Town Meeting night one: Recap (Updated)

by beth on April 12, 2016

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Above: Trottier’s auditorium was packed with voters last night – though still less than 7% of those registered in Southborough. (photo by Beth Melo)

Approximately 512 voters showed up to make decisions on Town budgets and bylaws last night. Judging by an exodus after Article 14, many were there to support the preservation of 84 Main Street.

Residents ratified changes to personnel plans and approved budgets and expenses of over $50 million. They agreed to spend another $364k out of Community Preservation Act funds on open space, preservation and recreation. And they approved $970k be borrowed for 10-20 years to allow CPA spending on the Burnett Estate preservation.

As I posted last night, the meeting will continue tonight at 7:30 pm. It will take place in Trottier again.

Voters still need to vote on Articles 20-39. (Click here for the Warrant.) If votes aren’t done by around 11:00 pm, the Moderator may ask to adjourn to a third night. (In that instance, the Moderator usually gives voters a night off and reconvenes on Thursday.)

This time (knock on wood), there shouldn’t be technical mishaps. Town Clerk, Jim Hegarty, says a separate sound system is being rented for tonight. (The Trottier team worked with him to resolve issues this morning.)

For those of you interested in the details of last night’s meeting, below is a recap. 

Two of three candidates to run the next Town Meeting proposed amendments to articles.

Desiree Aselbekian questioned a proposed change to the Town’s leave policy for non-union personnel.

New language could penalize employees who take more than three months unpaid leave. If the personnel board doesn’t grant a leave extension, employees returning after more than three months revert to new employee status. Aselbekian moved to strip the language out of the article.

The candidate for Moderator worried about the effect on personnel with cancer or taking longer parental leave. A Personnel Board representative explained that it can be problematic for the Town to fill a long, temporary leave.

Former Advisory Committe member John Butler rebutted that the current bylaw already gives the board the right to deny leave requests.

Many voters supported Aselbekian’s motion. But the majority voted to approve the changes proposed by the Personnel Board. The personnel plan was approved, with earlier amendments made by the board.

The board stripped out a section that would have required seniors working off taxes to complete those stints before accepting temporary employment from the Town. That would have prevented the Town from hiring those seniors as poll workers. (You can expect to see a revised version of that clause in next year’s plan.)

Only two of the Town’s budgets were held for discussion by residents.

Former selectman Bill Boland (also running for Moderator) put a hold on the Town Clerk’s budget. Hegarty had proposed rolling up his department’s three budgets into one this year. Boland moved to pull back out the elected official’s salary.

Boland explained to voters that the specific line item is what gives voters the sole power to approve an elected official’s salary. If it isn’t specified in the warrant, voters no longer have that say.

Hegarty replied that he was trying to simplify budgets, rather than working out of three check books. He said that separating his salary made no difference to him. Voters approved the amendment.

The second hold was for an explanation of an increased budget for a 42% increase in the Zoning Board of Appeals Budget.

Town Administrator Mark Purple explained that it was to hire administrative help for the Building Commissioner. The number of applied for permits has increased by 427 per year since a few years ago. Between that and supporting the busy ZBA, the inspector hasn’t had enough time for important work as the Town’s zoning enforcer.

Other articles passed without discussion, until the Town reached Article 13. The motion to acquire a Preservation Restriction on 84 Main Street took up an hour before the vote of approval.

The Historical Commission made their case for 30 minutes, with some help from the CPC. Then the floor was open to questions and discussion for another half hour.

A few residents mistakenly believed the Town would be purchasing the estate or responsible for preserving and maintaining it. Officials clarified that the Town was buying the rights to restrict the owners’ changes to the estate.

The owner is financially responsible for exterior restoration and maintenance. The Historical Commission will be a primary enforcement agent in perpetuity.

Upon questioning, Town Counsel said that if the owner fails to abide by the agreement the courts and State’s Attorney General would get involved, since the state is a party to the legal agreement.

But officials pointed out the owner has financial incentives to do the work. Jon Delli Priscolli has received a special permit to turn the Burnett House into a working Bed & Breakfast. Until he gets that going (or sells the estate) he is paying taxes on unused property.

Just prior to the vote, Butler told the crowd that if they care about preserving the Town’s character along Main Street, they should stick around for the article on Main Street easements. (That went unheeded by many in the crowd.)

The final votes of the night were on more CPC articles. Residents approved making a final payment for a Conservation Restriction on Chestnut Hill Farm taken out 10 years ago. And they approved spending from the CPC fund to replace equipment at Fayville Playground (on Central Street), complete funding of tennis court restorations, preserve Town Clerk’s records/documents, and archive/display historical materials through a the Southborough Library project.

Earlier in the evening, Donna McDaniel got laughter of approval from voters who agreed with her assumption that “personal services” in budgets should be “personnel services”.

The former selectwoman believed it was a decades old typo and asked for the warrant to be changed going forward. There was no response given, so I followed up to find out if she’s right.

A quick Google search showed it to be standard language in municipal budgets for expenses related to employee compensation, benefits, etc.. Town Administrator Mark Purple confirmed today that “personal services” is taken directly from the UMAS (Uniform Massachusetts Accounting System).

Updated (4/13/16 4:45 pm) The estimated count for Monday night voters was upped by the Town Clerk’s office today.

1 JMO April 12, 2016 at 4:39 PM

This probably isn’t the right place for this question, but is there any way to get a comprehensive list about the fines levied for various town offenses? I am asking because I noticed the Green Committee is suggesting a $25 fine for non-pooper scooper compliance, but a parking violation at the dump is set to $100 and a no sticker violation is set to $250. Something seems out of wack to me. Can anyone offer any insight?

2 Donna McDaniel April 13, 2016 at 11:53 PM

Looks like I have some more work to do to get rid of the “Personal services” line for Personnel on a higher level (“services” actually redundant–that’s what personnel are for)… Oh, the life of a compulsive editor.

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