Last night the community gathered at Tewksbury Memorial High School to consider several high-profile changes for the town. Turnout was larger than usual for an October Special Town Meeting, with 241 voters and 24 visitors in attendance, according to Town Clerk Denise Graffeo.
After introductory instructions by Moderator Dustin Weir and a stirring rendition of the National Anthem by TMHS student Jillian Waugh, the first four articles passed quickly, with minimal discussion.
Article 1 raised the salaries of elected town officials, while Article 2 paid some bills left over from FY22. Article 3 allocated about $2.13 million in revenue that is above expectations, from both the state and higher local receipts from new growth. Article 4 funded 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.
Article 5, which authorizes but does not commit the Town to borrow $26.5 million to construct the DPW/School Maintenance Facility, did draw discussion.
Select Board member Mark Kratman rose to express concern with the amount of money the town has spent over the past few years and the fact that the plan is not to do a complete renovation, as was previously discussed.
“I understand that we need renovations and improvements to our DPW facility,” said Kratman. “We can renovate the existing facility. Not everything has to be new. And I just think the seniors and the residents need a break. We can’t keep spending spending spending.”
Town Manager Richard Montuori rose to ask Town Meeting to support the article, enumerating the reasons previously stated at a resident information session. Montuori pointed out that the project was proposed previously in 2017 at a cost of $11.4 million.
“I would ask town meeting approve this article tonight because it’s long overdue,” said Montuori. “The staff that works within that department are working in deplorable conditions in an unsafe environment. It’s time to think of them.”
Select Board vice chair James Mackey stood in support, as did member Jayne Wellman and resident Bruce Panilaitis.
“We are not going for an override,” said Mackey. “There is no additional tax burden attached to this project. That was no easy feat, and the administration deserves kudos for that.”
Wellman brought up the issues of storing expensive vehicles outside and the fact that the town population has doubled in size since the existing facility was built in 1962.
“Over the last decade we have not passed or asked for an operational override,” said Wellman. “We will tonight approve $14 million in our stabilization fund. When Mr. Montuori was hired, this town had less than $500,000 in stabilization. We now will have more than 10% of our annual budget in our stabilization account. This is the kind of fiscal responsibility town meeting has sought from leadership, from our town manager, from our staff and from all of our elected boards.”
Tewksbury has a AA Plus bond rating.
Despite the new facility also offering a permanent home for the School Department maintenance fleet and personnel, neither Superintendent Brenda Theriault-Regan nor Business Manager David Libby rose to speak on the article. School Committee members Keith Sullivan and Rich Russo voted no.
After some additional comments, the article passed by a vote of 162 yea, 54 no. Because this was a borrowing article, it required 2/3 of voters for adoption, or 144.
Article 6 authorized the town manager to move $4,336,635 into to the town’s stabilization fund for future emergencies or one-time purchases or projects. Article 7 authorized the town to spend $25,000 in Community Preservation Funding to improve the skate park at Livingston St. Both passed.
Next up were three articles related to retail marijuana.
Article 8 sought to adjust the town’s bylaws to set a licensing structure for any future retail marijuana outlets, in line with the state’s Cannabis Control Commission regulations.
In response to a query by resident Patrick Nichols, Town Counsel Kevin Feeley said that while regulations will be in effect once approved, zoning changes would not be effective until the Attorney General approves them, likely in 90 days. The town’s three licenses would be awarded on a first-come, first-served basis, with approval authority resting with the Select Board.
Resident Liz Carey made a motion for indefinite postponement of Article 8, citing a lack of time for residents to consider the retail marijuana proposal. That effort failed, 172 to 43.
Article 8 passed by a vote of 165 yea, 39 no.
Article 9 specified the zones where retail shops may be located and required a 2/3 majority. Resident Patricia Meuse sought to amend the article to remove South Village Business as an allowed district, citing a number of homes in that area, while another resident objected to possible placement of a shop in the “solidly residential” area at River Rd. and Andover St.
Meuse’s amendment failed on a voice vote. Allowable zones are South Village Business District, the General Business District, the Industrial 2 District and the Interstate Overlay District. And, community/economic development planner Alexandra Lowder, also a resident, pointed out that zoning isn’t an automatic approval.
“That doesn’t mean that these facilities can go onto the site indiscriminately,” said Lowder. “They do still have to go through the Planning Board for site plan review to be evaluated for parking traffic infrastructure, capacity on the street, and things like that.”
After a motion to move the question by resident Joe Gill, Article 9 passed by a vote of 167 yea, 21 nay.
Article 10 authorized Tewksbury to impose a local 3% excise tax on retail marijuana sales. It passed unanimously.
Residents may watch the entire October 3 Special Town Meeting at Tewksbury TV’s YouTube Channel.