Voters approve public safety building and golf course preservation (Updated)

by beth on March 9, 2017

Post image for Voters approve public safety building and golf course preservation (Updated)

Above: It was a more than full house at last night’s Special. (photo by Beth Melo)

Tonight, over 90% of Town Meeting voters approved potential spending of more than $27M on a project to build a new public safety complex. $4.5M of that will be spent on the underlying land – the 60 acre St. Mark’s Golf Course.

Sweetening the deal for voters was the perpetual Conservation Restriction on 93% of the parcel.

[Editor’s Note: The Article passed includes language to place a proposition 2 1/2 override on the May ballot to pay for the bonds.]

It took 4 hours of amendments, presentations, discussions and debate. But just before 11:00 pm, voters raised their hands in support. About 10 minutes later, the count came in at 657 for and only 65 against

The proposed amendment to Article 1 by selectmen including the perpetual Conservation Restriction was a recent development. It came out of the St. Mark Master Plan Committee’s findings and selectmen’s take on the town’s pulse. The board determined that far more support existed for preserving the vista than to preserving future rights to develop other buildings.

That take was borne out when a motion to change the CR to only 25 years overwhelmingly failed.

The perpetual CR garnered support for the article by many who initially fought the deal. An original proponent of Article 4 to “Save Our Heritage” by opposing the deal, Freddie Gillespie, spoke as a member of the Open Space Preservation Commission. She explained that Open Space and many Article 4 supporters changed their minds based on the amendment.

There were a lot of naysayers who came to the mike tonight. Some wanted to save the entire 60 acres. Some were opposed to the cost for the land and/or building. Questions were raised about a “rushed deal”, critical unknowns, higher tax bills, and more. 

The deal was villified as a $30MM megaplex that would destroy a 120 year old historical golf course. Questions were raised about the golf course value and the value of Town owned land included in the swap.

But in the end, speeches about the need to preserve the course got more applause than those opposed. And a passionate speech about the the terrible conditions our emergency personnel work and sleep in got the biggest applause of the night.

At close to 11:00 pm Moderator Stephen Morreale terrified the crowd (or was I the only one terrorized?) when he said we would be back the next night.

Fortunately, once Article 1 passed, Article 2 was quickly supported. Then reconsideration of Article 1 was immediatley disposed of. Voters started pouring out. But those left agreed to indefinite postponements for Articles 3-5 and rejected reconsideration of Article 2.

Finally, with advice from others. Morreale allowed voters to approve moving Articles 6-8 to be handled at a Special Town Meeting within the Annual Town Meeting.

Updated (3/9/17 8:01 am)In my hurry to post in the middle of the night – I forgot to mention one big detail, now referenced in the Editor’s Note above.

Though voters authorized the spend, necessary funding appears to require a proposition 2 1/2 override. Town election voters will be asked to approve that in May.

That’s a much bigger pool of voters who won’t be forced to sit through all the presentations and debate TM voters did last night. (Last night’s votes cast represent less than 10% of the Town’s registered voters.)

And obviously, the ratio of highly invested neighbors to the golf course and supporters of public safety personnel vs average taxpayers was different at last night’s meeting than a Town election.

Frankly, I am not clear on what happens if the vote fails at the ballot in May. I’ll be looking into that for a follow up post.

{ 39 comments… read them below or add one }

1 New Resident March 9, 2017 at 9:01 AM

Wow. I’ve been reading this blog for the six months I’ve been in town and thought it was reflective of the town. By my quick count, 90% of the comments and articles have been against Article 1 and also very nasty (selectmen can’t be trusted, rush job, too much $, etc. etc.). This is not the fault of the author of this blog but it is a problem with an anonymous site, usually the same 10 people being nasty and critical but not even amouting to a very, very small vocal minority. I don’t recall ever seeing an elected official post anything here and that is a real weakness that needs to be addressed. Article 1 passed by 91%, an overwhelming, perhaps historic, victory. All of the presntations in favor were factual and anything but rushed, and while some opponents made some good points, accusations of behind closed door meetings, not disclosing information, overpaying, and on and on, proved to be made by people who just did not know or undstand the facts and assumed the worst (Mr. Hamilton excluded). I do enjoy this site for keeping me informed on social events, but I think we learned a valuable lesson on where accurate information needs to be obtained – from this site’s author, from out elected officials, and surely not from anonymous comments.

