Annual Town Meeting this week: What’s up for a vote (and when)

Above: Voters will have impact on a wide range of Town bylaws and spending choices including seeking status as a National Historic District, purchasing a sidewalk plow and police cruisers, another citizen’s petition on the St. Mark’s Golf Course, a bylaw allowing recall of elected officials, and prohibition of recreational marijuana businesses. (scroll to bottom of post for photo credits)

Tomorrow night, Southborough will open up the Annual Town Meeting. Expect it to run 2-3 nights.

Voters will be asked to deal with 47 articles before the meeting is closed. As always, several are annual administrative business (so hopefully they won’t take long.) And many other articles are linked/related, so it’s not quite as bad as it sounds.

There’s no telling how far into the warrant we’ll get on Tuesday. But that first night will cover the Special Town Meeting’s Citizen Petition Articles continued from March.

Meanwhile, another citizen petition article related to St. Mark’s Golf Course is close to the end of the Warrant. That means it’s not likely to come up for vote until at least Wednesday or possibly even Thursday. (Note: The second and possible third nights would begin at 7:30 pm.)

New sign-in and voter card protocols implemented for the March meeting will be used again. That means quicker check-in (bring your license if you have it) and faster vote counts. And this time, handouts will be setup outside the building to avoid the backup at the entrance.

  • The Annual Town Warrant: (opening at 7:00 pm on Tuesday, April 25)
    • Articles 1-5 – Town’s Administrative Articles: Hearing reports from departments/committees, accepting donations, authorizing officials to borrow and enter up-to three year contracts, and amendments to SAP (the Personnel Salary Administration Plan).
    • Either before or after Article 5 (SAP), the Moderator plans to ask voters to re-open the Special Town Meeting complete that Warrant.

Note: According to the Town Clerk, anyone who wasn’t registered in time to be eligible to vote at the March 8th Special Town Meeting is still ineligible to vote on these three articles this week! (That’s only a handful of voters, and procedures are in place to handle the vote count.) 

