AYER — Three back-to-back special Town Meetings took place Monday night at Ayer-Shirley High School. It was a marathon evening that wound to 11 p.m.
The first two meetings were sparked by citizens’ petitions circulated by Selectman Frank Maxant. In the first warrant, Maxant asked voters to petition the legislature for Ayer to retake governmental control over its former Fort Devens lands. That measure failed.
Maxant then asked Ayer voters to jointly petition the legislature, in concert with Shirley and Harvard at a future point in time, for the towns to all retake governmental control according to historical town bounds. That notion was tabled.
Maxant said the issue was municipal jurisdiction, not of ownership of the Devens lands. Maxant estimated $2.3 million in annual revenue from Devens when Devens properties were taxed at Ayer’s rates.
Devens resident and business owner Armen Demerjian said Devens residents want to remain together instead of being carved up into “little communities — especially our children who are going to the Harvard schools.”
Demerjian challenged Maxant’s revenue projections and warned that Maxant hadn’t calculated the cost of educating Devens children. “I checked, and, Frank, you are over 50 percent off,” said Demerjian. “So my estimate is that Ayer is going to be getting a burden, not a windfall.”
Maxant said Ayer would benefit from tax revenues on the 770,000 square feet of available Devens space. “That is an opportunity that doesn’t happen in Ayer. For whatever reason, when there’s available space (in Ayer), they fill.”
“We’ll have jobs, which was the promise of the redevelopment of Fort Devens in the first place,” said Maxant.
Finance Committee Chair Scott Houde said his committee surmised the “the really big unknown” was education costs. The Finance Committee opted against making a recommendation on Maxant’s two warrants.
Laurie Nehring suggested Maxant’s presentation was infused with a “strong bias.” Nehring also said there was no detail provided on the different Devens properties that fall within Ayer’s historical bounds.
Former 12-year selectman Cornelius Sullivan knocked Maxant’s revenue projections, stating the town’s commercial/industrial/personal tax rate is “way out of whack” compared to surrounding towns. Sullivan said Maxant’s math “certainly doesn’t add up.”