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Mattapoisett Election and Meeting Results

Mattapoisett Annual & Special Town Meeting

May 12-13, 2008

By Kenneth J. Souza

The Annual Town Meeting for the Town of Mattapoisett was called to order on Monday, May 12 at 7:00 pm in the auditorium of ORR High School by Town Moderator Jack Eklund having noted the presence of a quorum of some 160 registered voters. The Finance Committee (FinCom) first made a presentation on the Fiscal Year (FY) 2009 General Operating Budget.

FinCom Chairman Dennis Perry noted that going into FY2009, the Town of Mattapoisett is "financially sound and stable." The Board of Selectmen and FinCom have agreed on a conservative approach in preparing their proposed budget.

"Based on our revenue stream, we have $19.8 million available for appropriations," Mr. Perry said, adding that this year's proposed budget is up by $661,000 or a 3.6 percent increase over FY 2008.

Under ARTICLE 1, voters were asked to fix the salaries of the town's elected officials as follows: Town Moderator: $200; Board of Selectmen, Chairman: $ 3,700; Board of Selectmen, Members: $3,300; Assessors: $3,300; Town Clerk: $46,709; Board of Health: $400; Highway Surveyor: $62,505; Mattapoisett School Committee: $400; Water/Sewer Commissioners: $400; Tree Warden: $6,800; and Herring Inspector: $730.

There being no questions or objections, Article 1 passed unanimously, 160 to 0.

Taking ARTICLE 3 out of order, voters were asked to receive an annual report from the Mattapoisett Capital Planning Committee for FY2009. Committee member Jeremy Collier noted that they are recommending 15 capital requests totaling $3.3 million that are considered to be priorities for FY2009.

Town Meeting unanimously voted to accept the Capital Planning Committee's report under Article 3.

At 7:34 voters adjourned the Annual Town Meeting to consider the six Special Town Meeting articles, beginning with ARTICLE 1, which asked voters to approve a transfer from available funds of $60,000 to pay the cost of retirement/post retirement benefits to eligible employees.

Article 1 carried unanimously, 160 to 0.

Under ARTICLE 2, voters were asked to appropriate $3,500 to print the 2007 Annual Town Report, with money to be transferred from FY2008 Free Cash.

"This report is the Annual Town Report for the current calendar year ... we had money in that account be we depleted it," Mr. Botelho explained, noting it was used to print prior years' reports which voters had requested.

Article 2 passed unanimously, 160 to 0.

Under ARTICLE 3, voters were asked to appropriate $5,000 to pay for the cost of plantings, markers and related landscape features at the Mattapoisett War Memorial Park adjacent to the Mattapoisett Free Public Library.

Resident George Randall questioned whether there was any money remaining the Mattapoisett Library Renovation account and why it wasn't being used to fund these plantings, since it was located on the newly-expanded library property. But Selectman Andrews noted the park really has nothing to do with the library and the town owns the property that is to be landscaped.

According to Mattapoisett Tree Committee member Ruth Bates, this money would be used to finish a project designed by Deborah Smiley in order to avoid having the entire area blacktopped, which was proposed in the original library plan. They have now restructured the park area and reduced the number of parking spaces between the library and the rear parking lot of The Kinsale Inn.

Article 3 carried via majority vote, 155 to 5.

Under ARTICLE 4 voters were asked to appropriate $47,018.02 from FY2008 Free Cash to pay for legal expenses associated with litigation and labor matters during the prior year. The bulk of this cost, according to Selectman Steve Lombard, was to pay for legal fees related to the Tinkham Forest Land Swap lawsuit, which is currently being appealed by the residents who filed the original suit.

"At last year's Town Meeting, we didn't have the funds to pay the legal bill," Selectman Lombard said. "The case was the budget didn't meet the appropriations. We came to Town Meeting to meet those appropriations last year and it was turned down. But we still owe the money."

"Last year we voted down the article that sought $25,000 ... this year we're being asked for $47,000 which is almost twice as much," said resident Brad Hathaway. "I voted against this article last fall more out of anger and frustration. But now I think it should be paid."

Mr. Eklund noted this article was to fund a prior year's bill and thus required a 9/10 majority to pass. With that, Article 4 carried via 169 to 14.

Under ARTICLE 5 voters were asked to appropriate $154,897 from FY 2008 Free Cash to pay additional legal fees and related expenses. A little over $100,000 of this amount is related to the town's pursuit of a claim against the contractor responsible for the HVAC problems at Old Hammondtown School, according to Selectman Raymond Andrews. The town is hoping to recoup upwards of $1.3 million to make repairs to the faulty HVAC system installed in the school which resulted in mold damage.

