Annual Town Meeting: Saturday, March 25

Info Sessions for newbies (tonight and Saturday); An overview of the Warrant

The Town’s legislative branch, Town Meeting, will convene in ten days to approve spending, amend local bylaws, and “advise” officials.

For anyone who is new to Town Meeting (or looking for clarification on process), the Town Moderator is holding two Info Sessions this week, starting tonight.

I’ll be digging into some of the Warrant Articles leading up to Annual Town Meeting. For now, I’m providing a general overview of what voters will be asked to weigh in on this year.

Town Meeting Info Session flyer with QR code for zoomBut first, here are the details on the info sessions. Identical sessions are scheduled for Wednesday, March 15th (7:00 – 8:00 pm) and Saturday, March 18th (1:00 – 2:00 pm). Both will take place in person at the Public Safety Building Meeting Room (32 Cordaville Rd). But you can also join remotely by zoom.

The official Warrant for the Meeting opening on Saturday, March 25th at 1:00 pm has been posted.

It’s worth noting that the numbering of some Articles has changed since prior drafts were discussed in public meetings. Scroll down for the full list.

There are 43 Articles, but the Select Board hopes for 14 of the more administrative items to be quickly approved in a “Consent Agenda” vote.*

The final 11 Articles are Citizen’s Petitions that Town Counsel has opined are only “advisory” in nature. That means the officials they are advising (the Select Board and/or Advisory Committee) are not required to follow voters’ “advice”. (For some, even if officials support voters’ decisions, state/federal officials would then also have to adopt measures.)

That leaves 18 Articles that both have clear consequences and that will be presented with an explanation. Hopefully, most of those will be brief. But some we can already anticipate will lead to debates on the floor.

Here are the highest profile issues that voters will decide** (in the order they appear on the Warrant):

  • Next year’s operating budget and capital expenses, which are projected to result in a 5.99% increase to the average homeowner’s tax bill. (That projection is based on the continuing trend of home values going up while commercial property values go down.)
  • Articles are to approve borrowing funds for expenses that will impact the bottom line in future years. That includes up to $2.2M to cleanup the old farm dump on Breakneck Hill Conservation Land
  • Multiple Articles to deal with the controversial project next to the Library for completing a relocated intersection for St Mark’s Street and a park. The Articles include a land ownership swap with the private school.
  • Two Articles are to fund the GonkPlex project to improve Algonquin Regional High School’s outdoor sports fields and facilities.
  • One Article lets voters decide whether to allow Hopkinton to access the MWRA water supply through Southborough’s infrastructure. 
  • Planning is bringing back its bylaw to protect public shade trees with amendments based on voter feedback at the Special Town Meeting last fall. A follow up Article would create a fund to study and maintain the tree inventory, including removals and new plantings.
  • Scenic Roads – Expanding the list of roads covered by state laws on Planning Board oversight of public shade trees and stonewall removals to include the 67 streets accepted as Town roads since it was last updated in 1978.
  • Conservation Commission’s proposed update to bylaws on regulation of Stormwater, Erosion Control, and Wetlands

Citizens have used Petition Articles to raise additional debates around the voting age for Town elections, driver feedback signs, the Town’s plans to regionalize public safety dispatch, the Public Works Planning Board, and 5G regulations. You can read about those here.

Below is the full list of Articles. (I italicized the Articles proposed by the Select Board for the Consent Agenda.)*

I. Acceptance of Monies from Contributors
2. Borrowing Authorization
3. Authorize Select Board and Supt. of Schools/Three Year Contracts
4. Amend the Personnel Salary Administration Plan
5. Fiscal Year 2024 Budget (Click here to view the posted budget details for each department)
6. Fiscal Year 2024 Water Budget
7. General Government Capital Items (non-borrowing)
8. Appropriation by Borrowing – Public Safety Radios
9. Appropriation by Borrowing – Breakneck Hill remediation
10. General Government Capital Items (Leases)
11. General Government Capital Items (Hiring Consultants)
12. Authorize Select Board to Accept/Dispose of Property – Discontinue portion of St. Mark’s Street
13. Appropriation from Free Cash St. Mark’s St. Park
14. Appropriation from CPA Funds – Algonquin Fields
15. General Government Capital Items (Algonquin Sports Complex improvements)
16. Appropriation from Free Cash – Parkerville Road paving
17. Annual Appropriation for OPEB Trust Fund
18. Insurance Deductible Account
19. Payment to Retirees for Accrued Leave Time
20. Facilities Maintenance Fund
21. Annual Authorization of Revolving Fund Amounts
22. Appropriation from CPA Funds – Administrative
23. Appropriation from CPA Funds – Debt Payment for Burnett House
24. Appropriation from CPA Funds – Debt Payment for Library Façade Project
25. Hopkinton IMA for Indirect Connection to MWRA Water
26. Amend Town Code – Trees
27. Tree Maintenance Fund
28. Designation of Scenic Roads
29. Amend Town Code – Zoning Stormwater and Erosion Control
30. Amend Town Code – Stormwater and Erosion Control
31. Amend Town Code – Wetland and Floodplain District
32. Amend Town Code – Change numbering of Town Code and correct typographical errors
33. Citizen’s Petition – Amend Town Code Change Municipal Election Voting Age
34. Citizen’s Petition – Amend Town Code Zoning (The petitioner has said he will move to indefinitely postpone this Article.)
35. Citizen’s Petition – Parkerville Road Speed limit Signs
36. Citizen’s Petition – Funding for Parkerville Road Speed Limit Signs
37. Citizen’s Petition – Withdrawal from Metro West REC IMA
38. Citizen’s Petition – Emergency Dispatch Services
39. Citizen’s Petition – Appointments to Public Works Planning Board
40. Citizen’s Petition – Modify Small Cell Policy
41. Citizen’s Petition – Request for Select Board to Petition FCC

Note: If voters pass Articles 12 & 13, the petitioner has said he will move to indefinitely postpone the final two Articles:

42. Citizen’s Petition – Cease All Work on St Mark’s Road Project
43. Citizen’s Petition – Request for Forensic Investigation

One Article in earlier drafts of the Warrant was postponed to a Special Town Meeting in the fall. That was for transferring Affordable Housing funds from CPC to the Affordable Housing Trust Fund. (Officials wanted more time to deal with some of the details.)

In advance of the meeting, more presentations and handouts will be posted to the Town’s website here.

*The “Consent Agenda” list of Articles to be voted in as one bundle  is proposed by the Moderator (who may choose a slightly different list than the one the Select Board supported). Any single voter can call to hold any or all Articles to be presented and discussed.

**One caveat – some of the Articles (especially zoning changes) do need to be vetted by the Attorney General’s office before they can be put into effect. They rarely reject the Articles, but sometimes require changes to wording or strike sections deemed to be at odds with the state law/constitution.

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Al Hamilton
1 year ago

As a general rule, I think it is wise to avoid excessive use of “advisory” warrant articles. However, from time to time it is appropriate for Town Meeting to use the bully pulpit particularly when it’s toes have been trodden on.
While Town Counsel is correct that the many of the votes are “advisory”, the balancing act that appears to be missing is that the entire Warrant is advisory. It represents the collective desires of the various executive bodies and the advisory committee. The document clearly advises Town Meeting on how to vote but it has no more formal effect than does the approval of an “advisory” article. The taxing and spending authority resides solely with Town Meeting. The advisory nature of the Warrant is no different than Town Meeting advising various boards and officials on how they wish them to act.
We desperately need to get back to a place where the use of advisory warrant articles is rare. It starts by respecting the role of Town Meeting.

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