Town Meeting had an estimated over 400 in attendance last night. (No official count yet.) Voters easily approved most articles addressed, including a controversial open space acceptance.
13 Articles still need to be addressed at the continued meeting, beginning 7:30 pm tonight at the Trottier Middle School auditorium.
The one motion to fail last night was the request to indefinitely postpone the acceptance of Barn Hollow Open Space. Planning Board Chair Don Morris requested pulling the item in order to continue working on a compromise.
According to Morris, the developer, Brendan Homes, recently filed papers on the issue. The developer blamed the delay on needing to wait for snow to melt before land could be surveyed. No details were provided as to what the developer proposed, just that there was progress.
Two members of the neighborhood asked voters to give them more time to resolve the issues. Other residents echoed the recommendations of the Advisory Board and Open Space Preservation Commission to stop dragging the issue out. (For more background on the issue, click here.) After the motion to postpone the decision failed, more than the required 2/3 of voters chose to accept the land.
Voters overwhelmingly approved the other of the first 17 Articles 1-17 including a $46.8 million budget (a 3.64% increase), but not without discussion. Here are some of the highlights:
- Fire Department – Louis Fazen asked to lower the budget to eliminate two new hires. He questioned whether budgeted salaries included covering their future benefit expenses to the town. The answer was no. Advisory Board member John Butler explained that they considered eliminating the positions for that reason. They were convinced to support the budget by firefighters advocating the extra help at personal financial cost. The firefighters will make less in over-time as a result of the new hires. But they said that they need the staff as the extra over-time is causing burnout. Fazen withdrew his motion to reduce the budget, but pointed out the importance of letting the town know about benefits expenses that will be incurred whenever new hires are made.
- Capital Budgets – Some residents were concerned about the over $500,00 to be spent on unspecified capital expenses. Selectmen explained that the intent was to streamline budgeting and allow Town Administrator authority to adjust expenditures if specific items. An amendment was passed adding the itemized list of expenditures, but without tying them to their estimated expenses.
- Medical Marijuana dispensary zoning – Some residents were uncomfortable with the zoned area. A couple made it clear that they didn’t want dispensaries in town. Planning Board member Paul Cimino explained that the town has to allow a facility by voter-supported state law. Therefore the choice was between limiting the zoning or leaving it open so that a dispensary could potentially be anywhere in town that passed the state standards (including residential neighborhoods). Voters supported the zoning restrictions.
The meeting wrapped up at close to 11:00 pm with the vote to continue to tonight. Articles still unaddressed are:
- Insert new text of Chapter 19 of the Code of the Town of Southborough – Flood Insurance
- Amend Zoning Bylaw, Section 174-89 – Flood Plain Maps
- Amend Chapter 174 of the Code of the Town of Southborough – Site Plan Review
- Change Town Clerk from Elected to Appointed Position
- Change Reporting Relationships of the Chiefs of Police, Fire and DPW (This is to shift the chiefs’ reporting from Board of Selectman to Town Administrator. That includes giving the Town Administrator authority to appoint these positions. The Police and Fire Chief appointments are qualified as “subject to the approval of the Board of Selectmen”. The TA also has authority only to recommend removal to BOS of those two chiefs. The article doesn’t specify dismissal procedures for DPW chief.)
- Citizen’s Petition – Donations
- Citizen’s Petition – Split Tax Rate
- Citizens’ Petition – Additional License for Sale of Alcoholic Beverages
- Citizen’s Petition – Additional License for Sale of Alcoholic Beverages
- Citizen’s Petition – Create Main Street Reconstruction Review Committee
- Citizen’s Petition – Fund Work of the Main Street Reconstruction Committee
- Citizen’s Petition – Renovation of 9/11 Field
- Citizen’s Petition – Amend Zoning Map (This is part of the mediated solution for the town’s zoning dispute with the Gulbankian family)
Planning Board member Kathy Bartolini addressed the voters under the first article of Town Reports. She previewed the board’s decision to withdraw the Site Plan Review. The board wants time to check the plan against court rulings. She assured voters it would be ready for the next annual or special Town Meeting.
One last highlight from Wednesday night wasn’t a vote or debate. As moderator David Coombs attempted to announce Gobron’s retirement, the audience made their knowledge clear by cutting him off with a standing ovation. Coombs did finish his laudatory speech after the applause. He painted Gobron as being a passionate defender of the schools, while still keeping perspective and humor.