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2 D. McGee March 9, 2017 at 12:13 PM

You mean like yours?

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3 Paul Cimino March 9, 2017 at 12:42 PM

New Resident, as you point out, you “don’t recall ever seeing an elected official post anything here” — and I think the rest of your comment actually contains its own explanation. And so I hope you won’t mind if I use your comment to make a couple of points. As many remind us from time to time on this blog, anonymity is a right, and there are often good reasons to exercise it. So no issue there. But on the other hand, its not a good basis for a conversation and there is little point for those of us in Town government to swing at windmills. I’m not saying folks shouldn’t post anonymously, I’m only saying it’s a hard way to expect dialogue. As a Selectman I attend meetings of my Board and many other Boards, Commissions and Committees too numerous to count, and I love to engage anyone who wants to have a productive conversation — indeed it’s the best part of the job! Ditto the phone calls and emails I make or receive, as well as just seeing folks around Town. Beth does an amazing job with this blog, and yet I think that she would be the first to tell you that engaging Town government directly (through meetings, emails, phone calls, however you wish) is the best way to know what’s happening. And it’s not hard — we’re all just people. I’ve lived in Town long before I was an “official” and will live in Town long after I’m not. Would love if you were to introduce yourself next time you see me…welcome to Town.

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4 Anon resident March 9, 2017 at 3:26 PM

I have to disagree with your comment saying anonymity isn’t a good way to get meaningful dialog. Literally the seventh most popular website in the country is a site called reddit, which is a site that pretty much does just that.

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5 Timber March 9, 2017 at 5:01 PM

I don’t think you’ve seen opposition to the public safety building at all. It’s been a debate over what to do with the rest of the land. Where the distrust and public relations problems are with government have been related to other issues.

See the next article regarding fairvew, or how the planning board has been treated. Better yet view the whole debacle on park central, Oregon rd and the behavior of town counsel in numerous areas.

That is where a majority have issues with government actions not in the public safety complex.

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6 beth March 9, 2017 at 7:26 PM

Actually, many have questioned the cost of the building and if it is really necessary to have as big a building. The most passionate debate has been about the golf course, but the price tag attached to the building has been a sticking point for many people.

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7 Mike Fuce March 9, 2017 at 9:48 AM

So what I noticed in this is that only 700 people voted. This is a good reason to have some sort of secure verified electronic voting. it’s such a hassle to get parking and get there that many people just don’t bother. Thank you for your post.

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8 D. McGee March 9, 2017 at 12:19 PM

Mike, I know how much you like the government to spend money, so where would you suggest the Town of Southborough finds the dough to just create a nice little “secure verified electronic voting” system? And “a hassle to get parking” is a really lame excuse for not participating in the democratic process. But I’m sure you’ll keep expressing your disappointment in decisions you couldn’t be bothered to take part in anyway.

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9 Jojama March 9, 2017 at 12:26 PM

Mike,

You can carpool… that is a very eco friendly way to get there. I had my teenage son drop me off and then hitched a ride home with my neighbor. When there is a will there is a way!

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10 mark dassoni March 9, 2017 at 10:57 AM

I watch meeting from home in Ashland, took about 45 minutes to get going but after 3 hours and 45 minutes all involve should be proud of outcome, even the citizens against were well educated of what they have to say, presenters for and against had their 10 minutes, moderator was much improved throughout, I was amazed on the way Southborough access media presented it to the home viewers, their camera angle, audio from both gym and auditorium were clear and well heard on tv, overall geat meeting to watch, citizens, boards, moderator great smooth run meeting . Mark Dassoni .

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11 D. McGee March 9, 2017 at 10:58 AM

There has to be a way to do that in less than 4 hours. Perhaps a time limit on citizen comments (3-5 minutes?). As the clock approached 11:00, it was getting very difficult to sit through the repetition and tangents. Also, the Moderator needs to get better acquainted with the rules. He had to be corrected on nearly all of the votes, which is unacceptable. I recognize it’s a difficult job, but he actively sought this position, so he need to bone up.

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12 Em March 9, 2017 at 1:19 PM

I am pleased by the outcome and thank all the supporters of Article 1 who showed up to vote.