The remaining $54,000-plus would fund other pending litigation matters, including the previously discussed unresolved Tinkham Forest lawsuit.

But resident Brad Hathaway, who is also one of the residents who filed the original Tinkham Forest Land Swap lawsuit against the town, vehemently asked the Board of Selectmen to consider dropping their appeal in order to save these mounting legal fees.

"There may be a possibility that this could cost the town more than $100,000 and I'm trying to stop that," Mr. Hathaway said, after inquiring as to how much of this amount is earmarked for the Tinkham Forest litigation case.

Mr. Hathaway further asked how much of the remaining money is due to the Tinkham Forest suit.

According to Town Administrator Mike Botelho, that amount is estimated to be $8,405.99 for the current year.

With that, Mr. Hathaway moved that $8,405.99 be deducted from Article 5, bringing the new total to $146,491.01.

Mr. Hathaways' motion to amend was defeated, 142 to 18.

Returning to the original Article 5, voters thereby approved the measure via majority, 153 to 7.

Under ARTICLE 6, voters were asked to appropriate $7,780.55 for the purpose of paying the costs of tax title foreclosures for FY 2008 and FY 2009.

Article 6 passed via majority, 160 to 0.

Reconvening the Annual Town Meeting, under ARTICLE 2, voters were asked to approve a total $19.8 million General Operating Budget for FY 2009.

Among the key line items which were questioned by voters was an odd budget entry included under several departments for "uniform/clothing allowance" which Mr. Botelho explained was part of a collective bargaining agreement with employees back in 2003. The nominal $300 to $400 line item has remained in each department's budget since, although most departments don't wear "uniforms," per se.

After further discussion and debate, Article 2 passed via majority vote, 159 to 1.

Under ARTICLE 4A, voters were first asked to appropriate $180,000 from the Capital Stabilization Fund to replace various vehicles and equipment as recommended by the Capital Planning Committee including: a police cruiser for the Police Department ($28,000); garage doors for the Highway Department ($30,000); a one-ton dump truck for the Highway Department ($65,000); replace aging technology in the Mattapoisett Schools ($51,000); and relocate servers and equipment for the Board of Selectmen ($6,000).

Resident George Randall asked why the Police Department has to replace two cruisers every year, especially given the current economic climate. "Why can't we replace one now and see what happens with the economy in November?" he asked.

But Police Chief Mary Lyons noted they currently have two unmarked vehicles and seven marked cruisers and they have been following a policy established with the FinCom to replace two cruisers every year and rotate the older ones out of service. "It's a safety issue," she said.

With that, Article 4A passed via majority vote, 154 to 6.

Under ARTICLE 4B, voters were asked to appropriate $56,010 from previous unused articles and ambulance receipts to replace a second police cruiser for the Police Department ($31,010) and purchase a pickup truck for the Highway Department ($25,000).

Article 4B passed, 158 to 2.

Under ARTICLE 5, voters were asked to appropriate $2.5 million to construct a new water storage facility and accompanying appurtenances for the Water Department, with money to be raised via borrowing, available funds or through grants.

According to Water/Sewer Superintendent William "Nick" Nicholson, the project would be funded through water rates and would cost about 80 cents per 100 cubic feet, or about $71.03 per year for the average water user. Mr. Nicholson noted the water tank would be located on town-owned property within the The Bay Club facility.

Article 5 passed 108 to 39.

Under ARTICLE 6, voters were asked to appropriate $50,000 to replace a 12-inch diameter portion of water main at the Mattapoisett River Crossing which has been eroded by the river bank over the years and needs to be replaced. This is a main transmission line to North Street, according to Mr. Nicholson.

Article 6 passed unanimously, 130 to 0.

Under ARTICLE 7, voters were asked to authorize the Board of Selectmen and/or the Board of Water Commissioners to appropriate $15,000 to purchase land for the purpose of well protection. Mr. Nicholson said this purchase entails 7.25 acres of land along the Mattapoisett River which abuts the town's #5 well which is accessed off Long Plain Road.

Article 7 passed via majority vote, 108 to 2.

Under ARTICLE 8, voters were asked to appropriate $400,000 to replace existing water meters in town with "Radio Read" meters as requested by the Water/Sewer Department. According to Mr. Nicholson, this article would allow them to upgrade to remote Radio Read meters which would allow them to quickly access meter readings and do more frequent readings even when residents aren't home. This would, ultimately, allow them to increase the number of billing cycles during the year. Mr. Nicholson said he hopes to move to quarterly billing with these new meters. Funded through borrowing, Mr. Nicholson said the cost to purchase these new meters would be about $18.48 per user each year over a 10-year period.

But many residents felt this was more of a "want" than a "need" item, especially given the $400,000 price tag.

