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Town Hall article fails, others pass, two passed over

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HARVARD — At the Special Town Meeting Wednesday night, a bid to spend $1.1 million more on the Town Hall building project was the only warrant article that failed.

With a total turnout of 411 registered voters gathered in Cronin Auditorium, it took about 2 and a half hours to work through 12 articles, some of which generated lively discussion.

Except for a couple of articles that were passed over, the rest were approved, including the three solar farm-related citizen’s petition articles that called for the STM in the first place; a funding request from the Harvard Cable TV Committee to cover construction cost overages for the recently completed TV studio at Bromfield and a move to change town bylaws to align with state law by raising the late fee for dog licenses to $50.

The first article, however, was rejected. Article 1 requested adding another $1.1 million to previously appropriated funding for the Town Hall building project and called for borrowing authority to cover it, contingent on passage of a Proposition 2 and a half debt exclusion ballot question at the Nov. 5 Special Town Election.

Although more people said yes than no, with 225 voting in favor of the proposal, the motion required a two-thirds majority to pass and 154 people voted against it.

Depending on which slant townspeople take on the issue, that the $3.9 million already appropriated for the project, now about to enter the construction phase, is enough to complete it, or that the additional $1.1 million is necessary to do the job right given the sharp rise in construction costs, nobody seemed to disagree that Town Hall needs a makeover that is long overdue.

Proponents had a case strongly supported by three of the five selectmen.

A two-page handout, with pictures, plainly showed the poor condition Town Hall is in and sketched the history of the 150-year old building’s structural ills and patchwork fixes over the last 20 years.

Renovation proposals have been favorably voted on five times, at three town meetings and on two election ballots, most recently approving the design the Town Hall Building Committee has been working with for the last couple of years.

Besides town officials, several others spoke in favor of the article.

Jared Wollaston spoke for it. As a restoration professional who also has a home in Boston and as a former member of the Harvard Historical Society, he is passionate about historic preservation, he said, citing restoration of his own antique home on Elm Street, rescued after years of neglect.

“When I see Town Hall, I cringe,” he said, calling it a deteriorating old building that should be restored “to its former glory.”

The money the THBC is asking for now represents just 63 cents a day for taxpayers, he said. (According to Finance Committee member Steve Colwell, passage of the debt exclusion would add $155 to the annual tax bill on an average home valued at $550,000.) Wollaston characterized it as a pittance to pay for a worthy cause.

“Let’s do it!” he said.

When the article came to a vote, a motion was made for a paper or “secret” ballot, but the motion failed. Then, on the first try, Moderator Bob Eubank declared the motion had passed by the required two-thirds majority. After loud protest from the audience, however, he called for a hand count. With 255 votes for and 155 against, the motion failed.

Former Selectman Tim Clark asked for reconsideration of the article with an amendment to make the funding source a transfer rather than a debt exclusion but Eubank said no.

When Clark questioned why the motion was ruled out of order, the moderator held firm.

“We have voted, we have counted, the results are there,” he said. “I will not entertain the motion.”

But there could be another chance to consider after all, at the Town Election. The debt exclusion question will still be on the ballot, Eubank said, and if it passes, selectmen can call another Special Town Meeting, if they choose to do so.

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