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TOWNSEND — The Board of Selectmen hit the ground running with the start of the new year.

The budget for fiscal year 2009 was the main topic of conversation, but the selectmen began their brief meeting last week by discussing the merits of joining a statewide coalition seeking to modify Chapter 40B, better known as the affordable housing law.

According to its Web site, the Municipal Coalition for Affordable Housing (or MCAH) is a nonprofit organization comprised of elected and appointed officials in cities and towns across the commonwealth. Its purpose is to develop improved methods for the production of affordable housing and to return responsibility for that production to the individual communities.

Town administrator Gregory Barnes recited a number of municipalities that have joined the MCAH, including those as close as Athol and Groton, and as far as Salisbury and Rehoboth. In all, 28 communities have joined the coalition with individual memberships by officials in several other towns and cities.

“It’s a reasonable attempt to modify 40B,” Selectmen Robert Plamondon said, voicing his support for the group during the board’s Tuesday, Jan. 8 meeting. “Affordable housing is a commendable goal, but (40B) runs roughshod over zoning bylaws.”

Chairman David Chenelle agreed, citing the coalition’s goal of making the law less contractor-friendly and more town-friendly. He also pointed out that joining MCAH came at no cost to the town.

With no membership cost involved, selectmen voted unanimously to join the coalition.

The money issue is an important one for the town and talk quickly turned to the budget for FY09. Barnes said the budget process would be similar to previous years, with one major difference.

“We’re trying to incorporate programs to help review the budget better,” he explained. Previous review methods did more individual and year-to-year comparisons, he said, but the town is seeking a more complete and thorough process.

The administrator said each department has been asked to write a “mission statement” with a list of four or more goals it would like to accomplish. The departments will be level-funded, he noted, but they have also been asked to draw up a “wish list.”

To hear Barnes tell it, though, the chance of any increase in the budget is very slim. On the plus side, he told selectmen he did not see any negative change in the budget, either.

“Revenue is growing in single digits,” Barnes said. “Anything more than a single-digit request is unsustainable without cutbacks.”

The town draws its revenue from three different pools — property taxes, state aid and local receipts.

Of the latter, Barnes said, there were clear downward trends, especially in excise taxes. By his calculations, local receipts are down over $100,000 from last year. Barnes suggested the drop-off is because people aren’t buying new cars any more.

The timeliness of the tax payments is important as well, Barnes added. Though he estimated 99 percent of tax bills are paid on time, a 1 percent or 2 percent decline in timely collections could have a negative impact on the town.

“I expect another difficult year,” Barnes said, but admitted that he couldn’t tell for sure without having all the information.

The selectmen finished their brief meeting by appointing several members of the Ashby Police Department as special police officers for Townsend, including the chief, five officers, two reserve officers and six police matrons.

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