By Jean Perry, Neighb News Correspondent
Fairhaven’s October 20 Special Town Meeting Warrant has been posted and sent to the printers, albeit a few days before the Fairhaven Finance Committee was able to vote on its recommendations on some of the articles. Nonetheless, only 29 of the 34 articles will be considered after the Selectboard already voted to pass over three, and then Town Administrator Mark Rees told the Finance Committee on 10/8 that two additional articles would be passed over.
After a 6-4 vote recommending all seven capital projects in Article 9 totaling $2,143,900, four dissenting FinCom members, Lisa Plante, Bernie Roderick, Kathi Carter, and Carolyn Roberts, authored a “Minority Report” recommending indefinite postponement.
The Selectboard recommended adoption of the entire article.
The four FinCom members acknowledged that the field is in need of repair, but did not deem the project “critical” at this time. The four also acknowledged that while the town’s financial situation is not yet “dire,” revenue losses due to the pandemic and reductions in state aid have left the future of Fairhaven’s fiscal soundness uncertain.
“There will be no immediate harm done if we delay this article until the annual Town Meeting in six months,” the report reads. “At that time we should have a clearer picture of the Town’s finances.”
It goes on to say that while the town’s debt service is positive, “…it does not seem fiscally wise to borrow 1.2 million dollars for something that is not critical to the functioning of town services.
“This is not the time to incur additional debt for something not immediately ‘essential’ for which taxpayers will have to pay.”
“In May 2021, we should have a much clearer picture of our revenue situation and be in a better position to make an informed decision about when to address the athletic field situation,” the report reads.
The FY21 Capital Plan also includes $250,000 for the Council on Aging/Recreation Center HVAC replacement; $205,000 for the police and marine resources radio upgrade; $75,000 for a one-ton dump truck for the Board of Public Works; $52,000 for a fire response staff vehicle; $131,900 for police cruisers.
There are 16 articles in the warrant that the FinCom did not have time to vote on before it went to print, and aside from those that will either be passed over or require even more time for the committee to consider, the FinCom members managed to vote on eight more on 10/8.
Article 28, a petition from the Sustainability Committee for the lease of two electric vehicles and a charging station looks for $16,400 in matching funds to acquire a Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection grant to lease two new electric vehicles for three years and install an electric charging station. The town received the grant back in January, and Conservation Agent Whitney McClees reported to the Selectboard that running two electric vehicles instead of two gas powered ones would save the town about $900 a year.
The FinCom’s discussion began on 10/8 with an audible groan by one of the committee members, followed by some FinCom members wondering how the town could save money by leasing two vehicles instead of continuing to use the two the town already owns.
Town Administrator Mark Rees tried his best to explain how, saying that the town would save about $22 every time one of the electric cars needs to be charged as opposed to whenever one of the gas-powered cars is currently refueled. Mr. Roderick wondered why the town could not consider the grant when the two gas-powered cars are no longer usable.
Without the aid of a Sustainability Committee member to offer further explanation, Mr. Rees was unable to give the committee enough information to make a recommendation that night.
The committee recommended adopting Article 18 to appropriate $282,600 toward Community Preservation Act projects, even though only some of that funding will be spent this fiscal year with $180,000 being approved but not allocated toward any specific projects.
Mr. Elliott pointed out that for the past couple years Town Meeting has approved CPA funding without allocating it, carrying the funds over into the next fiscal year for future projects. Mr. Rees said the carryover of CPA funds is likely due to the staff changes in the Planning Department leading to a lack of advertisement to the community of the availability of the funds.
“Has it (CPA in Fairhaven) run its course?” Mr. Elliot asked Mr. Rees, given that the town keeps reserving the funds for future appropriations.
CPA funds are raised through a 3% surcharge on property taxes.
“I certainly don’t think so,” said Mr. Rees. One of the benefits of CPA money is that the town receives a certain percentage of matching funds from the state every year, he said.
The FinCom voted to recommend Article 18 that includes $75,000 for a Green Meadows Door replacement, $15,000 for the Buzzards Bay Coalition Boys Creek March Conservation Project, and $12,600 for Community Preservation Committee annual expenses. A total of $180,000 would be reserved for another year.
The FinCom and Selectboard, voted to recommend the adoption of Article 25, Gold Star Parents Tax Abatement Bylaw. The article provides a property tax abatement to the surviving parents or guardians of a military veteran who was killed in active duty, died as a result of an injury sustained during active duty, or is missing in action.
Petitioner Frederick Jones et.al. is hoping to ban the use of thin film plastic bags at stores with Article 23. It would ban the use of plastic bags at point of sale stores with a gross floor area of at least 5,000 square feet, with enforcement assigned to the Board of Health or the Selectboard. The article would impose a fine of $200 for each violation. The Selectboard and the FinCom both yield to petitioner.
