FAIRHAVEN – The annual Town Meeting took six hours on Saturday, May 5. Many articles passed with little debate and some were passed over. Others big and small generated a great deal of discussion.
There were 52 Town Meeting articles and 15 articles on the special Town Meeting warrent. Here are highlights of some of the articles that generated discussion.
The attorney for Brad Souza made a winning case for granting him an easement for a sliver of park land that crosses his front entrance. Mr. Souza’s house is at the corner of Green and Bridge Streets. His attorney said the house has been sold nine times since the early 1900s with no mention of the park land on the deed.
Town Meeting Member Ted Lorentzen asked if any other abutters have a similar situation with their properties and was told no.
The easement has to be approved by the state Legislature because it involves park land.
Total Confection LLC, known as Emma Jean’s, received approval for a package store/all alcohol license so it can include cordials like Irish Cream in its gift baskets.
Lisa Plante said the town is already over its limit for such licenses. Selectman Charles Murphy said recently the town is four over the limit in granted or sought licenses, which he said is why the state Senate hasn’t approved some recently.
One speaker pointed out that Mac’s Soda Bar didn’t get approval from the state yet for an alcohol license.
Emma Jean’s owner Cathy Melanson said, “We’re not trying to open up a bar.”
Ms. Melanson said customers have asked about including Bailey’s Irish Cream in gift baskets, which requires an all-alcohol license, not just beer and wine. “I have no idea why Mac’s Soda Bar didn’t get one,” she said. “I am not trying to hurt any other business.”
Former Selectman Michael Silvia said, “They just want (all alcohol for) gift baskets.”
The wind turbine moratorium article called for a one-year moratorium on industrial wind turbines while the town gathers data on any health impacts of the two 1.5 megawatt turbines on town land.
Speaking against the moratorium, Select Board Chairman Brian K. Bowcock said it would be a “dangerous precedent” to change a zoning bylaw without first holding public hearings. And Town Counsel Thomas Crotty said a moratorium wouldn’t be approved by the state Attorney General because of the lack of hearings.
They were challenged by Attorney Ann DeNardis, who said whether the Attorney General’s Office would approve the moratorium was up to interpretation. Ms. DeNardis represents about 10 residents involved in a lawsuit involving the turbines.
She said, “It’s up to you to protect your community.”
Dr. Barbara Acksen, who was elected to the Board of Health last month, said recent EPA statements encourage holding off until more research is completed. And resident Henry Ferreira said town counsel was just finding reasons to do what the Board of Selectmen want.
He said, “Every opinion from our town lawyer has supported our boards’ opinions.”
A local business owner said it is unlikely that residents will ever see any tax relief from the turbines, for which the town is getting lease income of $100,000 a year. He said the town has raised property taxes to the maximum allowed for countless years.
Kenneth Pottel of Windwise said the moratorium would protect Fairhaven residents all over town who live near lots that meet the 10 acres required for a wind turbine.
He said developers are chafing at the bit to build industrial-sized turbines on them.
The vote to indefinitely postpone the moratorium passed 182 to 102.
Town Meeting approved funding labor contracts for several unions, most of which agreed to 1 percent raises.
The funding was included in the special Town Meeting warrant and pays the cost of collective bargaining agreements with the clerical union, highway division, park division and water division.
No agreement had been reached as of Town Meeting with the union representing the sewer department.
Town Meeting approved $300,000 to complete the anaerobic digesters and another project at the Wastewater Treatment Facility in the special Town Meeting.
A stabilization fund was established for funds received for sewer betterment on Sconticut Neck ($1.75 million), Nancy Street (just over $200,000) and West Island ($128,754), which the Finance Committee sought to keep the prepayments from being used as part of the general fund.
Legal expenses rise
Town Meeting voters approved allotting another $35,000 for legal expenses in this fiscal year on top of the $130,000 budget for legal fees.
Asked why costs had risen above expectations, Executive Secretary Jeffrey W. Osuch cited the costs of a lawsuit by 10 residents who are opposed to the wind turbines on town land and litigation involving Seaport Inn, the police union’s push to have the town pay the full share of the Quinn bill, and a dispute with the Teamsters Union involving the Board of Public Works.
