SOMERSET – The list of items to be voted on at the May 21 Town Meeting is nearly finalized, including questions asking whether voters want to enact the Community Preservation Act or lease two town-owned sites for solar panel projects.
Town Meeting will also, as always, include votes on spending for fiscal 2013, which starts July 1.
Municipal budgets – not including schools – would rise in fiscal 2013 by a little less than 2 percent, according to Town Administrator Dennis Luttrell.
Those budgets, which include police and fire departments, among others, total nearly $23 million, or $441,421 more than voters approved at last May’s Town Meeting for the current fiscal year.
The combined K-8 and Somerset Berkley Regional High School budgets would rise by 0.2 percent next year, a total of nearly $31.9 million under the latest proposals.
The regional high school budget would actually fall by $679,000, or nearly 5 percent. The K-8 budget would increase by $746,000, or more than 4 percent.
The Advisory and Finance Committee, some members of which have expressed concern about the K-8 budget, will recommend voters approve or reject the proposed budgets at Town Meeting.
Non-budget questions at the meeting are led by one asking voters whether to enact the Community Preservation Act, a tax surcharge of between 0.5 percent and 3 percent that enables the town to pay for preservation, affordable housing, recreational facilities and other types of projects. Nearly half of Massachusetts cities and towns, including Dighton, Freetown, Swansea and Westport, have adopted the act.
Voters will also be asked whether to lease two town-owned properties for solar panel projects.
The two locations, farmland off Wilbur Avenue and the former landfill off Brayton Point Road, were both proposed for clean-energy projects until voters at a Special Town Meeting in December voted to indefinitely postpone the proposals. Many residents said they were concerned about the visual impact, particularly of wind turbines.
The re-worded question facing voters next month proposes only solar panels.
Selectman Patrick O’Neil, who has helped plan the projects, said he thinks the town will support the revised plans. He said the projects would both help the environment and provide much-needed revenue to the town – an estimated $400,000 or so each year between the two sites.
An unrelated proposed by-law would for the first time place restrictions on ground-mounted solar panel systems of more than 5 acres.
Solar panels would, for example, need to be set back at least 50 feet from the street and, in residential zones, at least 75 feet from the nearest abutting property. Every abutting property must be “visually screened” from the project by fencing or vegetation, according to the by-law, and any solar panel system must be removed when it “has reached the end of its useful life” or has been abandoned.
It doesn’t appear that voters will be asked to approve a Proposition 2 1/2 override. Luttrell, after first warning an override would likely be needed, said earlier this month that the town will likely narrowly avoid needing an override to increase the tax levy by more than 2.5 percent.
A question that is included by petition would reject a court ruling that allows corporations greater ability to donate to political candidates. Shirley Denison, the resident who led the petition, said it would support legislation filed by U.S. Rep. James McGovern that seeks to amend the Constitution.
Those who signed the petition were “very enthusiastic” about it, Denison said.
The list of articles to be voted on, called a warrant, should be finalized by the end of the month or early May.
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