That said, the process HAS to change. While it is a nice idea that babysitting is offered, it is not possible for preschoolers, toddlers, or infants to start a new chapter of their day at 7:00 PM at the middle school. At best, one parent in a two-parent household can attend and vote, which has the potential to seriously limit votes on the issues. And single-parent households? Forget it. Nor is it realistic to have the event go until 11:00 PM and expect parents to keep their elementary school-age children out that late and get up for school in the morning; the result is that many parents who take advantage of the on-site babysitting sit through all the presentations and comments and need to leave before the actual vote.

I admit that it is a lovely idea to offer the babysitting on-site, but in reality the organization of the meetings is a democracy-killer that on-site babysitting cannot fix. As currently organization and executed, TM has the power to silence parents in huge numbers, which unfairly targets a major demographic group.

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13 beth March 9, 2017 at 1:49 PM

I wrote a post earlier this week about a survey. While the Town Meeting Review Committee was looking for feedback prior to this meeting, they are still collecting it now.

Questions include asking about what days and times people would prefer the meeting take place.

You can take a look at that here: http://www.mysouthborough.com/2017/03/06/your-input-counts-seeking-immediate-feedback-on-town-meetings/

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14 Al Hamilton March 9, 2017 at 2:07 PM

There are probably a few things to be done to make the meeting flow better (starting on time, not taking 40 min to open the meeting, better familiarity with voting procedures) but in the end this is a legislature and legislatures debate (and should).

We just spent 4 hours debating spending roughly $27 million on a single project. It was a fair debate and the proponents and opponents were given the opportunity to make their case. The result was clear which is also good. Put in context sum in question was more than 1/2 of what we spend to operate the entire town for a year and the largest tax payer funded project in our history. It deserved a full airing in public. That is what legislatures do.

I think the only viable option to holding the meeting on a weekday night is to hold it on a Saturday or to go to a representative town meeting. Each has it’s advantages and disadvantages.

I would encourage trying a Sat meeting. I recommended this course for this meeting. A Saturday meeting would be easy to implement for a special town meeting but I believe that changing the Annual Town Meeting would require approval of town meeting.

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15 D. McGee March 9, 2017 at 2:20 PM

Al, I agree entirely with you regarding the value and necessity of a healthy debate. However, there is a big difference between debate and airing of grievances (real and imagined). I would actually say we spent 2 hours debating the project and 2 hours doing other things (late start, 40 minute intro., procedural missteps, email issues, tangential commentary by citizens that had little to do with the Article at hand, etc.). I think there is a lot of “noise” that can be cleaned up to streamline the process, while still encouraging the healthy debate.

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16 SB Resident March 9, 2017 at 4:17 PM

I agree with your comments on a legislature having debate, however in this case I struggle with the purpose. In this process there are no options, it’s such a hard yes/no. The middle ground (read cost) is where many people fell on this issue, but any discussion on that is met with a where were you in all the other meetings. Do we really expect and/or want the entire town to be that involved in the entire process? Nothing would get done. So we are left with just accepting a deal that we really don’t like because the selectman hold all the cards. This was all that was put on the table and really we do want something, just not the taj mahal as it was so eloquently referred to.

Personally I just wish we could have approved the article at some lesser dollar amount saying yeah we want this, we want the land swap, we want the conservation restriction, we want a new facility, but go get it done for 23 million. I haven’t found another town of any size anywhere around that has spent anywhwere near this much on their public service facilities. I’d love to see an example to feel better. Feels like we are buying way more than we need just because everyone wanted to buy the golf course.

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17 Mike Fuce March 9, 2017 at 1:54 PM

Em- so mean spirited saying, “don’t feed the trolls” – I thought the entire left dogma was built on inclusion and diversity of ideas? . So sad on your part. However, that being said, I agree with 100% , everything you just said below. There’s a conservative, I never hear any liberal ever agree with the conservative idea. Have a nice day.

