SHIRLEY — Annual Town Meeting (ATM) voters agreed to up the $6.7 million-plus school budget the Finance Committee recommended by over $200,000 dollars, with the added amount contingent on a Proposition Two-and-a-half tax override.
In the ATM’s third session on June 19, the required two-thirds majority of the 334 voters present passed a motion to increase the school budget to $6,947,776, the department’s requested figure.
That’s $221,545 more than the Finance Committee’s recommended figure of $6,726,231. But it’s significantly less than the first bid for an increase made on town meeting floor, which would have boosted the cash-strapped school budget by nearly a million dollars.
In a well-scripted move vetted with the moderator ahead of time, the school department line item was aired earlier than the warrant called for, setting the stage for a follow-up motion to increase the bottom line.
When the town operating budget article came up, voters agreed to advance the school department line item to the top of the list. Originally, it was placed about a third of the way down, with several other departments before it.
Resident Richard Dill made a motion to move the line item up.
Asked why, Dill said it’s the single largest item in the budget — with the greatest impact, and that the meeting was “slowing shedding” voters as it progressed.
But when resident Cliff Bailey made a motion to up the school budget by nearly a million dollars, one resident raised strong objections to the earlier line item move, which he said was pre-planned and, in effect, stacked the vote.
“It’s outrageous. I question the integrity and honesty of moving this item up,” he said.
Town Moderator George Knittel acknowledged he’d been consulted about the procedural moves and advised proponents on proper protocol. He said he’d do the same for any town resident. “It’s legal,” he said. “It’s called the democratic process.”
Before calling for a vote, Knittel called in a third amendment he knew was in the wings.
Resident Keith Begun made a motion that downsized the million dollars to the requested figure on the warrant and proposed a tax override to close the gap between that amount and the FinCom’s recommended figure.
After some stage-to-floor debate, legal consultation and with various points of order straightened out, Bailey agreed to tie his request to an override.
The first amendment — Bailey’s — for the higher amount was voted on first. It failed.
Begun’s amendment for the lower figure passed.
Knittel said a special election must now be set to ask voters town-wide if they will agree to raise their taxes to fund the school budget.
Knittel asked for a “sense of the meeting” on holding the special election over the summer or after Labor Day. The majority favored the sooner, rather than later, option.
If the override fails, the original, recommended figure will stand, said Finance Committee member Michael Smith.
Asked if the selectmen would agree to put an override on the ballot, Enrico Cappucci said yes. “The board will vote at the next meeting to put it on the ballot,” he said.