Town Meeting vote results

Voters approve St. Mark's Park and Gonkplex Articles, but were less welcoming to Tree & Scenic Roads bylaws and regionalizing Dispatch Services

Above: Voters approved a lot of important town business over the course of nine hours on Saturday. (photo by Beth Melo)

2023 Annual Town Meeting was completed in one day, but it was a long one.

In the afternoon, the hall was packed with voters, with overflow in the cafeteria. Many were there to support Algonquin’s athletic facilities upgrades.

First, they had to sit through debates on the Select Board’s land swap with St. Mark’s School to complete the street relocation and park project. Ultimately, the board got the over 2/3 support it needed.

After those Articles were resolved, the Gonkplex crowd got the votes they needed to support a CPA project and the regional school’s authority to borrow close to $8M. (Although, Northborough voters still have to greenlight the shared bonding.)

In the evening, the hall was much emptier, and attendance grew sparser as the night grew longer. An Article to conduct an engineering audit of Hopkinton’s Water Connection request took up a lot of time before passing. 

By the time the Planning Board finished presenting and answering questions about their bylaw to codify protecting public shade trees, only 79+79 voters weighed in. (The tie vote was one short shy of the majority needed.) Planning’s companion Article to expand the list of Scenic Roads was indefinitely postponed again. But in between, a funding Article for work on a tree inventory and planting plan succeeded.

In Citizen Petition highlights, the late night crowd was supportive of a petition by teens for teens — to lower the Municipal voting age to 17. Discussions on subsequent Citizen Petitions ran well past midnight, including ones focused on objecting to the Select Board’s efforts to enter a regional dispatch center in Westborough.

It appears the night was too long for some petitioners. Seven Articles were skipped because of absent petitioners.

I’ll post highlights from discussions and debates this week. In the meantime, here are the basic results.

Except for where noted below, the following Articles passed:

1. 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
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 — Failed due to tie vote
27. Tree Maintenance Fund
28. Designation of Scenic Roads — Indefinitely postponed by the hall
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
37. Citizen’s Petition – Withdrawal from Metro West REC IMA
38. Citizen’s Petition – Emergency Dispatch Services (Keep local)
39. Citizen’s Petition – Appointments to Public Works Planning Board Failed

The following Articles weren’t discussed because their lead petitioners weren’t in attendance:

34. Citizen’s Petition – Amend Town Code Zoning
35. Citizen’s Petition – Parkerville Road Speed limit Signs
36. Citizen’s Petition – Funding for Parkerville Road Speed Limit Signs
40. Citizen’s Petition – Modify Small Cell Policy
41. Citizen’s Petition – Request for Select Board to Petition FCC
42. Citizen’s Petition – Cease All Work on St Mark’s Road Project
43. Citizen’s Petition – Request for Forensic Investigation

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eileen samberg
2 months ago

In regards to the failed public shade tree bylaw (article 26), there was a lot of confusion on what this bylaw was going to accomplish as Massachusetts General Law Chapter 87 (protecting public shade trees) already exists. The claim was that the law was not being followed or enforced, and it wasn’t clear how adding this bylaw was going to rectify this situation. I think there could have been some slides summarizing the Massachusetts law (rather than a showing a history timeline), followed by slides going over the Southborough-specific additions/changes. That being said, the Massachusetts law is draconian in parts and could tie up the tree warden and the planning board on every 2-inch buckthorn on the roadside since even invasive trees require a hearing.

Meme Luttrell
2 months ago
Reply to  eileen samberg

Eileen, Thank you for your thoughtful input. The Planning Board was allowed 5 minutes to make our presentation and we tried to communicate during that timeframe what was being proposed is not new, simply codifying MGL into Town code. MGL C87 can be ambiguous and a local bylaw tailored to Southborough would remove that ambiguity. Mr. Dennington proved the point for the need to have procedures in the town code when speaking in opposition to Scenic Roads. Mr. Dennington erroneously claimed that the tree hearing process for scenic and non-scenic roads are a vastly different. That claim is incorrect. The notice and posting requirements for both types of hearings are the same – the only difference being that tree hearings for non-scenic roads are held at Select Board meetings (in Southborough the Select Board is the Tree Warden) and for scenic roads the Planning Board joins them. Having a procedure laid out in the Town code would alleviate such confusion and remove the necessity to review different sections of MGL and legal opinions to determine the correct process.  Holding hearings on public shade tree removals eliminates situations, as have arisen in the past, where “dead” trees were removed without a hearing and it turned out their death was greatly exaggerated. 

John Kendall
2 months ago

What makes town meeting painful is the people who feel they need to speak multiple times on the same article. Get up, say your piece, ask your questions, sit down. Most of these folks are the same who get up and feel the need to speak on every article. It slows business down. And when someone asks to move the question, move it! We need Brownie Swartwood back. He could move a town meeting right along

David Parry
2 months ago

God help us if future Town Meetings are allowed to drag on and on, like Saturdays event — which started at 1pm but ended after 1 am: equals 12 hours plus. It is ironic that we revere Town Meeting, but succeed in making it almost unbearable.

I had to leave after 9 pm (after 10 hours Meeting including the dinner break) because I had to pick up my daughter arriving from Berlin, Germany. When I got home, very late from Boston, I turned on the TV to find Town Meeting was still going on !

I cannot imagine a WORSE Introduction to Town Meeting, for new residents who are exceptionally busy and time-limited — than facing over 12 hours of Town Meeting, all in one stretch ( incl breaks). But I agree that two 6 hour stretches might be even worse.

I fail to understand why STRICT TIME LIMITS cannot be set by the Moderator — on ALL presenters, without exception, Select Board included. I dont think it matters how self-important the proponents think they are — they must learn to SUMMARIZE. I suggest a maximum time limit of 10 minutes. If they think they are so special they deserve longer, then they could WRITE a “handout” and then they can say (for instance ) …”Please turn to the chart on page 7… “.

And for heavens sake, do we have to hear from the same people in the “audience”, again and again, on Article after Article, who have little new to add, but are obviously fond of hearing themselves over the loudspeaker ! … If only they realized just how boring they sounded,
after the 7th time ! Town officials must obviously speak and answer questions throughout the Meeting, but that doesn’t excuse other speakers from talking incessantly. Some individuals spoke over 12 times, on 40 Articles. How about a polite suggested limit of 7 speeches each? The discipline of a suggested limit is that it forces everyone to consider what they care about MOST.

Many thanks — to all those who stuck it out to the bitter end, and SAVED the rest of us from having to face a second session on Monday evening .

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