TEWKSBURY — More than 800 voters attended the annual Town Meeting at Tewksbury Memorial High School Monday night to vote on more than two dozen articles, including the proposed elementary school project.
As Town Moderator Jayne Wellman Miller was elected to the Board of Selectmen in the April election, Keith Rauseo was unanimously elected as temporary Town Moderator.
Meredith Whealan, a TMHS sophomore, opened the proceedings with the National Anthem, and School Committee chair Dennis Francis led attendees in the Pledge of Allegiance.
“Let’s roll up our sleeves, let’s have very healthy debate — welcome to Town Meeting,” said Board of Selectman chair Jay Kelly.
State senator Barry Finegold, and state representatives Tram Nguyen and Dave Robertson gave residents brief updates on State House legislation that affects the town.
Finance Committee Chair Scott Wilson motioned to waive the reading of the articles and to allow non-resident town employees to speak; both motions were approved.
Article 2 was adopted; the article fixes the salaries of certain elected town officials for FY20.
Article 3 was adopted; the article accepts the report of several town officers, allows the Town Manager to lease or purchase equipment for various town departments, authorizes the town to spend, as directed by the state, funds on sidewalks and roadwork, and authorizes expenditure caps on the town’s revolving fund.
Article 4 outlines the budgets of various town departments for FY20. The only section of Article 4 regarding the general fund budget that was called for debate was the school department budget. Resident Eric Parker inquired about building and maintenance budgeting within the school’s budget. Superintendent Chris Malone outlined long- and short-term projects that are being funded in the schools, and mentioned the need to upgrade the electrical system as the schools get more technologically advanced. Article 4 was adopted.
Article 5 regarding the sewer enterprise fund was adopted without debate.
Article 6 authorizing funds to operate the water enterprise fund was adopted.
Article 7 authorizing funds to operate the cable TV enterprise fund was adopted.
Rauseo outlined the procedure for debate on article 8 regarding the new elementary school project. Francis, who is also the chair of the Elementary School Building Committee, gave voters information about the history of the proposed grades 2-4 elementary school, stating that the current elementary schools have “long outlived their useful life... another community is standing behind us, ready to take our $32.7 million dollars... that’s Tewksbury’s money, and we need to take it... the cost... will never be cheaper than it is today.”
Superintendent Malone also spoke “on behalf of all the students who have attended Tewksbury Public Schools in the past 50 years, all the students who are currently attending Tewksbury Public Schools, and the students who will attend our schools in the next 50 years.”
Abutter Phyllis Giblin proposed an amendment to eliminate the $10 million cost of the athletic field from the article.
“I am for the school but I’m against building the new athletic fields,” she said.
Bruce Panilaitis spoke against the amendment, citing a need for the athletic facilities.
TMHS football coach and teacher Brian Aylward spoke about the importance of town athletics: “For many kids, it’s where the passion is... they’re going to compete, and they’re going to fail, and they’re going to have to dust themselves off, and a lot of people in their lives draw on lessons they learned from sports.”
Brian Dick moved to vote on the proposed amendment; however, Rauseo let interested parties speak prior to a vote. Several residents raised issues over water and drainage problems thought to be exacerbated as part of the new project. In the vote on the amendment, 198 residents voted in favor, and 641 residents voted against. The amendment was not added to the article.
Resident Anne Seichter spoke about the lack of special education opportunities in existing schools and praised the proposed school for consolidating services, mentioning that students in the Heath Brook/Trahan area must take a van to the Dewing and North Street schools to get access to services: “Neighborhood schools are nice until the education provided is unequal between the schools,” she said.
Eric Parker wanted to confirm that the amount of reimbursement was actually what it was; Town Manager Richard Montuori stated that in approving the project, the MSBA has assured those funds. One former school committee member spoke about the regulations and codes the schools were built under, and how the current needs of the classroom are not reflected in the buildings as they stand now.
A resident wanted to eliminate the town’s portion of the funding of the project through an amendment to rely solely on state funding by “changing the amount of the article from $98,503,724 to $53,088,000 and striking the phrase ‘school and administration offices and a new athletic field complex’”; however, Montuori stated that “any changes would be problematic” as the state’s reimbursement is calculated as a percentage of the total cost.
Panilaitis motioned to move the question. The question was moved. The amendment was defeated by voice vote. Residents voted to move the question on the article, ending debate. A resident requested to change the method of voting to secret ballot from standing vote.
However, after consulting the rules of order, former Town Moderator Jayne Wellman Miller determined that the motion to change the method of voting was out of order. In a standing vote, 678 residents voted to adopt the article, and 106 voted against it. With two-thirds majority having been reached, the article was adopted.
The town withdrew article 9 which requested additional funds for the new fire station project.
Article 10, to allow the town to utilize funds from the stabilization fund for equipment and improvements and one-time expenditures, was adopted with an amendment to remove language designating a specific type of truck to a general truck.
“We want the flexibility,” said Montuori.
Article 11, which allows the town to utilize funds from water retained earnings for capital equipment and improvements, was adopted.
Article 12, which allows the town to borrow funds for the cost to install and replace waterlines in the town, was adopted.
Article 13, which allows the town to utilize funds from sewer retained earnings for capital equipment and improvements, was adopted.
Article 14, which transfers funds available form bond premiums to reduce the amount of exempt debt service principal, was adopted.
Article 15, which allows the town to utilize surplus monies to fund the senior and veteran tax relief work program, was adopted.
Article 16, which approves the FY20 affordable housing trust fund, was adopted.
Article 17, which appropriates funds from the Community Preservation Fund for FY20, was adopted.
Article 18, which appropriates funds from the Community Preservation Fund for the installation of new lights, poles, and associated electrical work at the baseball fields on East Street, was adopted.
Article 19, which allows funding to be used to design and engineer historic renovations to the Ella Flemings School, was adopted. One resident decried the spending as “frivolous” and asked why the funds weren’t being used to pay for “another police officer or firefighter.”
Resident Alex Lowder asked Montuori to clarify that money is earmarked only for historic preservation, housing, or open space, and thus cannot be used for any other purpose.
A resident moved for indefinite postponement to defeat the article, but the motion was defeated by voice vote. Article 19 was adopted.
Article 20, which funds poison ivy removal efforts at the state hospital historic cemetery, was adopted.
The Finance Committee recommended indefinite postponement on Article 21, in which the town would accept the provisions of Chapter 90 §17C of the Massachusetts General Laws allowing the Board of Selectmen to establish a speed limit of 25 miles per hour in thickly settled or business districts, or take any action relative thereto; the town will be able to establish a speed of 25 mph without conducting a traffic study.
In response to a resident question, Montuori stated that conducting a traffic study at one location would cost approximately $10,000. Article 21 was adopted.
Article 22, which would allow the Board of Selectmen to create “safety zones” with speed limits of 20 mph without conducting a traffic study. The article was defeated.
Article 23, which would allow for the sale of four parcels of land to be used for building two affordable homes, was adopted after a motion for indefinite postponement was defeated.
At 11:15 p.m., Rauseo informed attendees that according to town bylaws, no new articles may be acted on after 11 p.m. Special Town Meeting will convene at 7 p.m. on Wednesday night at TMHS; following the adjournment of Special Town Meeting, annual Town Meeting will be reopened at 7:30 p.m. to address the remaining articles.