By Pattie Pacella
Neighb News Correspondent
The Acushnet Selectboard and School Committee met jointly on Monday, 5/9, at the Selectboard’s regularly scheduled meeting to appoint an Old Colony representative.
Moderator Robert Francis ran that portion of the meeting. He advised the public that the vote April 25 was null and void as a quorum of School Committee members was not present. On Monday there was a quorum, with three school committee members present. The two boards voted to appoint Evelyn Bouley as their Old Colony representative.
In another matter, Principal Assessor Kelly Koska was on hand to discuss the assessed value, as requested by the Selectboard, on the Peckham Road property with the Liquefied Natural Gas facility slated for expansion.
Ms. Koska stated there were three personal property accounts, two central value accounts, and one affixed account (which included the LNG tanks) with a total committed tax value for FY’16 in the amount of approximately $603,000.
Ms. Koska said that she did some research and that the board should consider getting the property appraised which would cost approximately $8,500. She added that LNG has been at that property since the 1970’s and that there have been three to five subdivisions built in and around that area.
“I’m not arguing to support or not support this project,” she said, but added that she had some concern that the statement that the town will receive $10-12 million in tax revenue may not be factual.
“That’s exactly my concern,” Selectboard member Kevin Gaspar said.
Fire Chief Kevin Gallagher, who is a member of the LNG Committee, said they could ask Eversource to explain the revenue benefit.
Mr. Gallagher asked the Selectboard to start “thinking and planning,” in reference to conducting their own review with consultants.
“We didn’t seek them out, they came to us,” he said.
He recommended they start chatting with proponents regarding a multitude of concerns. He mentioned a public safety review, and risk assessments as his top two concerns.
Mr. Gallagher asked for the green light from the Selectboard to send a letter to FERC (Federal Energy Regulatory Commission) to request an extension for comments from approximately 21 days to 45 days. He said that the Attorney General’s office was already sending the same letter for a 45-day extension.
The board voted to give the LNG Committee permission to send the letter.
Selectboard chair Garry Rawcliffe asked his fellow members to give him a little leeway in discussing with Attorney Jonathan Eichman about the Town getting possibly, “good faith monies” to help pay for some of the costs that are going to start happening regarding the LNG project. Mr. Gaspar and Mr. Cioper agreed.
Town Clerk Pamela Labonte was also at the meeting at the request of the board to discuss a non binding question proposed for the town ballot in the fall regarding the LNG project.
Ms. Labonte said that she checked with the election office and was told the Selectboard could not put a non binding question on a state ballot; they could only put the question on their own annual Town ballot, which would not be until Spring 2017.
“This makes my blood boil,” Chairperson, Garry Rawcliffe said. “This is cockamamie b.s. if you ask me.”
Chief Gallagher explained that they were currently in the pre-filing process with LNG, which started last November and will go until this November. The formal application process will start in November, so the Selectboard would still have time to pose the question to residents in April.
Mr. Gallagher said that he would be very surprised if FERC did not accept the data from the question posed in the April election that may shine a negative light on the project. .
He did say that the FERC was going to meet with the LNG Committee on May 18th, and that he would ask the question if April’s election would be too late to acquire the data from a proposed question on the ballot.
In other business, Town Administrator Alan Countinho gave an overview of the budget. He stated that the finance committee was having a difficult time balancing it. He met with all department heads and they were able to cut $180,000. Mr. Countinho went through the cuts that reache that $180,000.
“We’re talking significant cuts,” he said.
Some of the cuts he spoke about in Town buildings was to cut overtime by $600, to cut a police cruiser out of the police budget, to cut fire alarm inspections and only offer half of the trainings for the Fire Department; and a cut of $46,000 from the highway department.
A significant cut came from the trash costs at SEMASS, $50,000, by cutting out the big garbage pick up day and not collecting TV’s, electronic equipment, etc.
Mr. Countinho told the board that the veterans agent was comfortable cutting $40,000 from his budget.
“We knew this was coming,” Garry Rawcliffe said. “We shouldn’t be surprised.”
Mr. Gaspar was upset about the cuts and spoke for some time regarding them.
“Sooner or later something has to change,” he began. “Fixed costs are increasing, how do we move forward.”
He made reference to the Finance Committee not being able to balance the budgetand stated that they are only “fictitiously balancing a budget.”
“We don’t have the money to move forward,” he said. “When does this madness stop? I don’t want to start picking on people, but I’m going to have to.”
Mr. Countinho said that he saw the trash this year as one of their biggest issues. They were one of the first towns to use SEMASS and now this year they are going to have to pay market rate to dispose of the trash. He also stated that the police department has been understaffed for years and now the public safety is a demand by the people in Town.
Mr. Gaspar was not quite finished. He referenced a “certain someone” on the finance committee saying that the Selectboard should impose a trash fee.
“It’s not going to happen while I’m here,” he said. “Meanwhile the school department is cutting back their budget. Look at their transportation, it has gone up $246,000 in four years.”
Mr. Gaspar also stated that on average the School Department budget has increased $369,000 in four years. “They’re wiping out every available penny.”
“Enough is enough,” Mr. Gaspar said. “We are broke. And we are going to get smacked in the head really hard next year, ladies and gentlemen.”
Garry Rawcliffee asked for a motion to accept Mr. Countinho’s proposed cuts and to allow the Finance Committee to find the rest of the cuts; the motion passed.
Mr. Gaspar said that the town is going to deplete its savings even more, and that they really need to have a truly balanced budget.
In other business a letter from the finance committee for a release of overlay surplus funds was tabled.
“I know my answer is no,” Mr. Rawcliffe said turning to Mr. Gaspar, “as I’m sure your answer is no.”
The board also appointed Debra Blais to the Beautification Committee, Lorraine Macy-Holiday to the Cultural Council, Michael St. Orange to the Finance Committee and David Costa to the Board of Appeals.
To download this week’s issue: https://www.fairhavenneighborhoodnews.com/2016-2/