TEWKSBURY — Tewksbury’s Fall Special Town Meeting opened on Tuesday, Oct. 1 with 285 voters and 24 visitors registered. Keith Rauseo was nominated to serve as moderator as former Town Meeting Moderator Jayne Wellman was elected to the Board of Selectmen and as such had to surrender the role. The town will seek nominations for a new Town Moderator in April.
Rauseo recognized Dennis Francis and thanked him for his 10 years of service on the School Committee, a position he resigned earlier this year. Additionally, Rauseo recognized Ron Hall, an active member of the community and former board and committee member in the town for 30 years. Hall passed away in August.
Once officials who reside out of town were approved to speak and the reading of the articles were waived, Finance Committee chair Rob Kocsmiersky started moving quickly through the articles.
Article 1 was adopted. The article raises and appropriates funds to the FY20 budget in the amount of $4,825,827.36; this additional funding is from a debt exclusion voted on by the residents in the April 2019 election.
Article 2 was adopted. The article raises and appropriates $971.80 to pay outstanding bills.
Article 3 was adopted. The article transfers $150,000 out of the general fund to pay for future compensated absence liability for town employees, such as sick leave buyback and accrued vacation.
Article 4 was adopted. The article transfers certified free cash for specific one-time capital expenditures in the amount of $241,106. The expenditures include voting tabulators, HVAC work in town hall annex, a field sweeper, a police department radio repeater, and a culvert on Pinnacle Street.
Article 5 was adopted. The article transfers certified free cash in the amount of $300,000 for design and engineering of capital improvements at the Heath Brook and Dewing elementary schools.
Article 6 authorizes the Town Manager to expend up to $2,200,000 for the design, engineering and project management of a new DPW and school maintenance facility at the current site of the DPW facility on Whipple Road, of which the town will raise and appropriate $800,000 from revenue of the current year, as well as transfer $700,000 from free cash, $350,000 from Sewer Enterprise Fund Retained Earnings, and $350,000 from Water Enterprise Fund Retained Earnings.
Town Manager Richard Montuori explained that the money comes from four sources: state aid, new projected growth, certified free cash (surplus), and water and sewer retained earnings. Montuori reminded voters that the current DPW facility is not code compliant and unsafe. He also stated that the town believes it can avoid a debt exclusion.
“The sooner we act on this, the better. The cost will only grow if we wait,” he said.
Several residents raised concerns about the cost of the project to taxpayers; one resident made a motion to indefinitely postpone the article. Conversely, many residents spoke about the rising cost to the town by putting off repairs.
“We have a bad habit of putting things off,” said resident Bruce Panilaitis.
Resident Brian Dick asked Montuori to clarify that passing the article would not raise water or sewer rates. The motion to indefinitely postpone the article was defeated. The article was adopted in a 120-104 vote.
Article 7 was adopted. The article seeks to transfer $2,256,048 from the general fund to the town stabilization fund for future emergencies or one-time purchases or projects.
Article 8 would authorize the town to borrow $2,500,000 for the cost of building a new center fire station if needed. The town originally appropriated $15,896,809.85 for the project; this new debt is excluded from the property tax levy. The additional funding would cover construction costs higher than the original estimate if necessary.
If the bids for the project come in lower than expected, the funds will not be used. Montuori explained that in order to have an effective bid process, the town must show prospective companies that there is sufficient funding available and that no delays would occur in securing that funding. The article was adopted.
Article 9 would appropriate $350,000 to fund installation of new lights, poles, and electrical work at Hazel Field on Livingston Street. Resident Phyllis Giblin questioned the use of CPA funds for this purpose, and asked instead that the funds be put toward “needed” uses such as the stormwater compliance. There was some confusion over the point of order. There was much difficulty in hearing the moderator as the acoustics in the room were challenging. Article 9 was adopted.
Article 10 would authorize the town to create an enterprise fund to account for revenues and expenditures of stormwater management operations, accepting the provisions of section 53F of Chapter 44 of the Massachusetts General Laws.
Montuori noted that federal stormwater permitting requirements have increased in recent years. Planning Board member Eric Ryder spoke at the microphone, saying the town should look to the state for help with this unfunded mandate.
