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Finance Committee Recommends Adoption of All Special Town Meeting Articles

Before every town meeting, the Finance Committee holds a public session 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. 

The full warrant is here.

Five committee members were present at the Sept. 26 meeting; newly appointed member Stephanie Klinkenberg-Ramirez was absent, as was Susan Bishop.

Here is the rundown on each article.

Special Town Meeting convenes Oct. 3 at 7:00 p.m. at Tewksbury Memorial High School. All registered voters are eligible to take part. Learn more about Town Meeting.

Article 1: Vote to recommend adoption.

Article 1 raises the salaries of elected town officials, in response to a request made by Select Board member Jay Kelly in May. Town Manager Richard Montuori came up with the recommended numbers by first restoring town official salaries to the 2009 level, when a 10% cut was made to elected officials’ pay, and then raising levels up to the same salaries as the chair and members of the School Committee, to make everyone equitable. 

Finance Committee chair Rob Kocsmiersky asked whether the raises put Tewksbury elected officials in line with other communities. 

“For a town of our size it’s probably on the higher side, but not that much higher,” said Montuori, who said the town didn’t purposely leave out appointed officials, such as the Conservation Commission. 

Assistant Town Manager Steve Sadwick explained that the Conservation Commission does receive compensation through the Wetland Protection Fund, so it’s not general fund expenditure.

Article 2: Vote to recommend adoption.

Article 2 seeks $126,041.35 to pay five bills left over from FY22. One of those is $119,549 for the Commonwealth of MA Department of Unemployment Assistance, which reflects what’s owed after funds fraudulently claimed in unemployment insurance were recovered by the town.  

Article 3: Vote to recommend adoption.

This article allocates about $2.13 million in income that is above expectations, from both state payments and higher local receipts. New growth totaled $2,205,045 versus the $850,000 that was expected. 

The line items pay down about $400,000 in debt and pay for some items identified as unfunded priorities within department budgets. Those items include salaries for four additional patrol officers for the Tewksbury Police Department, one for each shift, as well as new accounting software and IT services and those raises for elected officials. There will also be four additional firefighters hired, mainly to run the town’s second ambulance, which is now staffed via overtime, and turnout gear for the TFD. 

Breaking down those elected official raises, which are in this article, Board of Health members are the biggest beneficiaries, gaining $13,520 in annual pay.

Montuori said new TFD, TPD and DPW hires that generate recurring costs would not be made until he has greater visibility into the economy, waste management costs and other FY24 factors.

Fincom member Tom Cooke objected to the article having a mix of capital and operational expenditures and voted against recommending adoption, but the measure passed 4-1.

Article 4: Vote to recommend adoption.

This article covers one-time capital expenditures from free cash. It seeks to fund a new vehicle for the town’s animal control officers and carpeting for the library as well as $1.5 million for a final architectural plan and design for the town’s DPW/School Maintenance Facility. The town manager explained that, by paying for the design upfront, the town has the option to use it this year or at a later date based on when the DPW/School facility moves forward.

Montuori also pointed out that by using free cash for the design work rather than bundling it into the bond, the town avoids paying interest on that portion of the $28 million project.

Cooke objected to the inclusion of the architectural design plan. The committee did vote to recommend adoption 4-1. 

Article 5: Vote to recommend adoption.

This article authorizes but does not commit the Town to borrow $26.5 million to construct the DPW/School Maintenance Facility, should economic conditions remain conducive to the project. The full $28 million cost includes the $1.5 million for design and engineering voted on in Article 4.

Town Meeting previously funded $2.2 million to fund the design and engineering of the facility.

“The current DPW is inefficient and, as I mentioned, unsafe,” said Montuori. “It doesn’t meet the current building code. There is no sprinkler system. There is no adequate egress. It’s not ADA accessible. There’s no fire suppression, restrooms don’t meet plumbing code and the building does not meet current mechanical code. 

Cooke quizzed Montuori and Jeff Alberti, VP of Weston & Sampson Engineers, on square footage, design progress, amortization, the specific style of the roof and possibilities around bid alternates.

“Public safety is the No. 1 issue for citizens of this town,” said Cooke.

He again voted no, stating he’d like a firmer estimate.

“To be clear, we’re not going to borrow funds until we know what the bids are,” said Montuori.

“If we wait any longer, things could get worse,” said Kocsmiersky, “There’s no reason to handcuff ourselves.”

Kocsmiersky also praised the design team for going back to the drawing board — multiple times — to bring the estimate in line with what the town can afford within the levy limit, and without an override.

Article 6: Vote to recommend adoption.

This article is to transfer $4,336,635 from certified free cash into the town’s stabilization fund. That fund has a current balance of $9,690,721, so if approved the revised balance in the stabilization fund will be $14,027,356.

Article 7: Vote to recommend adoption.

This article seeks approval to spend $25,000 in Community Preservation Funding to improve the skate park at Livingston St. That will leave $1,957,610 in the fund, currently.

Article 8: Vote to recommend adoption.

This article adjusts the town’s bylaws to allow for retail marijuana. 

“As we all know, the regulations for marijuana are strictly enforced and overseen by the Cannabis Control Commission on the state level,” said Montuori. “Licensing on the local level mirrors the state requirements, but we need a general bylaw in place before we can move forward with retail sale.”

The committee voted to recommend adoption, with no questions from residents.

Article 9: Vote to recommend adoption.

This article is to rezone to specify where retail shops may be located, and to specifically allow for the retail sale of marijuana with a license granted by the Select Board and a site plan review approval by the Planning Board. It also establishes the districts where these establishments may be sited: the South Village Business District, the General Business District, the Industrial 2 District and the Interstate Overlay District. See where those zones are located.

The committee voted to recommend adoption, again with no questions or comments from residents.

Article 10: Vote to recommend adoption.

This article authorizes Tewksbury to impose a local 3% excise tax on retail marijuana sales. The committee signed off on this as well, with no residents standing to speak.

Lorna is a 25-year resident of Tewksbury who has written for organizations ranging from the DIA to InformationWeek to a free weekly in New London that sent her to interview the pastry chef at Foxwoods.

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