AYER — Amid a reorganization of its officers, the Board of Selectmen covered a number of topics at its meeting of May 7, including a run down on activity by legislators Jamie Eldridge and Jennifer Benson.
Eldridge opened his briefing with news that despite the local economy making a comeback, difficulties with the state’s budget remain.
The state senator went on to say that as a result, budgetary issues would dominate legislators’ minds for the next several months, but that he personally would concentrate on retaining his constituents’ share of the largesse, including “protecting local aid to cities and towns.”
More specifically, Eldridge listed school transportation funding, educational spending and lottery aid as worthy of his protection.
Eldridge also promised to work to preserve “safety net” funding, including money for the homeless, low-income families, at-risk children, people with disabilities and the elderly.
The senator went on to promise to work for a “fair, adequate and stable tax system that will raise sufficient revenue to support our state’s goals and priorities.”
Other areas for which he sought funding included infrastructure, public transportation, water, libraries, schools and higher education.
Benson told selectmen that she felt a special connection to the community based on her past experience in educational concerns. She too enthused about how state spending for local aid had returned to “2008 levels” and that both the House and the Senate were dedicated to getting money out to towns and cities.
Benson took pride in a state budget that was “more streamlined” and transparent, and that she intended to “try to focus the money where it makes sense.”
Following the briefing, the board went on to reorganize themselves, voting to have Pauline Conley take over as chairwoman and Gary Luca as vice chairman.
After that, members turned to the issue of reuse of the Old Center Fire Station.
Member James Fay said the board’s support was needed for a warrant article intended for fall Town Meeting that if approved, would authorize selectmen to issue an request for proposal seeking any town department or nonprofit organization interested in leasing the building from Ayer for community and/or municipal use.
Fay said that needed renovations at the building have been estimated at $3.25 million, a sum that could rise as lease or sale of the building was delayed.
Although Fay advocated for the warrant article, it was his belief that unless the town sold the building outright, it would be unlikely that anyone would be interested in simply leasing it.
No one would be willing to spend $3.25 million to renovate a building they don’t own, he said.
Unfortunately, continued Fay, the town did not as yet have permission from voters to sell the building, making the search for a lease agreement the only alternative.
Should no one bite, a move to gain permission to sell could then be made.
Choosing to take more time to consider the request, selectmen chose to wait until their next meeting before voting on the matter.
Also at their meeting of May 7, selectmen were asked by town administrator Robert Pontbriand to consider setting goals for themselves covering the next year.
Calling the setting of goals “imperative,” Pontbriand said they were necessary in providing him with the direction he needed to do his job.
A number of suggestions followed, including property enforcement, re-use of the Old Center Fire Station, parking issues, possible privatization of some public services and personnel reduction, and the extension of municipal services to Devens.
After suggesting that the board must first devise a vision statement for itself, Fay offered more goals, including a review of the town’s public safety organizations and taking a position on Devens.
But whatever goals are set, cautioned Fay, should be achievable, measurable and timely.
Seeing as there was no shortage of potential goals, Conley suggested that members each compile their own list of the top five they felt should be addressed and a master list drawn up from which a final top five would be chosen at the next meeting.
Also at the board’s meeting of May 7, selectmen:
* Decided to consider the issue of placing transponders in town vehicles.
* Decided to consider placing a year’s moratorium on the sale of marijuana for medical purposes in town. The question came to the fore with news that an unnamed business in town had expressed interest in selling the product since such sales were approved by voters in November’s election. The request forced selectmen to think about where in town to allow such sales as well as the zoning implications. A moratorium would give the town time to study the matter and make changes to zoning regarding where and how such sales could be made. In the meantime, selectmen expected to meet with representatives of the business at their meeting of May 21 and find out what its plans are for the sale of marijuana.