HARVARD — With the current draft of the Annual Town Meeting warrant in hand, the selectmen discussed new articles added since they viewed the roster at their last meeting.
One add-on would establish a policy for Stabilization Fund transfers from free cash. Fronted by the Capital Committee, the language of the article follows up on a bylaw change made last year, Town Administrator Tim Bragan said.
Basically, it states that if the Stabilization Fund falls below its 5 percent watermark and there’s certified free cash available that is not spent or earmarked, the first $250,000 will be moved from free cash to Stabilization. Bragan explained that the setup is a way to further long-range planning and a means to ensure there’s a balance in the capital fund.
Selectman Lucy Wallace seemed leery and asked if the finance committee would draft the policy.
Bragan said it won’t be cast in stone, and would still be subject to a Town Meeting vote.
Chairman Ron Ricci said he favors the policy idea as a “logical” progression. It wouldn’t preclude other uses, but would prioritize the transfer of free cash to Stabilization, by default.
Selectman Tim Clark said he understands the mechanics of the proposed policy, but was questioned the need for a warrant article. “I appreciate having a process in place, but why do we need to bring this to Town Meeting?”
“Bylaws are just codified policy. That’s all this is,” said Bragan.
Ricci suggested tabling the discussion until Saturday’s Tri-board meeting. If there are concerns, the finance and capital committees can address them then, he said. The board agreed.
Selectmen moved quickly on an article asking for “$6,753 for lighting upgrades at Town Hall, Bromfield House and the old library, replacing old lights with energy-efficient fixtures.” Sponsored by the Energy Advisory Committee, the selectmen agreed to place it on the warrant and that the revenue source should be via a “small warrant article.”
Another new article — proposed by Economic Development Analysis Team — calls for creating an Economic Development Committee, and that generated discussion.
Wallace said the town recently created an analysis team to focus on Devens development. Meanwhile, the original group has not finalized its report yet.
“This could be premature” she said of the proposed article. She said she’s fearful people don’t want a large grocery store, but with a specific area for economic development established, that might be what the town gets.
She suggested that analysis team stay on task for another year and keep its focus on Ayer Road, while the new Devens team looks at economic opportunities at the former base.
Selectman Marie Sobalvarro said the board recognized the large task the analysis team was charged with and the progress they have made to date. But without seeing their report and any costs to development she could not support the article.
Clark said he favors the idea of an economic development committee, but said the goals outlined in this article may not be comprehensive enough. “We may not be ready” to form this committee yet, he said.
Selectman Peter Warren favored the article, but focused on language. He would strike the words “commercial district,” from the piece that sets up a charge for the new committee.
At that point, Ricci invited analysis team’s chairman, and selectman candidate, Bill Johnson to the table for a question and answer session
“The article is to give townspeople feedback” on the group’s work, Johnson said. “We liked the selectmen’s vision to target four parcels, three businesses and specific infrastructure improvements,” he said. But the charge the group started with was broad. To move forward, he said, his team needs to test the waters on Town Meeting floor.
Citing responses to the analysis team’s town-wide survey, Johnson said 68 percent of respondents approve of going ahead with commercial-development studies, while 18 percent did not. Among those who said no, the most major concerns were the environmental impact on their neighborhoods and property values. He said an insignificant number of people stated they want to see what happens with Devens before mapping an economic strategy for Harvard.
Asked if they were for or against further commercial development, 52 percent said yes and 27 percent said no. Written comments suggested a strong desire for a small grocery store, pharmacy and some retail, and an assisted-living facility as a low-impact revenue-raising project. There were no strong stands on office buildings.
Wallace said that’s because of all the visible vacant office space on Ayer Road now. But she did not find the survey as helpful as analysis team did, particularly because it gave the Devens direction short shrift.
Wallace said there were limited choices on the survey and no comparative questions linked to Devens redevelopment.
Ricci said he didn’t get what all the hoopla was about, and this way is better than “endless charettes” for the next year or so. “It’s not committing to a direction, but asks the town to weigh in,” he said. The selectmen would still have the final say.
Clark, however, said the article doesn’t state that. Non-binding or not, it gives the selectmen marching orders, he said.
In the end, the board agreed to let the article go on the warrant, but without its blessing. The Economic Development Analysis Team’s name will be attached to it.