TEWKSBURY — Annual Town Meeting was held on Monday Night at Tewksbury Memorial High School. Masks, gloves, and hand sanitizer were available for residents to use, and almost all attendees wore masks for the entire meeting. Chairs in the gymnasium were spaced six feet apart, and arrows marked the floor to encourage one-way traffic flow. The microphone was sanitized by a town employee after each speaker. 134 voters attended.
Newly elected moderator Todd Johnson requested a moment of silence for those affected by the coronavirus in the community and across the country, as well as those in the town who had passed.
State Representative Dave Robertson provided a legislative update on behalf of himself, State Representative Tram Nguyen, and State Senator Barry Finegold. Robertson spoke about new funding for education and public health and safety, and also mentioned the town’s recent acquisition of the Livingston Street recreation area after 53 years of state ownership.
He also mentioned future issues, including sewage, the Tewksbury Cemetery expansion, and reallocation of funds to the Livingston Street recreation area.
Johnson opened the proceedings by reminding residents of the purpose of Town Meeting: “Town meeting is the legislative body of our community, where we work together to debate the merits of the articles... each registered voter is eligible to vote on fiscal issues, zoning changes, bylaw amendments... and other matters.”
Johnson called for respectful discussion. He added that department heads and committees deserved a significant amount of recognition for their work on the budget. He welcomed first time voters, and said “for all of you who come faithfully, especially under these circumstances, I thank you for your presence at this meeting.”
Chairman Rob Kocsmierky read the recommendations of the Finance Committee for each motion. The body waived the reading of the articles, and voted to allow non-resident town employees to speak at the meeting in order to answer resident questions or offer clarifications.
Article 1 is a standard article on elected town officers and appears yearly on the warrant. A total of 1,058 voters participated in the election. There was no vote on the article as the election has already been completed.
Article 2 was adopted to fix the salaries of several elected officials, including those on the Planning Board, School Committee, and selectboard, for FY21.
Article 3 was the consent calendar, containing articles 23 through 26. The articles seek approval to accept the 2019 town report, to allow the Town Manager to lease and purchase equipment for various town departments subject to annual appropriation, to spend funds allotted to the town by the state for sidewalk and road work under Chapter 90 (the article was held by a voter), and to authorize the FY21 expenditure caps on the town’s self-sufficient revolving fund accounts. Articles 23, 24, and 26 were adopted.
Article 4 was adopted to approve the FY21 general fund budget for department budgets in the amount of $121,560,466.
Article 5 was adopted, to raise and appropriate and transfer from available funds a sum of $6,623,932 to fund the Sewer Enterprise Fund.
Article 6 was adopted, to raise and appropriate $7,346,811 to fund the Water Enterprise Fund.
Article 7 was adopted, to raise and appropriate $1,162,940 to fund the Stormwater Enterprise Fund.
Article 8 was adopted, to raise and appropriate $392,219 to operate the Cable TV Enterprise Fund.
Article 9 sought to allow the town to utilize funds from water retained earnings for capital equipment and improvements, specifically to replace a truck and fund the risk and resiliency assessment and emergency response plan. Article 10 similarly sought to allow the town to utilize funds from sewer retained earnings. Both sewer and water retained earnings are surplus funds from revenues at the end of the year that exceeded projections, or unspent money from budgets. Articles 9 and Article 10 were adopted.
Article 11 was adopted. The article authorizes the town to borrow funds for the cost to install and replace waterlines in town in the amount of $1,500,000.
Article 12 was adopted, to transfer $55,113.92 in funds available from bond premiums to reduce the amount of exempt debt service principal.
Article 13 was adopted, allowing the town to utilize surplus funds from the assessors overlay reserve to fund the senior tax relief work program and veterans tax relief work program.
Article 14 was adopted to approve the FY21 Affordable Housing Trust Fund Allocation Plan in the amount of $4,992,486. Funds will be expensed for the creation of new affordable units, or the buy down of existing units (meaning the town buys an affordable housing unit that may lose its affordable eligibility in order to keep it affordable, or the town buys units when they are sold at market rate and buys down the amount required to make the units eligible to be considered affordable).
