AYER — There are just two articles on the warrant for Monday’s Special Town Meeting, and the first, asking voters to approve the regional school assessment, was on the selectmen’s agenda Tuesday night.
Pat Kelly of the Ayer-Shirley Regional School Committee introduced the subject with some recent history: In March, according to state regulation, the regional school committee certified the assessment numbers for the two towns, in preparation for the May 13 town meetings; an unexpected delay at the Statehouse, however, meant that state aid was uncertain and school officials urged voters in both towns to reject the warrant articles.
The article had asked Ayer voters to spend roughly $ 8.8 million, the town’s school assessment.
“We needed the time to assemble additional information,” Kelly told the Ayer selectmen. “We needed information from the House and Senate to fine-tune the numbers, for amending a final number at town meeting.”
Under state law, the towns had 30 days from the day of the town meeting to call a special town meeting. That meeting is being held on Monday, June 24, at 7 p.m. at the Ayer Shirley Regional High School auditorium.
In addition to the school assessment article, voters will decide a question asking them to approve a temporary moratorium on medical marijuana dispensaries in town. Although some state officials have encouraged the use of the term “dispensary” to describe the category of business that won overwhelming support by Massachusetts voters in November, the town warrant uses the language “marijuana treatment centers.”
If voters reject the moratorium and the applicant gets the necessary approvals, the town could become the first, or among the first, such businesses in Massachusetts. Regulations governing operation were released by the state in mid-May.
Medical marijuana businesses do not provide treatment. Under strict state regulations, operators may sell medical marijuana to patients who have doctor approval and meet other standards. In Ayer, the proposed dispensary would allow only one client at a time to enter the building.
The issue at the heart of the school assessment question is local control.
“The numbers we gave to the Board of Selectmen are based on figures used in the Senate for local contributions,” Superintendent of Schools Carl Mock said. “They differ from the numbers the school had.”
In May, the town asked voters to approve spending roughly $8.8 million, its assessment for Fiscal 2014 for the Ayer-Shirley Regional School District. But without a dollar amount from the Massachusetts House and Senate in advance of town meeting, school officials urged the community to reject the warrant article.
The amended assessment, to go before voters on Monday night, asks for an estimated assessment of $9,165,647 from Ayer and $5,355,472 from Shirley. Together those figures represent a total estimated operating budget of $14,325,723. With the addition of capital expenses, the total budget is estimated at $14,521,119.
The proposed budget changes represent an increase in the Ayer assessment of roughly $150,000 and a decrease in the Shirley assessment of $150,000.
Ayer contributes 68 percent of the assessment while Shirley picks up the remaining 32 percent. These numbers are based on each town’s population, the number of students it sends to school, and other factors established by law.
The Ayer-Shirley Regional school board was scheduled to meet on Wednesday, June 19, to finalize and certify the Fiscal 2014 budget assessments for the school district. At Monday’s meeting, the School Committee will amend the dollar amount printed on the warrant, and voters will have the opportunity to discuss the change before voting on it.
Under state law, voters may decrease a budget article at town meeting, but they are not allowed to increase it. In this case, because the School Committee has the authority to certify the budget, the upward change is allowed. The correct number was not available before the warrant was posted, 14 days before town meeting, according to state law.
By making a decision on the assessments, voters keep local control of the school budget. If they reject the budget, state law allows for another town meeting to reconsider the question. But a decision must be made by July 1, the first day of the new fiscal year. Should voters fail to approve a spending plan, the state education department will set the school budget by the month, based on the previous year’s budget.
Ayer selectmen were prepared for the $150,000 increase, even though they didn’t see it coming. The town set aside $100,000 in a Town Stabilization Account, said Town Administrator Robert Pontbriand.
“Because everything is still in flux, nothing is definite, we should go with this,” said Chairman Pauline Conley. “If we need to fix it, we can do it in October at the fall town meeting.”
In other business on Tuesday night, the Board of Selectmen delayed making a decision on an application from Sean Partridge to expand his used car business at 42 Littleton Road. Partridge will meet with the board next month, following an inspection of the site by the fire chief and building inspector.
The board approved the appointment of three per diem police/fire/ EMS dispatchers, recommended by Police Chief William Murray. The new hires, all part-time employees, are Christine Sawin, Michael Moriarty and Donald Girard.
The board also approved the appointment of Ted Januskiewicz to the Nashoba Valley Technical High School Committee and Christine Logan as alternate.