would declare a one-year moratorium on medical marijuana dispensaries and recreational marijuana establishments, both of which are now legal in Massachusetts.
The bulk of the warrant was all about money and voters approved a series of motions aimed at supplemental spending, mostly via transfers from Free Cash to various accounts. Also, $107,000 was transferred to the General Stabilization Fund, the balance of which now stands at $680,359. Another another $50,000 was salted away in the Capital Stabilization Fund.
FinCom member Mike Swanton explained that the money voters agreed to bank in the two "rainy day" nest eggs would be more secure and available for projects and purchases in the future, less likely to be spent without due deliberation than it would be if left as free cash and rolled into the town's general fund for operating expenses.
Transfers proposed in Article 3 covered added departmental expenses and pay increases due to union contracts, while the line-up in Article 5 embedded a $117,005.18 transfer fraught with ghosts from a Police Department dust-up earlier this year. The amount covered an uptick in the Police Salaries line item and included $65,250.00 to be paid to former Police Chief Thomas Goulden, whose tenure was cut short by mutual agreement but amid administrative turmoil that ultimately led to a re-framed Board of Selectmen after a recall election in January. The total also included a $15,000 legal settlement to Lt. Alfreda Cromwell, whose demotion and later firing by the former chief became a hot button issue. After the recall, the selectmen reinstated Cromwell and promoted her.
Despite divisive issues those two transfers might have raised, none of the fallout some had anticipated surfaced Monday night. There was, however, protracted back and forth over numbers that a couple of residents insisted did not add up. Town Administrator Patrice Garvin explained the minor calculation errors and the article passed without further ado.
The meeting agreed without discussion to transfer $10,000 from Free Cash to the Conservation Land Acquisition Fund, $10,000 to OPEB Liability Trust Fund to meet the town's future retirement obligations and lesser amounts to pay bills left over from the last fiscal year and for other expenses, including $2,000 to continue with TAB, a non-profit, mental health referral service aimed at suicide prevention that is mostly used by the school district but also open to all town residents.
After some discussion, the meeting also okayed a $10,000 transfer to fix the floor at Schoolhouse #8, a historic, town-owned property at the dead-end of Church Street. Standing on its small lot next door to the War Memorial Building, Schoolhouse #8 has become dilapidated and is now closed to the public, with rehab being done, slowly but surely, by the Historical Society, which asked for the repair money. Pressed to account for the expense by a resident who said the old building with its blacktop parking lot, obtrusive electric meter, steel door and boarded-up windows looked more like a "sore thumb" than an historic asset,
Society members Meredith Marcinkewicz and Paul Przybyla spoke up in its favor.
A leaky roof that has since been replaced caused extensive floor damage that makes the building unsafe, so repair work must start there, Przybyla explained and it might not cost $10,000 in the end. Once the floor is fixed, they can go in to tackle other items on the to-do list, he said, such as windows.
Marcincewicz said the building is outfitted with period furniture and classroom items that would have been used during its past life as a one-room school. In recent years, visiting the old schoolhouse was an educational field trip for elementary school children, a tradition she hopes to resume after it's fixed.