Town manager Richard Montuori explained that the article is an annual procedure to allocate the funds from the Affordable Housing Trust Fund, which is funded by developers who pay a fee rather than designating affordable units. The town also transferred Community Preservation Act funds into the trust fund in 2013.
Article 15 was adopted, which appropriates or reserves annual revenues from the Community Preservation Fund in the amounts recommended by the Community Preservation Committee.
Article 16 was adopted, which appropriates a sum of $40,000 from the Community Preservation Fund open space reserve to improve and expand existing trail networks in town and access existing open space and trail networks.
Article 17 was adopted, terminating an existing drainage easement at 395 Woburn St. At special Town Meeting in October 2019, residents voted to accept the donation of the easement from PSI Atlantic Tewksbury LLC.
Article 18 was adopted, authorizing the selectboard to sell all or a portion of several parcels of land owned by the town.
Article 19 was adopted to amend chapter 19 of the town’s stormwater bylaw. The bylaw must be modified to be in compliance with the federal Environmental Protection Agency’s Municipal Separate Storm Sewer (MS4) stormwater permit granted to the town.
Article 20 was adopted; the petition article sought to transfer parcels originally taken by eminent domain for the purpose of establishing a water supply to be held under the care, custody, and control of the Tewksbury Conservation Commission.
Article 21 was a petition article regarding the filling of vacant elected offices in town. Proponent George Ferdinand explained that in the event of a vacancy, the runner-up in an election who received at least 25 percent of the vote would take the open seat.
“Instead of having a special [local] election, we would save the taxpayers cost, if anyone on that committee were to [resign, leave, or die].”
Resident Daniel Ronan spoke against the article, reading from the Massachusetts General Laws and explaining that the state provides procedures on how to fill vacancies.
“I feel this... will be rejected by the Attorney General. This article removes your choice to choose your elected officials.”
Ronan proposed a scenario in which a candidate you may have previously voted for had radically changed their attitudes in the intervening time and no longer represented the views of voters.
Resident Jay Kelley moved for indefinite postponement to defeat the article, and agreed with Ronan that state law determines how to fill a vacancy.
“We’re going to automatically appoint a loser to a position,” he said.
The motion for indefinite postponement passed, and the article therefore failed.
Article 22 was also a petition article put forth by Ferdinand, a nonbinding resolution that would bar non-citizens from voting in local elections. Resident Berk Akinci spoke to object to the article. He has lived in Tewksbury for eight years, paying taxes and sending his children to school without ever having the right to vote, and just recently became a citizen.
The article would “[urge] all non-citizens who desire to participate in our Federal, State and Municipal election, seek and obtain US citizenship, through the citizenship process [sic].”
Akinci said that this clause showed “ignorance of the process. My process took 13 years. I believe this is a hostile article against our neighbors.”
Ronan echoed his comments: “This article just doesn’t seem welcoming. It seems anti-outsider.”
A resident motioned for indefinite postponement, and the article was defeated.
The meeting returned to Article 25, regarding Chapter 90 funds. The Town Manager explained that the town received approximately $980,000 in funding for roadways and drainage. The town has not used the money for sidewalks because sidewalks have been funded through the town.
The sidewalk budget currently has $325,000. The capital budget includes more funding for the second phase of Shawsheen Street sidewalks. Over the next five years, the town will put $2 million into sidewalk installation throughout the town, through the general fund and state grants.
Resident Laura Caplan said, “I hope it’s taken into consideration that Chapter 90 was originally put on the books for sidewalks.”
Rep. Robertson added that upcoming MassDOT projects will be creating sidewalks and crossings on major arteries, and current state legislation provides an expedited process for sidewalk funding.
The article was unanimously approved.
Annual Town Meeting adjourned at 8:30 p.m.