SHIRLEY -- When the fall Special Town Meeting convenes on Monday with three articles on the warrant, voters will be asked to consider the most costly -- and perhaps the most controversial -- item first.

Article 1 seeks a Proposition 2 1/2 debt exclusion to cover the town's portion of a $7.1 million high school athletic fields project that has been on the drawing board for 18 months and duly laid out in both member towns. It is backed by a majority of district voters who cast ballots in favor at a recent election.

Ayer voters on Saturday favored a referendum to allow the district to incur debt, by 425 to 238. Shirley voters opposed the idea, 350 to 394. That left the combined vote as 775 in favor, 632 against. Votes were totaled because the plan is a request of the Ayer Shirley Regional School District.

Turnout was 9 percent in Ayer, 17 percent in Shirley.

Although the election outcome authorized the school district to incur debt for the project, which proposes to update and significantly improve the circa 1964 athletic complex, the School Committee pledged not to do so unless both towns pass 15-year debt exclusions to cover it.

The article -- which presumably will be mirrored in both member towns -- summarizes the project's to-do list: new 8-lane running track, new artificial turf field, new plaza/concession stand with bathrooms, new bleachers and lights, upgraded soccer fields with one added, new softball field and fence.


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The project has faced more opposition in Shirley. Those opponents say the plan is too expensive, and that the argument that there will be fewer injuries is based on "anecdotal evidence."

Per the 60/40 split in the Regional Agreement, Shirley's share is $2,840,000, or 40 percent of the cost. Ayer pays the rest.

Voters in that town will be asked the same question at their Oct. 22 Special Town Meeting.

A two-thirds vote is required for this article to pass.

Future hurdles are separate Proposition 2 1/2 debt exclusion referenda in each town. Those referenda were scheduled for Saturday, but were canceled when it was discovered Shirley violated the state election timeline.

* Article 2 seeks to fill the position of director of public works, which has been vacant for some time. Already penciled in on the town's wage and salary grid, the position pays from $84,367 to $96,437, aligning with the salaries of other DPW directors in the area.

The article sketches the job description, which includes managing and working with the small crew, (now 3) responsibility for operation and maintenance of dept. vehicles, budget and other related duties.

* Article 3 seeks acceptance of a new state law that allows veterans benefits to be paid out sooner to new residents who receive them. Currently, a veteran who did not live in Massachusetts for at least six months before enlisting in the service must wait five years after moving to the state before becoming eligible to receive benefits. Under provisions of the new law, that waiting period is only one year.

Town Meeting is scheduled to wrap up by 10 p.m., If business has not been concluded by then, the meeting will be continued to Tuesday night.