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18 ConcernedTownie March 9, 2017 at 6:19 PM

Here’re the reasons that article #1 passed last night:
1) Majority of meeting attendees/voters were of retirement age and townies who spent at least 20+ yrs in Southborough. Their mortgages are paid off with their RE appreciating many times over their purchase prices, playing golf it’s their lifestyle and they can spend all their time to save their golf course; some of them get assistant with their RE taxes. Why would they vote against?
2) Police and firefighters absolutely deserve to get better facilities. Yet, the emotional stories about their deplorable working conditions told by a few townies deterred any arguments about more appropriate facility size, construction timeliness, location and major disruption to route 85 and Woodward school.
3) The St.Marks’ ‘generous’ land offer was touted like a one in a life-time opportunity. It’s not, given that the town will give another $2.5MM in land swap. In 2011 MetrowestDaily news, printed that Southborough loses $400K and $200K a year in taxes and services rendered in a year. I’m not an accountant, but if one were to crunch the numbers, St.Marks could have donated the golf course to town and still be well ahead of the game. Yet, it feels like St.Marks & Fay have an upper hand in everything to do with town. Truth be told both of them need Southborough services more than our town needs theirs.
4) Finally, the way the article #1 was structured was brilliant – the in-town golfers get golf club and preservation land, police/fire fighters get oversized & super-expensive police station, and the rest of taxpayers get the hefty RE increase.
Given the above reasons I’m surprised that it were not approved in 1hr – no arguments or facts would have convinced the voters otherwise last night.

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19 D. McGee March 9, 2017 at 8:28 PM

What a dismissive generalization. I am not a golfer, I am far from retirement age, my mortgage is not paid off, and I get no assistance with my real estate taxes. And yet I voted yes on #1. Please don’t presume to know why others voted unless you ask.

Perhaps next time you should get involved in the process earlier instead of just whining after the fact. There are plenty opportunities to volunteer on committees or attend meetings…but somehow I have this sneaking suspicion that you won’t.

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20 DisappointedTownie March 10, 2017 at 8:40 AM

It is not generalization. It is just observation from the outside of that group with special interests view. How about next time if you would like to “preserve” anything else that would come up as a once in a life time opportunity, just use your own funds to seal the deal and not pushing it on townpayers assuming that they all love the same ideas.

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21 Downtown Resident March 9, 2017 at 9:52 PM

I wish there was a “like” button.

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22 DisappointedTownie March 9, 2017 at 10:06 PM

Well done ConcernedTownie. That is exactly what happened last night. 600+ retired people plus the rest police/firefighter’s family members and friends as well as town clerks family members. All of them shown up with double votes for each household. Very well organized compaign. The rest of the town residents were busy working to support coming tax increase and taking care thier children. Unfortunately all projects in Southborough are about preserving something regardless of its price tag. Last night town again “sold” an unreasonable expensive PS building to ALL taxpayer considering that only group with special interests was voted for that deal. SAD. When people are searching for houses on a market the last thing they are looking for an open space and concervation lands owned by town and never for Golf Clubs. All are looking for better school which Southborough is unfortunately falling behind year after year for the last 10 years. Well…Maybe this town just should be a retired community.

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23 SB Resident March 10, 2017 at 9:05 AM

This is far from the truth. Many families with kids, who both work or maybe one works, took time out of their schedules and hired babysitters or asked family members to watch their kids while they went to participate. Many of us are there listening to understand the historical perspective on this, and to hear both sides of the argument, because we’ve only been in town a few years. But a few did and I was happy to see that as someone who has been in town for only a few years. There was a fair amount of time allotted to both sides which was great as someone who went in with an open mind. Yes, some families couldn’t have both parents there, but they still tried to represent a part of their household.

Whether we ended up voting for or against it, the generalizations on here are just laughable. As someone wrote on here above, if you read this blog before you actually showed up to town meeting you would’ve thought there was no chance this would pass. 90+% of voters in attendance supported this. Southborough is a great place to live because of all of the open space here. Many of the opponents of Article 1 said those exact same things about the open space and our community.

It is an expensive project, and I can completely understand the concerns in that regard. I felt the committees did a nice job of showing the cost of the project and the process they went through to determine location/size/etc… there were also comparisons of cost per square foot that were referenced on here in open letters prior to the meeting. It is difficult to find comparables given the joint facilities and some of the unique aspects of the project for us in regards to abutting Woodward. Several people I know that have lived in town a similar amount of time as I have voted against this and I respect that. I chose to support it. There are benefits beyond just the PS building to preserve some great land in town. I for one am happy to live in a town that values preserving land and providing good public facilities for those that we count on in times of need.