Other legals costs have involved Howland Road reconstruction and a land dispute involving Cushman Park. That dispute is separate from the one decided at Town Meeting.
The Finance Committee sponsored an article requiring all collective bargaining agreements to be provided 10 days prior to the annual Town Meeting to give it time to review them.
Special vs. regular
The special Town Meeting began around 9:30 a.m. and ended at 11 a.m. , at which point the regular Town Meeting began. Pretty much the first order of business for the regular Town Meeting was the budget.
$49 million budget
Select Board Chairman Brian K. Bowcock called it a “daunting challenge” to balance the budget.
He advised against using money from the stabilization fund because it is supposed to be reserved for emergencies and should be maintained at 5 percent of the total town budget.
The schools accepted the $17.6 million budget recommended by selectmen and the Finance Committee.
Superintendent Dr. Robert N. Baldwin said as many as eight people will have to be laid off even though the schools are receiving $230,000 more than last year because of more than $500,000 in contractual obligations for raises and other incentives, like steps, lanes and longevity.
The result is $360,000 less than needed for a level-service budget, Mr. Baldwin said. The Finance Committee asked town departments to submit level-service budgets minus 2 percent.
“We are all on board with the 2 percent reduction,” Mr. Baldwin said, adding that “letters and (pink) slips” were being sent to “a minimum of eight people.”
He added, “This is why unemployment is going up.”
There was little debate on the floor, but one residents, Diane Hahn, said she had asked at a recent School Committee meeting if they would consider charging fees for extracurricular activities and full-day kindergarten. Ms. Hahn said extracurricular activities “benefit a fraction of our students.”
Finance Committee Chairman John Roderiques said, “If you want to see classroom sizes increase, hold them to a level-funded budget.”
More money was added to the unemployment fund to meet the cost of possible layoffs in the School Department.
Just over $1.5 million will be raised from borrowing to pay the cost of painting and rehabilitating the Boston Hill water tank.
Community Preservation Act (CPA) funds will be used for spending proposals totaling $432,600, which were passed at Town Meeting.
The bulk of the funds will be used for repairs to historic town-owned buildings, including Town Hall, Millicent Library, the Academy Building and the high school. In addition, $40,000 was set aside for future use for affordable housing and $40,000 was set aside for open space acquisition.
Cora Peirce said residents didn’t expect the CPA tax surcharge to be used for maintenance of town buildings when they voted approval of the CPA, even though the buildings are clearly historic. The funding is based on requests submitted to the Community Preservation Committee (CPC).
“When it was first passed, CPC was to preserve our history,” Ms. Peirce, who is on the Conservation Commission said. “What I’m looking at today is to fund town buildings, setting aside money for land, kicking the can down the road.” Ms. Peirce said land is available for purchase now that would fall under the category of preserving open space.
Ms. Peirce said maintenance of town buildings should come out of the town operating budget and that town departments should be “more accountable for their own repairs.”
She said, “We need to preserve land for future generations.”
Despite a strong pitch from Al Benac for removal of the Verizon building at the Bridge Street entrance to Cushman Park, voters accepted the case made by Town Counsel Thomas Crotty to let it stay.
Mr. Crotty said the spot where the brick Verizon building sits was never part of Cushman Park so the town didn’t give away park land when it granted the easement. The state has strict rules on giving away parkland, which requires approval by the state legislature.
When the easement was granted by Town Meeting in 1995, back then the company was known as New England Telephone. Mr. Benac said it has become an eyesore with graffiti on the building and broken glass on the land.
Mr. Benac said, “The graffiti has been reported to the Police Department time and time again and they (Verizon) did not react to the Police Department requests.”
Mr. Benac said the building was supposed to be made of brick and “blend in with the neighborhood,” but the exterior is covered with fake brick siding.
Mr. Crotty said the town cannot rescind an easement it granted years ago.
It wasn’t clear how many people were in attendance, but 284 people voted either for or against the wind turbine moratorium. That vote took place in the morning.
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