AYER — A heated discussion about funding for the Planning Board came up at the selectmen’s meeting June 3, when board members said the town must be able to fund the Planning Board.
“I don’t understand how you can unfund us, and if you’re aware of the repercussions,” said Planning Board member Rick Roper.
Based on his understanding of state law, Roper reasoned the Planning Board is allowed to hire clerical administrative help. There are plans before the board right now that, if not acted upon within 90 days, can go forward based on conditional approval, he said.
“We have no problem with our secretary and I don’t think you guys have the authority to eliminate her,” he said.
It was the first time the board came before selectmen since Town Meeting cut the Planning and Zoning board budgets to zero, eliminating the salary of Administrator Susan Sullivan.
Babcock argued that selectmen even voted to zero out that budget, “so I’d like to get some understanding there,” he said.
Selectman Christopher Hillman said he didn’t appreciate the tone of the conversation, and argued that the vote was not an act of the selectmen.
“It was an act of Town Meeting and that’s where it lays,” he said.
Planning Board member Jim Lucchesi asked if Hillman voted to zero out the budget. Hillman said yes, while Selectmen Gary Luca said no and Jannice Livingston said she abstained.
Lucchesi argued that neither the Planning nor Zoning board is going to be able to perform without someone in the administrative office who is knowledgeable of state rules and regulations.
“You can’t just grab any person off the street and say ‘X-Y-Z’ person is a volunteer and is going to do the job,” he said.
Babcock asked selectmen to consider the situation.
“The laws clearly state we have to have a Planning Board in the town of Ayer,” Babcock said. “And if you want that board to be effective we need to find the funding for this board.”
Babcock also argued he had been trying to get in touch with Town Administrator Robert Pontbriand for two weeks. He said he made a few mistakes on a letter that he submitted, and as a result there are now two complaints against the committee.
“As a result of my inability to meet with our town administrator to ensure that I had the correct verbiage in our document, I now have to face the Attorney General,” he said.
Pontbriand said that he did visit Babcock’s restaurant across the street from Town Hall and sent him emails.
“I apologize publicly to Mr. Babcock that over the last couple of weeks I was not accessible at his convenience and I will try to rectify that,” he said.
He also said Town Meeting did not violate any law and has the right to reduce the budget to zero.
Luca said what Town Meeting decides is what it decides.
“That’s the venue we have here,” he said.
Hillman said he felt the planning board was trying to “hijack” the meeting.
“We are in consultation with counsel, that’s all I can say at this moment,” he said, adding that there’s no general ill will.