WINCHESTER - What a year it was!
Many people will complain that 2016 was a terrible year. They’ll point to the terrorist attacks around the globe (including the latest one in Germany), mass shootings in America (Pulse Nightclub in Orlando) and some will even point to the election results (Trump defeats Clinton). But it wasn’t all bad.
Locally, some good things happened this year. Not everything, of course, ended (or began) well, but nothing that took place in 2016 will bring about the end of civilization as we know it. Hopefully. Here are the biggest stories from the last three months of 2016.
It was the fall season’s hot, new trend. Early voting became a hit in Massachusetts when the state unveiled it for the first time this election season. All the cool people voted early this year. Nearly 5,000 residents voted early (almost 40 percent of the town’s registered voters).
Massachusetts just enacted early voting for this election joining 36 other states (and the District of Columbia) including Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Florida, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.
Early voting allowed residents the opportunity to come to the Town Clerk’s Office during business hours beginning on Oct. 24. It was a great option for anyone who tends to be too busy to vote on election day.
Unfortunately, it was a pain for Town Clerks including MaryEllen Lannon. Lannon said she experienced some sleepless nights back in late October. With the way it’s set up, early voting, at least for Town Clerks, acts as election day, only instead of one day it’s two weeks.
And it’s not just Winchester. Other local communities saw success. 1,000 voters came out the first week in neighboring communities like Woburn, Stoneham and Burlington. Surprisingly, it was voters of all ages. Both young and old voters took advantage of the new law.
And it’s not just the general public backing early voting, as State Sen. Jason Lewis, who represents four precincts in Winchester, plus Stoneham, Reading, Wakefield, Melrose, and Malden, said he was a strong supporter of early voting.
“Anything that encourages more people to vote is a positive,” he stated.
Obviously, one of the biggest and most important stories in 2016 concerned the election of Republican Donald Trump as the next president. Winchester, however (and to be honest, a majority of Americans as Clinton won the popular vote by a wide margin), backed Hillary Clinton.
In Winchester, with 12,593 residents voting (nearly 90 percent), Clinton and her running mate Sen. Tim Kaine received 7,766 votes to Trump and running mate Gov. Mike Pence’s 3,634. Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson and his running mate Gov. Bill Weld received 578 votes, while Green-Rainbow Party candidate Jill Stein and her running mate Baraka received 124 votes.
Even today, nearly two months after the election, people still refuse to accept the election results. They’ll have to get in line eventually or it’ll be a long four years.
Locally, Winchester did back incumbent Sen. Jason Lewis and incumbent Rep. Michael Day, both of whom were victorious.
For the ballot questions, the state voted to endorse Question 3 and Question 4, protecting animals and legalizing marijuana, respectively. The state voted against the other two questions, adding an additional slots parlor and uncapping the number of charter schools.
In Winchester, the town supported Question 2, uncapping the number of charter schools and Question 3. It voted down legalizing marijuana and adding an additional slots parlor. None of the results were close, save for legalizing marijuana which lost by 1,795 votes.
The Board of Selectmen had a four, four, four plan for the town’s water and sewer rates. They were set to increase the rates by four percent for the final two quarters of FY16 and all of FY17 and FY18. Thanks to nine years of no increases, the town’s retained earnings were in need of a boost. But for residents wary of higher water bills in FY18, good news: the selectmen changed direction and instead authorized a two percent increase for FY18.
Although unanimous among the board, not everyone favored a two percent increase. DPW Director Jay Gill recommended a four percent increase, but said he could work with three. He’ll now have to work with two.
Gill reiterated that the town went nine years without an increase, which helped Winchester have the lowest water & sewer rates in the MWRA system, according to Town Manager Richard Howard. Even still, Howard recommended the town decrease the increase to two percent.
“Two percent is where the system should be,” he pointed out. “We’ve had good revenue growth from high usage due to the drought. We can take a breath and look again next year.”
He acknowledged that anything less than two percent would run retained earnings down by 2022.
“Two percent keeps the retained earnings healthy,” he stated. “Two percent is the Goldilocks point. It gets you where you thought four percent would thanks to the revenue surplus.”
For now, the two percent increase will only cost Tier 1 users (those who use the least amount of water) an additional 80 cents per quarter or $3.20 a year. An average user will see an $8 a year increase.
With funding transferred from unexpended bond proceeds for past construction projects, the Aberjona River flood-mitigation program received another $51,023 for the construction of the additional culvert at the Mt. Vernon Street bridge. Once this project and the additional culvert at the high school field, both in progress, are finished, only two projects remain in this lengthy program.
Town Meeting also approved several capital projects, such as McCall School gym ceiling replacement ($95,000), DPW wall/stable demolition/repair ($150,000), McCall classroom conversion of existing space ($50,000), Fire pumper ($550,000), and VFA Building Inventory phase II ($51,187).
To accelerate the DPW’s program of replacing lead goosenecks and water lines, Town Meeting approved a $600,000 appropriation, to be raised by borrowing from the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority. The DPW has been replacing about 50 a year, Selectman Jim Whitehead said, but this additional funding should help them complete the work in two or three years. The program does not cover the owner’s portion of lead lines, but Whitehead said they are hoping to obtain a grant from the MWRA to assist homeowners in replacing lead service lines.
Approval was also voted to increase the School Department’s current year budget by $65,000. In the spring when the education budget was presented to Town Meeting, that sum, to be spent on technology and curriculum work, had been reduced from the School Committee’s request. The School Department suggested that, if Ch. 70 funds were higher than anticipated, a warrant article should go forward to ask for restoration of those funds. Ch. 70 funds having been higher, the article was presented and approved.
(Ellen Knight contributed to this report)
Two new chapters to the Code of By-laws were placed on the Town Meeting warrant, but neither was enacted. The article for a Solicitations and Canvassing bylaw was indefinitely postponed, no explanation given. The article for a Noise Regulations chapter was defeated, unanimously.
It was not that noise regulations were not wanted. In fact, Town Meeting voted funding previously for the development of a noise-control measure. But the proposed chapter brought forward was found to have too many problems to be adopted.
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