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24 Resident March 10, 2017 at 9:42 AM

This is so ridiculous, it seems like it just has to be sarcasm. There were many, MANY people in attendance who do not fit ANY of your characteristics.

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25 D. McGee March 10, 2017 at 8:31 AM

Alternative facts. Once again…I have kids, I work to support them, I am not retired, I have no police/firefighters as friends or family, I am not related to the “town clerk”, and I am a professional capable of analyzing this deal objectively and independently. Despite your ridiculous and baseless generalization, I showed up and I voted yes on #1, just like many other unretired, unaffiliated people who have foresight for the future town and who are able to think beyond their own pocketbooks.

Sounds like you’re not happy in Southborough, which is unfortunate. Maybe it’s not the right town for you.

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26 Mike Fuce March 10, 2017 at 10:19 AM

Isn’t that always the right answer for liberalism and the left leaning folk? Leave town, leave the school, go to private school, go to to religious school, leave the country, very immature. And again so mean-spirited, why don’t you leave, like a playground child. The facts The person has stated are predominately and overwhelmingly true. You may be one of the 100 in your category but what she said is true it’s registered. Again, my vote would be to have some sort of electronic voting to get more of a representative vote. I suspect the question would’ve passed even still but I think it’s a problem that needs to be addressed.

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27 D. McGee March 10, 2017 at 11:25 AM

The guy who wasn’t even there because it was too hard to find parking offers an opinion on the make up of the crowd, and then crowbars a nonsensical liberal vs. conservative argument into an apolitical discussion that transcends party affiliation. It’s gotten to the point I feel sorry for you Mike. You’re one angry, unhappy dude.

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28 DisappointedTownie March 10, 2017 at 11:54 AM

G. McGee- Over 90% of the Town Residents can not be called “one unhappy dude”. You should be very happy now to enjoy new amenities in the future. Again demacracy is when you have choices and there were no choices presented in the last TM. Yes, it has to be electronic so more people can participate and at least more than only one household member. That is worth to invest into technology that can be used in a future. Again, it will never be presented as an option because all these projects would fail right there and special interests group would be very scare of the reality.

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29 D. McGee March 10, 2017 at 12:48 PM

I assume you are suggesting the >90% of the town does not approve of Article #1. I have a pet peeve of people making up silly statistics to support a position, so shall we do a little remedial math?

1. The town has about 7,100 registered voters. If only 10% approve of Article 1, that means only 710 town members support the article.

2. There were a total of 722 votes counted on Wednesday, which means there were about 6,400 voters who chose not to attend the Special Town Meeting.

3. There were 657 yes votes on Wednesday (nearly ALL of the 710 in the town you imply are for Article 1). Accordingly, you are suggesting only about 53 of the remaining 6,400 town members (0.8%!!) who chose not to vote on Wednesday actually support the article. I think we can all agree that is a ludicrous statement.

4. Since you suggest the remaining 6,400 town members who chose not to vote strongly oppose the article, then shame on them. If only 30% of them had bothered to vote, the article would have failed.

I can understand being disappointed. I can understand being angry. But what are you doing about it? Perhaps you should offer to volunteer your time to chair a task force to examine the feasibility of or raise funds for an electronic voting system. Perhaps next time you could attend some of the more than 30 meetings that preceded the Special Town Meeting to voice your concerns and have your questions answered. Or you could just whine online. The choice is yours.

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30 Downtown Resident March 11, 2017 at 7:58 AM

Response to your second point: there are some, like myself, who were working or otherwise indisposed and could not be at the special town meeting. I did not “choose” not to vote. It pains me that I could not.
And btw, I have never, nor ever will, use the golf course. So, happy golfing to those who will use it. Buy your non-golfing nieghbor dinner sometime.

31 Frank Crowell March 11, 2017 at 4:36 PM

I chose to do my job which was to visit customers in St Louis the day of TM. I do this since it is my job which I do to pay my taxes and support my family. If I could have returned in time to attend, or schedule the meeting for another time, I would have done that.

I am certain TM format will never change since it is the proven way to get all major spending projects passed and/or large budget changes. Why change a successful format for spending money? If there were way to do this electronically, I am certain outcomes would change. Call it a gut feel but not “alternative facts.”

