The Ayer Board of Selectmen violated MGL Ch. 40, sec. 59 when it presented warrant article 5 to Town Meeting on Oct. 27. The statute reads in pertinent part as follows: “Notwithstanding any general or special law to the contrary, any city or town by vote of its town meeting … may adopt and prosecute a tax increment financing hereinafter referred to as TIF plan … provided, however, that the TIF plan: (iii) authorizes tax increment exemptions from property taxes … for a term not to exceed twenty years, for any parcel of real property which is located in the TIF zone and for which an agreement has been executed with the owner thereof in accordance with the provisions of paragraph (v); ” Paragraph (v) requires, among other criteria, that there be an executed agreement between the town and the parcel owner.

No such agreement was in place on Oct. 27, 2008, and none exists yet today (Nov. 4, 2008). Massachusetts courts have held that when the legislature enacts a statute that statute must be followed to the letter unless doing so would “lead to an absurd result or contravene the clear intent of the legislature.” Commonwealth v. Rahim, 441 Mass. 273, 278, 805 N.E.2d 13 (2004).

Absent a clear indication to the contrary, statutory language is to be given its “ordinary lexical meaning.” Surrey v. Lumberman’s Mutual Casualty Company, 384 Mass. 171, 424 N.E. 2d 234 (1981).

There is no provision within the so-called TIF statute that, when followed, would create an “absurd result.” In fact, the town of Ayer has followed the “letter of the statute” until now.

All previous TIFs were negotiated with the applicant in open meetings prior to being presented to Town Meeting for approval. These meetings have included input from the Assessors, the Planning and Development director and the Finance Committee.

At last week’s Town Meeting, Mr. Sullivan intimated that time constraints necessitated putting the article on the warrant without an agreement in place to save the cost of a Special Town Meeting.

The selectmen met at least twice after the application was submitted and prior to Town Meeting. A TIF agreement could have been negotiated with the applicant at either of these meetings.

Under the guise of saving the town money, the board instead decided to violate the General Laws and knowingly put an unlawful article before Town Meeting.

In the long run, circumventing the statute may well have abrogated efforts to save the town money.