Before every town meeting, the Finance Committee holds a public forum to hear from the Town Manager and others presenting articles for consideration, field questions from citizens and vote on whether to recommend, not recommend or make no recommendation on passage.
At the Sept. 22 meeting, the committee was unanimous down the warrant— though not without some controversy.
Because the citizens seeking to discuss Articles 16 and 17 were in attendance, the committee took those two out of order. Customarily, the Finance Committee does not take a position on citizen articles with no material economic impact on the town.
Here is the rundown on each article.
Note that Special Town Meeting convenes Oct. 5 at 7:00 p.m. at Tewksbury Memorial High School. All registered voters are eligible to take part. Sept. 24 is the last day to register in time to participate.
Article 16: No recommendation, unanimous vote
This article, submitted by resident Christine Chesbrough, seeks to create a “Do Not Knock Registry.” Currently, all solicitors must register with the Tewksbury Police Department and receive a license from the town clerk to solicit. If this measure passes, when a solicitor receives a license, the solicitor will be given a list of resident addresses they cannot solicit. This bylaw would not apply to nonprofit 501(c)(3) organizations, youth and school groups, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, political candidates or religious organizations. LEARN MORE.
Article 17: No recommendation, unanimous vote
This article, submitted by Paige Impink, Chris Mullins and others, garnered more than 500 voter signatures to be put on the warrant. It seeks to change the term length of elected Planning Board seats from five years to three years and would apply only to future elections; current Planning Board members may fulfill their full five-year terms.
Stephen Johnson, who is chair of the Planning Board but said he was there as an individual citizen, spoke in opposition to the article, asking the Finance Committee to either request that the petitioner withdraw the article or recommend indefinite postponement, which would kill the article.
“This has not been looked at long or hard enough — it really really should go the Board of Selectmen to be looked at more thoroughly because nothing is being presented to anyone, truly, in support of this article beyond the sophomoric argument that ‘we can’ and, you know, ‘other people do it,’” he said. “No evidence has been presented to you at all that competition will be increased by having a three-year term.”
Johnson cited the Tewksbury School Committee, which, like the Board of Selectmen and other town boards, has a three-year term, saying that there have been the same number of competitive SC races.
Johnson also sent a large amount of information to the Finance Committee; that document is available here so residents can weigh the evidence for themselves.
“There is no monetary piece to this,” said Johnson “That doesn’t mean it couldn’t cost the town.”
Petitioner Chris Mullins disagreed.
“This article is not about creating competition, this article is not a referendum on the Planning Board,” said Mullins. “This article is about giving more opportunity, more often, for residents to take part in local government.”
Finance committee vice-chair David Aznavoorian expressed skepticism, saying he has not heard a compelling case in favor of making the change, and theorized that altering the planning board term length could have a financial impact on the community.
Of course, whether that impact would be favorable based on new perspectives or unfavorable based on a learning curve is anyone’s guess.
Board member Jason Christian summed up the eventual position of the Committee.
“I personally have not heard a compelling argument to either support or deny the article,” said Christian. “This was brought forth by the residents, to have it voted upon, and I personally will not stand in the way of … residents having their voices heard on an article.”
The committee then jumped back to Article 1.
Article 1: Unanimous vote to recommend adoption.
This article is to add items to the FY 2022 budget based on additional funds being available as a result of higher-than-projected state and local revenue. Areas of new spending include increasing the town’s IT expert to a full-time position and $30,000 for a contract cyber security specialist.
Article 2: Unanimous vote to recommend adoption.
According to Mass. state law, bills that are late must be approved by Town Meeting before payment. This article authorizes some $3,795.71 in charges to be paid.
Article 3: Unanimous vote to recommend adoption.
Asks to transfer $180,168 from the town’s stabilization fund to pay for items including police details, police station renovations, new carpet in the library and updates to the Center fire station, which will house some school department offices when the Center school is demolished in May 2022.
Article 4: Unanimous vote to recommend adoption.
The town is seeking to spend $150,000 in earnings from its Water Enterprise Fund for engineering services to inspect and make needed repairs to the Astle Street Water Tank, which was built in 1970. The Town Manager notes that there are antennas mounted to the tank, and cellular carriers are responsible for maintenance of, and any damage caused by, those antennas.
Article 5: Unanimous vote to recommend adoption.
This article seeks approval to set aside funds in the Stabilization Fund to be used for future emergencies or one-time purchases or projects. There is currently more than $11 million in this fund, and a healthy balance improves the town’s credit and bond rating.
Article 6: Unanimous vote to recommend adoption.
The town is seeking to spend $110,000 in Community Preservation funds to improve drainage in the area of Livingston St. where cricket games and youth football practices are held. Installing gravel and regrading the field will direct water into the wetlands, making for fewer mosquitos and less standing water impacting activities.
Article 7: Unanimous vote to recommend adoption.
This article dedicates several parcels of land to protect watershed resources and increase open space and wildlife habitat. The land will come under the control of the Conservation Commission and aligns with the Open Space and Recreation Plan.
Article 8: Unanimous vote to recommend adoption.
This article requests authorization of an easement for National Grid to provide electric service to the new elementary school.
Article 9: Unanimous vote to recommend adoption.
This article would allow for the sale of several parcels of land at market value, in accordance with town bylaws.
Articles 10 and 11: Unanimous vote to recommend adoption.
These articles together authorize a zoning change to reflect the controls necessary for the Town to comply with the Consent Decree regarding the Sutton Brook Disposal Area — a Superfund Site — as recommended by the EPA and MassDEP. This will help protect the town’s drinking water and prevent further contamination.
Articles 12, 13 and 14: Unanimous vote to recommend adoption.
Taken together, these articles will replace the term “Board of Selectmen,” and other gender-specific designations such as “Chairman,” with “Select Board” and “Chair.” Three separate articles are needed to effect the change and comply with state law and local bylaws.
Article 15: Unanimous vote to recommend adoption.
The purpose of this article is to accept Robbie Terris Way as a public way.