I will not whine about it. I will pick up a ballot and use the felt tip pen appropriately. No 2 1/2 override and no incumbent will voted for. Other town property should be sold to lower tax bite -just that simple for me now.

32 Kate March 11, 2017 at 7:42 PM

I think it is unfortunate that such a small percentage of our town was able to decide on such a significant issue. I was highly involved and proud to be a part of the process but it is unfair to assume that we can all do that with each important vote based on family, work and other commitments. I feel sure that many others would have liked to participate but could not for very valid reasons. Only when people can vote by ballot do I think a more well balanced demographic will be represented.

33 DisappointedTownie March 10, 2017 at 10:33 AM

The truth is the average age in a meeting was 60+.
Responsible residents are only mind their own pocketbooks and not trying to get into thier neighbor’s pocketbooks. Nobody is arguing the need of new facility but it has to be some options not just yes/no with ultra expensive deal. There are other options and none of them were presented and were not even subject for discussion.

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34 M March 10, 2017 at 1:49 PM

First, a pet peeve. Please read your comments and edit them before submitting so they are clear.
Second, there have been months of discussions at public meetings, written descriptions of the plans available both online and in pamphlets and handouts at the library and Town Hall. There have been online questions answered by committee members. And at least one committee made themselves available at the Transfer Station on Saturdays with their colorful board displays and answered questions in person. There were audio/visual links on this blog to watch meetings you could not attend.
I feel this was the most well informed and responsive back and forth that I have ever seen in the 40 years I have participated and voted on town issues. Well done to all.

Finally, for those who criticize 60 year-olds as if their opinions do not matter, let me set you STRAIGHT! We have voted in a gymnasium decades ago to build schools and
support budgets to keep education as a priority in town. We raised our children here too. We paid babysitters so both parents could attend. We gave of our then family limited incomes (while paying mortgages and taxes) to support public facilities, increased staffing needs, open space and historic preservation which contribute to the Town that you know today. This is decades of caring and debate and sacrifice and even some disappointments. Many of us served on Town boards and committees, but all of us had a stake in the outcome, some vision for the future of Southborough.
Please do not continue to degrade our participation. I know most of these long-time citizens. None of us deserve to be so disrespected.

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35 D. McGee March 10, 2017 at 3:24 PM

M…Well said, and thanks for your years of service to our town!

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36 Mostly Satisfied Townie March 10, 2017 at 4:12 PM

Well said M. I have to disagree with the Disappointed Townie as well. There were MANY of the under 60 crowd there. In fact I was pleased to see a good representation of the town. I was also at the meeting 17 years ago when we were deciding the HS issue. It was held on a Saturday over in an EMC building on Coslin. We as neighbors shared babysitters and made it a priority to get there. I was not on the winning side of that debate, but I certainly didn’t blame any one group of citizens for the way the vote went. I actually was quite impressed with the process. And guess what? Algonquin has been great for my kids. I didn’t know then what I know now. Kudos to the “older” folks who were there, their wisdom thankfully prevailed.

I hope the same will be said about this vote. I personally thought it was the best we could do with what was presented.

A couple thoughts: I am still (thankfully) under 60. I hope my grammar and spelling are acceptable:)

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37 DisappointedTownie March 10, 2017 at 3:32 PM

I agree that it is a shame on everybody who decided not to vote! Honestly I am very disappointed but not angry at all. On the other hand you sounds like very angry hearing that somebody is not sharing the same vision as you. Anyway, the deal is done. I just wondering what may be pushed next on Southborough taxpayers. Otherwise everybody will continue to enjoy what they have in Southborough including open space, historical building and neighbors who is not sharing the same idea but who used to live together for years.

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38 southsider March 22, 2017 at 12:58 PM

Just curious on this:
If the Prop 2 1/2 fails at the ballot box, what happens?
Are we still committed for the land purchase?

If the Prop 2 1/2 article passes, is there still a chance that we’d actually design a more efficient, less expensive building?

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39 beth March 22, 2017 at 2:25 PM

The last I heard, that answer was up in the air. There might have been more clarity given in discussions last night at the Board of Selectmen’s meeting. But watching that meeting is still on my to do list.

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