Both boards will yield to the petitioner on Article 24 submitted by former Health Agent Mary Freire-Kellogg et.al. which seeks to reinforce standards for the Board of Health. The article would require the Board of Health “to be held to the standards set forth in the Selectmen’s Boards and Committees Handbook [https:// www.fairhaven-ma.gov/board-selectmen/pages/boards-and-committees-handbook] as well as the Personnel Bylaws and Collective Bargaining Agreement.” Ms. Freire-Kellogg states in her proposed article, “I understand the Board of Health should remain autonomous in matters concerning public health, however, I am referring to matters of the Board of Health’s personal conduct and establishing a standard they should be held to, as all other Boards and Committees in Fairhaven are required.” She also seeks to include the Wellness Committee in these standards.
Both boards will also yield to the petitioner on Article 34 to rezone land owned by G. Bourne Knowles from the Apartment/ Multifamily District to the Business District.
Petitioned by the fire chief, Article 27 would allow the town to petition the General Court to enact a Special Act to set specific requirements for eligibility for promotion to the rank of fire lieutenant. The Selectboard recommends adoption while FinCom yields to the petitioner.
Both boards recommended adoption of the following articles:
• Article 4, the fiscal year 2021 operating budget’s remaining $31,020,644, which is less the 1/12 and 1/3 budgets already approved at the Annual Town Meeting. The total FY21 budget is $52,690,951 including the recommended reserve fund appropriations.
• Article 5 is to approve the $2,362,791 Water Enterprise budget.
• Article 6 is to approve the $2,716,350 Sewer Enterprise budget.
• Article 7 approves $162,112 for the Cable Television Enterprise Fund budget.
• Article 8 is to approve the Fairhaven Public Schools Cable Television Enterprise Fund budget of $138,256.
• Article 10 appropriates $13,217 from the Water Ways User Fund for dredging at West Island.
• Article 13, $375,000 for roadwork, was recommended by both boards for adoption; however, the recommended motion is different from the four roads proposed by four different petitioners. Instead of repairs to Robert Street, Cove Street, Bonney Street, and Chase Road, the proposed motion is to repair Chase Road, Bellevue Street, Fisherman Road, and Massasoit Avenue.
• Article 15 is to deposit $65,000 into an ambulance stabilization fund.
• Article 16 is to appropriate $1,745,000 for the Water Enterprise Capital Plan: well capacity evaluation, $125,000; van, $30,000; Farmfield Street/Harborfield water main, $90,000; water meter reading system, $1.5 million in borrowed funds.
• Article 17 to appropriate $982,179 from the Sewer Enterprise Capital Plan, which includes $250,000 for inflow and infiltration study; $75,000 for a muffin monster (grinder) for Tabor Street pumping station; $657,179 for West Island Treatment Plant Capital Improvements.
• Article 20 would appropriate $15,000 for the propagation of shellfish, petitioned by the Harbormaster.
When it came to the street light requests of Article 26, Mr. Elliot proposed a recommendation to adopt only two of the four proposed lights in the article after doing some “homework” on the proposed new lights for Emerson Avenue, Saltmarsh Road, Reservation Road, and Long Road. He recommended adoption for only Saltmarsh Road and Long Road, which the FinCom ultimately recommended. The Selectboard will make its recommendation at Town Meeting.
Article 29 would transfer $10,000 in required matching funds from the Waterways User Fees account for an economic feasibility study of potential uses for Union Wharf.
Article 30 would approve the transfer of $89,500 from the 5/4/19 Town Meeting article 17C to the Union Wharf Phase IV repairs account from 5/4/19 Town Meeting article 17A. The funds will go toward strengthening the bulkheads around Union Wharf.
Finance Committee recommendations for the following articles will be given at Town Meeting:
• Article 3 to set the salaries of town officials, which the Selectboard recommended adopting; the FinCom will wait to make a recommendation. Mr. Elliott said he thought the article was pretty straightforward, but after hearing from Mr. Rees that the amounts could change, Mr. Elliot said: “It sounds like there’s something going on here.”
• Article 11, which would authorize the Selectboard to enter into an agreement for a land swap at Union Wharf.
• Article 21 to transfer $490,173 from the Surplus Revenue for the reduction of the tax levy; however, Mr. Rees said that amount could go up or down slightly before TM.
• Article 31, to enter into a Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) agreement for 46 Charity Stevens Lane, petitioned by Con Edison Clean Energy Business.
Both boards will yield to the petitioner on Article 33, to grant an easement for a sewer connection to Arsene Street from 245 Huttleston Avenue, petitioned by Daniel and Cherie Nault.
The 10/20 STM will be held remotely via Zoom at 7:00 p.m.
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