TOWNSEND -- During the pre-Town Meeting on Oct. 30, the Board of Selectmen and Town Administrator Andy Sheehan announced the official override number for the upcoming Proposition 2 1/2 override election: $199,000.
The board took the opportunity to explain and discuss the details of the override election scheduled for Nov. 13 and the corresponding warrant articles for the Special Town Meeting scheduled for Nov. 14.
Depending on the outcome of the election, the town will vote on one of two articles pertaining to the town's budget deficit left by the failed Aug. 28 override for the school district. If the override passes, the town will vote on article 15 to appropriate the funds from the tax increase resulting from the override.
According to a presentation by Sheehan, the average value of a home in Townsend is $235,000. If the override passes, the average home owner could expect to see an increase in their annual tax rate of $56.40. The increase would correspond accordingly to the value of a home.
If the override fails, the town will vote on article 16 to balance the $466,078 through budget cuts to the town departments. The cuts would result in, among other things, hour reductions for employees and the closing of Town Hall, the library and the senior center for one of their current days of operation. Several employees disagreed with the division of the budget cuts, saying it was inequitable amongst the departments. Sheehan said the town needed to prioritize the cuts.
"In order to responsibly close the deficit, it has to be targeted. We can't just say (to take) 5 percent off everybody or 10 percent off everybody. It needs to be priority based. It needs to be strategically articulated in order to maintain the operations of the organization but also to reduce the deficit we're facing," he said.
The town also heard from the Water Department during the meeting. The department is hoping to establish an independent water district through an affirmative vote on Article 2 at Town Meeting. The purpose of the district, said Water Commissioner Chairman Niles Busler, was for the department to focus on their single purpose: providing a safe supply of drinking water to the town. As a department, he said, the purpose could be delayed by the capital planning timeline or by going through the Board of Selectmen to get approval for various purposes.
"(As a district,) those kinds of things wouldn't necessarily hold us up in getting the job done," Busler said. As a district, they would answer to registered voters within the district.
The district would be in a set geographical boundary, and the Water Department is working on a physical map that would show the boundary. The district would have the ability to tax households within its perimeter, including non-water carriers. Residents expressed concern over this detail. But Superintendent Paul Rafuse said the district would have no intention of imposing taxes on residents.
"We're not aware of any districts that have that as standard practice ... to have that provision available, we can get a better bond rating when we go out to bond," he said.
Attorney Mary Bassett, special counsel for the Water Department, said it would be difficult for a district to impose a tax even if it was their plan. First, the district would have to call a special meeting, get a super-majority vote of 70 percent to tax the residents and then hold a special election for the matter.
"I, too, hate to hear the word 'tax,' but I really think (voters) need to be more realistic and somewhat trusting of these elected commissioners," she said.
Selectman Sue Lisio was skeptical, saying that the current system had done the town well for decades.
"I have an angst about the whole thing. If it ain't broke, why fix it? That's where I'm coming from. You havent convinced me that it's broken," she said.
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