TOWNSEND — Tuesday night’s Special Town Meeting was delayed 75 minutes due to the inability to meet the 100-voter quorum requirement.
“This is the second time in recent memory that we’ve had to delay the start time due to a lack of quorum,” Selectman Robert Plamondon said.
Ironically, one of the items up for debate Tuesday was a measure to lower the quorum requirement to only 50 voters. The change would require an amendment to the town bylaws.
Town officials took to the telephones, calling voters not present and asking them to come to Memorial Hall for the meeting. Appeals were also sent out over emergency services radios and cable TV. By 8:15, the quorum was met.
“The fact of the matter is, we cannot do town business without a town meeting,” Plamondon said.
While he supported the quorum reduction to 50, the Finance Committee did not.
For those voters present, allowing 50 people to decide town business was too few. So they split the difference, setting the quorum at 75 by a vote of 71 to 37.
Also defeated was adoption of the Community Preservation Act, which allows a town to add a surcharge of up to 3 percent on property taxes, to be used for affordable housing, open space and recreation and historic preservation projects.
A 3 percent surcharge was requested, with that sum to be matched by the state. But voters said no to increasing property taxes.
Voters favored expanding the industrial district on Turnpike Road to include the former Nielson and Bainbridge site at 365 Main Street. The building housed a manufacturing company for some 80 years and is currently surrounded by other industrial companies. When the building was abandoned, however, its zoning reverted back to its original residential use.
With the approval on Tuesday to again zone the property for industrial use, new life can be brought back to the building.
“It could eventually hold one, if not more, small businesses,” Selectman David Funaiole said last month.
Voters considered transferring $100,000 from “free cash” to supplement the stabilization fund.
Supporting the move, Selectmen Chairman David Chenelle said the money would then be available in the event of an emergency. There is $555,000 available in free cash at present, he said, partly due to an overestimation of money allotted for the 2008 budget.
Finance Committee Chairman Andrea Wood opposed the move, saying it can be done at the 2009 annual town meeting. There is no need to move it now, she said.
Voters agreed. The vote of 61 for to 41 against did not meet the necessary two-thirds vote to pass the motion.
Voters also agreed to support $43,000 for a cost-of-living increase for nonunion town employees.
The Historic District Commission asked to allow selectmen to appoint two alternates to that committee, for three-year terms. Town administrator Greg Barnes pointed out there was no bylaw provision to allow alternates.
The article passed unanimously.
The Water Department received the go-ahead for $73,600 to pay for an increase in the cost of treatment chemicals in 2009 and intermunicipal expenses for 2008.
With passage of two articles, Animal Control expenses for fiscal year 2008 were paid and a new position was created and funded.
A sum of $9,000 was transferred from the Animal Control expense account to the Animal Control salary account, to pay for an Animal Control Officer (ACO) as a part-time town employee rather than a contract employee.
The ACO was originally paid $80,000 by Townsend and Pepperell to cover animal control services. But following the retirement of the towns’ long-time ACO, Townsend has found a better deal.
“Before it was $40,000; now it is $20,000. It’s a win-win,” said Chenelle.
By the vote of Town Meeting, contract employees will have to pay $3,000 toward their own insurance, an expense that could become part of their salary negotiations.
In another personnel matter, voters further defined the protocol for payment to town employees who are transferred or promoted to other positions.
Employees promoted or transferred to a higher paying position enter at the lowest rate and may receive a one-step pay raise immediately on the approval of the department head and selectmen.
Employees who are transferred to a lower-paying position are entitled to the salary of their previous job for the first year in the new position.
“It has more weight than the existing bylaws,” Chenelle said. “We are just trying to make it a level playing field.”