By Beth David
Fairhaven Town Meeting (TM) made quick work of appropriating more than $58 million, and going through approximately 50 articles at the annual town meeting on Saturday, 5/7.
Unexpectedly, the sale of the Oxford School building did not stir the discussion anticipated because the Selectboard decided, at an early morning meeting before TM, to pass over the article instead of bringing it to a vote.
After TM, Selectboard chairperson Charles Murphy said it was a unanimous vote to pass over the article and to ask the developer for more information, such as an architect’s rendering of the outside of the building and more detailed plans of the grounds. He said the town will most likely hold a special TM in the fall to vote on the sale.
Falling into the category of “you never know what Town Meeting will do,” the deliberative body spent lots of time discussing articles that did not, at first blush, seem controversial, and also zipped by others that showed some early promise of causing serious debate.
The fight over the additional $15,000 for Town Administrator Mark Rees never materialized, although Therese Szala objected, saying it created a “very serious precedent” to re-open the salary negotiations after just four months.
Selectboard member Daniel Freitas, who used the wage re-opener as a campaign issue, said he supported the increase.
Selectboard members Charles Murphy and Bob Espindola explained that the job had been advertised at $150,000, but that last year’s budget could not support the whole amount. So, the Selectboard negotiated the wage opener.
Mr. Rees has shown a “tremendous amount of leadership,” said Mr. Espindola.
Mr. Murphy said it was in the public’s “best interest.”
TM approved the raise.
Article 7 of the Special TM to hire a consultant to study uses for the Rogers School building, did get some discussion, but not nearly as much as anticipated.
Douglas Brady told TM that the $33,000 would pay for the town to know exactly what is in the building, and get information on possible re-uses of the building and site.
He urged TM members to support the article so the town can make an “informed decision” on what to do with the building.
The study would identify not only the condition of the building, but also possible funding sources and grants to repurpose the site.
TM passed the article.
In a setback for the Planning Board, article 32, which would have allowed the PB to require a bond of 15% of the cost of a project requiring a special permit, did not pass.
Despite assurances from Town Planner and Economic Development Director Bill Roth that the bond was only to be assessed on certain projects to give the PB some clout if developers drag their feet on finishing final items, TM rejected the notion.
Mr. Roth explained that the PB is not on the form to approve building occupancy and it did not look like they would be anytime soon. He also said that the enforcement officer, flatly refused to enforce certain aspects of certain projects.
Mr. Roth said that once a place has its occupancy permit, the PB has no options. A bond would allow them to either force the developer to comply with the conditions of the special permit, which usually are landscaping and parking lot items, or the PB could use that money to finish the items. He also said the language was “almost verbatim” from other towns’ bylaws.
Kevin McLaughlin spoke against the article, saying the language was “very ambiguous,” and it would make it more difficult for projects to be developed.
“We want to welcome businesses to town,” said Mr. McLauglin.
Town meeting agreed with Mr. McLauglin and rejected the measure.
The PB did, however, leave with a couple of victories. TM passed two articles totalling $110,000 to fully fund the cost of a Master Plan. Article 21 of the Annual TM appropriated $85,000; article 29 appropriated $25,000 from Community Preservation Act funds.
Article 31, which rezoned a small parcel on Route 6 from commercial to mutli-family, also passed.
As announced at its last meeting, the PB passed over the controversial bylaw change in article 33, which would have included boats in regulations governing auto sales and service stations.
Large spending items that passed included $870,282 for the Hastings Middle School roof, that will be partly reimbused by the state; $153,408 for floors at HMS; road work at $823,821, including state aid funds; $500,000 for the capital stabilization fund, which will be used to fund future capital projects, such as equipment; $8 million in borrowing for the sewer system, including inflow and infiltration remediation.
Other capital spending projects that were approved, included $78,345 for two police cruisers; $30,000 for a police SafeBoat, that will replace two older boats; $150,000 for a dump truck; and $40,000 for a new truck for the Harbormaster.
HM Tim Cox explained that his truck is rotting underneath and has transmission issues. He said the new truck will also be better able to pull the boats that the department has.
Community Preservation Commit-tee Funds were also used for a project in Mattapoisett to protect drinking wells ($50,000); boiler replacement at Dana Court ($50,000); window restoration at the high school ($70,000); and library exterior work ($159,00).
One CPC article that got a rise out of some people was the proposed siding for the Academy Building. The Historical Commmission requested $45,000 to replace the clapboard with natural shingles.
Discussion revolved around two points: One, that there was no clear evidence that the historic building had shingles, it may have had clapboard all along; and two, that replacing almost all the clapboard because a small section is rotted, causing the paint to peel is overkill.
It is like killing a mosquito with a cannon, said Catherine Delano.
Al Benac was very vocal against the change, saying there was no evidence that it was ever shingled.
“So, they dont know what they’re doing here,” said Mr. Benac.
Wayne Oliveira, chair of the Historical Commission, said there was evidence that the building was once shingled.
He said the paint keeps peeling in the same spots and needs to be replaced.
“We keep spending good money after bad,” said Mr. Oliveira. “We’re just chasing our tail on this one.”
In the end, TM voted not to fund the measure. The Academy will, most likely, get a paint job this year.
TM did, however, fund an increase of $35,000 in the legal budget to allow the town to use a contract attorney for union negotiations.
Philip Cardoza, an employee in the Highway Department, objected, saying that contract negotiations were already stalled.
Mr. Rees said the increase would also allow the town to use town counsel for grievances and other disputes.
In other business TM:
• Approved the transfer of land at the Taber House.
• Approved bylaw word changes related to the Town Administrator Act to fix errors, such as removing all references to “Executive Secretary,” etc., and rewriting the portions pertaining to the Board of Public Works, which was retained by townwide vote;
• Approved a request for a beer and wine license for Pizzeria Brick, which will have to go to the legislature;
• Approved acceptance of Welcome Street and Rockland Street, but rejected accepting Treasure Bay Lane;
• Approved a bylaw aiming at protecting the water supply, that would make it illegal, except by permit, to remove water from ponds and streams;
• Approved the Payment in Lieu of Taxes agreement with Blue Wave Capital;
This was the first town meeting for new Town Adminisrator Mark Rees, who gave a presentation at the beginning of TM pointing out changes and other highlights. The format had several changes, including a printed cheat-sheet with all the changes, instead of the oft-cited and joked-about slide-show with laser pointer favored by former Executive Secretary Jeffrey Osuch.
All in all, the town’s operating budget came in at about $45.4 million, which includes $21.5 million for the school department and the vocational schools, plus $13.3 million in spending articles.
To see this week’s full issue click: https://www.fairhavenneighborhoodnews.com/2016-2/