    • STM Article 6 – (Citizen Petition) Removal Bylaw for Elected Officials: Would ask state legislature to approve language allowing process to recall elected officials. (As of last Tuesday, a planned amendment raises the signatures required to prompt the proposed process to 20% of registered voters.)* – see related coverage
    • STM Article 7 – (Citizen Petition) Removal of Appointed Board/Committee/Commission Members: Would outline process for removing appointed officials. (As of last Tuesday, a planned amendment specifies removal must be for “cause” and raises voter signatures required to prompt the proposed process to 500.)* – see related coverage
    • STM Article 8 – (Citizen Petition) Independent Counsel for Elected Boards and Officers: Would allow boards/committees authority to hire independent counsel when special counsel is conflicted out of representing the board. (Currently, boards/committees need to seek approval by the Board of Selectmen.)* – see related coverage
  • Resuming The Annual Town Warrant:
    • Articles 6-11 – Town’s Administrative & Budget Articles: Union contracts, budget transfers, budgets, capital expenses, and revolving and maintenance funds
      • You can see the original FY-18 Recommended Budget here – This is the detailed outline and explanation for the budget recommended by Town and school officials. The bottom line was a projected tax rate increase of 2.4% for FY18. The Town’s operating budget has been lowered since this was published, based on robust discussions and some compromising with the Advisory Committee. Those changes will be provided at the meeting. (As for the school budget, see related coverage of plans to transition in tuition free kindergarten.
    • Articles 12-20 – Community Preservation Act articles including new project funding requests for:
      • Flagg School Restoration Project
      • Restoration/Preservation of Historical Permanent Records
      • Breakneck Hill Conservation Land Management
      • New basketball court at Harold Fay Memorial Playground
      • Rehabilitation of Richardson Tennis Courts (lighting) – see related coverage
      • Mooney Field lighting – see related coverage
    • Article 21 – Amend Senior Tax Work-off: Would increase cap by $500, allowing seniors to reduce their property tax liability up to $1,500 through the work-off program.
    • Article 22 – Accept Easement from Fay School: Allows Town to improve storm water drainage on Main Street
    • Article 23 – Adopt standing committee for technology: The Town is looking to replace the temporary Ad Hoc committee with a standing committee to address technology improvements – see related coverage
    • Article 24 – Disposition of municipal properties: Authorizing selectmen to sell Fayville Hall and its abutting parking lot. (In a very close vote, a similar article was rejected last year after commenters on the floor asked voters for time to pursue preservation opportunities. A year later, selectmen are revisiting it.)
    • Article 25 – Adopt Economic Development Committee: The Town is looking to replace the temporary Ad Hoc committee with a standing committee. (Last fall, voters rescinded a defunct commission that the EDC was looking to move under to get out of Ad Hoc status. Proponents of that article argued that the EDC should come back to Town Meeting voters if they want authority for a standing committee. Now it is.)
    • Article 26-30 – Adaptive reuse of historic buildings and related zoning changes: Would allow specified additional zoning uses for some historic buildings with preserved facades to incentivize adaptive reuse. (The special permit would be entitled by right for buildings that meet defined historic criteria. It would not impose preservation restrictions on property owners who don’t pursue the additional zoning uses.) – see related coverage
    • Article 31-33 – Prohibitions/restrictions on recreational marijuana: In response to new laws allowing sale of recreational marijuana in Massachusetts, the articles provide three ways that residents could choose to prohibit or restrict businesses related to marijuana (sales, cultivation, testing, etc.) in Southborough through zoning and/or regulations. Last week, Town Counsel stated that if articles pass, the bylaw would need to be placed on the Town ballot for voters to ratify (likely after getting approval from the Attorney General) – see related coverage
    • Article 34 – Funding for National Historic District Preservation Planner: $20,500 to support the to complete the process of establishing a national register historic district – see related coverage
    • Article 35 – Amend Electioneering prohibited: Would extend the restrictions on campaigning within 150 feet from an election Polling Place to also cover Town Meetings and Early Voting places.
    • Article 36 – Amend notice of meeting: Would change posting requirements for Town Meetings. Instead of posting notice at “the Town Hall, the Fayville Hall and in at least nine other such public places as the Selectmen shall determine” it would post “on the Town website, at the Town Hall, the Library, the Senior Center, and in at least 3 other public places in each precinct as the Town Clerk shall determine”.
    • Article 37 – Amend Annual Debtors List: Would remove code (that the Town hasn’t been following for years), that requires including in the Annual Report “the names of all persons, firms or corporations indebted to the Town and the amounts owed by them”.
    • Article 38 – Amend nomination papers: Allows candidates to pull nomination papers up to 48 hours prior to the filing deadline for elected Town seats
    • Article 39 – Amend Town Meeting vote counting: Would remove requirement to always conduct a headcount for a 2/3 majority no matter how clearly it passes.
    • Article 40 – (Citizen Petition) Alternatives for Public Safety Facility siting: As originally written prior to the March Special Town Meeting, the article is moot. But petitioner Jack Barron plans to amend the article. Barron says new language would allow the Town to still purchase the golf course if a proposition 2 1/2 override fails on the May 9th ballot. But it would require the Town to come back to Town Meeting again to present any plans for building a new police station or municipal building – see related coverage
    • Article 43 – (Citizen Petition) Amend Town Code: Town Counsel: Would add requirements for advertising and publicly interviewing each time selectmen vote to appoint Town Counsel. Also adds performance review criteria (with public comment solicited and shared) for current Town Counsel to apply to retain the position. (Since, under Town Code, Selectmen may select Town Counsel for one year at a time, I believe these procedures would need to be followed on an annual basis.)
  • Along the way, expect these Articles to be indefinitely postponed:
    • STM Article 5 – (Citizen Petition) Adopt standing committee for technology: The Town is looking to replace the temporary Ad Hoc committee with a standing committee to address technology improvements. (This covers the same subject matter as Article 23. The sponsor has been working with the Town on their version.) – see related coverage
    • ATM Article 41 – (Citizen Petition) Amend Zoning of Elderly Housing units: Would increase allowed number of housing units under a special permit for over 55+ housing from 7% of defined housing stock to 10%.
    • ATM Article 42 – (Citizen Petition) Amend Town Code: Town Counsel: Would require selectmen to advertise for candidates for Town Counsel every 6 months and hold public interviews. Also adds performance review criteria (with public comment solicited) for current Town Counsel to apply to retain the position. (It appears this must have been an earlier version of Article 43 – as it is submitted by the same citizen sponsor.)

* The last I checked, STM articles 6-8 were still being updated based on feedback. I don’t have final versions, but Sam Stivers updated the Moderator about planned amendments at a joint meeting with Selectmen on April 18th. (That was prior to last Thursday’s open forum on the articles, which I was unable to attend.)

(Images at top of post: Main Street from Southborough Historical Commission; plow, cruiser and (cropped) voting booths by Susan Fitzgerald; St. Mark’s golf course by Katie Ferguson; and marijuana cropped from photo posted to flickr by by Brett Levin Photography)

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