Montuori responded, “we cannot rely on the state,” listing several instances where the state pledged aide, then fell short or never followed through, leaving the town to pay the bill.
Several residents raised concerns over the cost to taxpayers of “one more fee.”
Resident Bob Rauseo supported the article.
“Poor stormwater management can lead to damage to property, damage to streets…. we hear about EEE. If we don’t take care of our stormwater, we’re increasing potential for standing water all over the town,” he said.
Montuori added that by creating a fee rather than funding the issue from the tax base, the town is able to collect from exempt properties, including the state hospital. After a motion to move the article passed, the article was adopted 177-52. The fee will be set by the Board of Selectmen at a future date.
Article 11 was adopted unanimously. The article authorizes the Board of Selectmen to grant an easement for National Grid to provide electric service to the new elementary school.
Similarly, Article 12 would authorize the Board of Selectmen to grant an easement for National Grid to provide electric service to the new Regional Emergency Communications Center on Whipple Road. The article was also adopted unanimously.
Article 13 sought to accept a donation from PSI Atlantic Tewksbury LLC of a drainage easement across their land at 395 Whipple Road. The article was adopted.
Article 14 was adopted. The article would allow for the sale of 11 parcels of land.
Article 15 would modify the existing dog bylaw to comply with new state regulations under Chapters 140 and 219 of the Massachusetts General Laws. The changes would give the first offense a $50 fine, a second offense a $100 fine, a third offense a $300 fine, and each subsequent offense a $500 fine.
One resident raised concerns that the new fee system is too punitive; Montuori explained that the system is designed to be in line with state standards.
Other residents spoke about their personal experience as dog owners with their dogs being attacked by loose dogs. The article passed.
Article 16 would create a general bylaw to ensure vacant buildings and land are properly maintained and do not adversely affect the residents of the town. One resident proposed an amendment to increase the per-day violation fee from $100 to $250 and make it unwaivable; the amendment was adopted. The article was adopted as amended.
Article 17 would amend the town general bylaw on marijuana establishments by deleting the “sunset clause” that expires the provision to ban all marijuana cultivators, independent testing laboratories, marijuana product manufacturers, and other types of non-retailer marijuana-related businesses, on Dec. 31, 2019, making the ban permanent.
Selectwoman Jayne Wellman spoke on behalf of the selectboard to urge residents to vote down the article.
“By allowing this temporary ban... to expire, we enable opportunity in Tewksbury; opportunity to raise revenue through new growth, expand our professional community, offer new jobs, and not sit on the sidelines as other communities benefit from growth in a new industry,” she said, reminding residents that the articles do not refer to recreational marijuana. The article was defeated.
Furthermore, Article 18 would amend the town zoning bylaw on marijuana establishments by deleting the “sunset clause” that expires the provision to ban all marijuana cultivators, independent testing laboratories, marijuana product manufacturers, and other types of non-retailer marijuana-related businesses, on Dec. 31, 2019, making the ban permanent.
The Planning Board recommended adoption of this article based on a non-binding ballot resolution in the town voting against these types of establishments. Planning Board Chair Steve Johnson announced that the board had reversed their support for the amendment and instead gave unanimous support to its defeat. With a two-thirds majority achieved, the article was adopted.
Article 19 sought to amend the town zoning map to change the zoning of parcels 102-16 and 103-102 to Heavy Industrial 1. The change was approved at 2019 annual town meeting in May, but the documentation was incomplete. A resident motioned for indefinite postponement; the motion was defeated.
Assistant Town Manager Steve Sadwick explained that the change was already approved by the Attorney General’s office and this was just a housekeeping measure.
The article was adopted.
Article 20 sought to allow lawful use of a new or existing building as an assisted living facility or special care residence in the Heavy Industrial zoning district. Concern was raised about late changes to the article and Finance Committee member Donna Higgins recommended defeat.
Two amendments were passed, allowing the use with Planning Board approval only in HI and HI-1 districts. The article failed in an 80-100 vote.
Article 21 sought to provide a new zoning district (R10) to allow for .25, or quarter-acre, zoning at the property at 527 Chandler St. owned by the Oblate Fathers. The Oblates are seeking to sell some of the land for the construction of single family dwellings.
Article 21 was withdrawn without prejudice.
The meeting adjourned at 10:03 p.m.