Article 8 failed to pass, 42 to 72.

Reconvening the second night on Tuesday, May 13 at 7:06 pm having noted the presence of a quorum of some 96 voters, Town Meeting quickly approved:

* $50,000 to make wharf repairs and repair or replace wharf floats at the Town Beach under ARTICLE 9;

* $20,000 to conduct an engineering study of Mello Wharf under ARTICLE 10;

* $28,500 to purchase a new ambulance billing computer system under ARTICLE 11;

* Appropriating the following from Community Preservation Funds: $1,000 for administrative expenses; 10 percent from FY09 revenues for Historic Resources Reserve; 10 percent from FY09 revenues for Community Housing Reserve; 10 percent from FY09 revenues for Open Space Reserve; and the remainder of FY09 revenues into an uncommitted reserve account under ARTICLE 12;

* Accepting the provisions of Chapter 137 of the Acts of 2003 to authorize the Town of Mattapoisett to pay town employees who are called to military service the difference between their military base pay and the amount they would have received as a town employee under ARTICLE 13;

* $50,000 transfer from Free Cash into the FY2009 Reserve Fund under ARTICLE 14;

* $8,500 to replace and/or upgrade computer equipment or software in the Town Hall under ARTICLE 15;

* $3,000 to to pay the town's dues to the Buzzards Bay Action Committee (BBAC) for FY2009 under ARTICLE 16;

* $100,000 transfer from Free Cash into the town's Stabilization Fund under ARTICLE 17;

* $72,000 transfer from Free Cash into the town's Capital Stabilization Fund under ARTICLE 18;

* Establishing a Departmental Water Enterprise Fund with $10,000 coming from Water Enterprise Retained Earnings under ARTICLE 19;

* $10,000 transfer from the Sewer Enterprise Retained Earnings into the Sewer Enterprise Reserve Fund under ARTICLE 20;

* Establishing a Wood Waste Recycling Revolving Account under state law that would allow Mattapoisett to receive payments and tipping fees generated from wood waste with a maximum spending limit of $30,000 under ARTICLE 21;

* Rescinding the town's borrowing authority from several open and unused prior Town Meeting articles in order to improve the town's overall bond rating under ARTICLE 22;

* $6,000 appropriation from the Overlay Surplus account to defray the expense of real estate revaluations under ARTICLE 23; and

* Adopting a Zoning By-Law amendment to better define frontage requirements, especially on lots where the street is curved or located on cul-de-sacs under ARTICLE 24 (passed 75 to 27).

The bulk of night number two was dedicated to ARTICLE 25 as petitioned by the Mattapoisett Historical Commission to establish a "Demolition Delay By-Law" for the town.

According to Historical Commission Chairman Josephine Pannell: "What we are trying to do is delay the demolition of a historic building or structure, and the key word is 'delay.' In the last seven years, there were probably two buildings that we might have looked at. There are 121 cities or towns in Massachusetts that have a Demolition Delay By-Law."

But residents felt it put too many restrictions on their personal property and would create potential economic hardships.

"If I want to tear down a house, am I going to have to fight these people in court?" asked resident Paul Kelly.

"This by-law imposes a huge, huge economic cost and burden," said resident Mary Kelleher. "Nowhere in this by-law does it talk about issuing a demoliion permit. I don't think it promotes the public welfare."

"This is a zoning by-law and all we're doing is circumventing the zoning by-law regulation," said resident Stephen Hanna.

But Town Counsel advised the state Attorney General's office has taken the stance that a Demolition Delay By-Law is not a Zoning By-Law and only requires a simple majority vote to pass.

"I understand there's a certain amount of people who love history, and I do, too," said resident Bill Dumas. "But if this by-law were to pass ... for sellers and buyers this would be an economic hardship. I don't think the Town of Mattapoisett needs this by-law.

"I just don't want anyone to have say over what I can and can't do with my own property," added resident Lynn Sylvia.

With that, Article 25 failed to pass, 41 to 66.

Under ARTICLE 26, voters were asked via petition of resident Brad Hathaway to request the Conservation Commission (ConCom) to bring forward at the 2009 Annual Town Meeting a comprehensive wetlands protection by-law using as a model the by-law first produced in 2002, and subsequently withdrawn. Mr. Eklund noted this article would simply be an "advisory vote" of Town Meeting and wouldn't make any demands of the ConCom.

Article 26 passed via majority, 72 to 18.

ARTICLE 27, which would have asked voters to accept Hitching Post Road as a public way, had not gone through all the necessary hearings and was thus ruled out of order.

There being no further articles to consider, the Annual Town Meeting was adjourned at 9:18 pm.