HEATH – Annual town meeting voters Saturday not only approved a year-long moratorium on large-scale wind and photovoltaic electricity-generating systems, they also agreed – unanimously – to allow voting on wind- and solar bylaws at a special town meeting, should the town have laws to adopt before a year is up.
Moderator Douglas Wilkins explained that the town rarely votes on important zoning bylaws at a special town meeting, but doing so now could mean the town would have its own wind turbine and solar PV bylaws in place before the state Legislature approves a statewide siting law.
“If they (Heath’s siting bylaws) are in place, we’re more protected,” Wilkins said. If they’re not in place, he added, the state commercial siting bylaws may take precedence.
“There are entities in the state that are trying to circumvent home rule by using an energy reform act to streamline (siting) so these big, industrial wind things can be put in without the town having any input,” said Bob Dane, a resident.
Planning Board Chairman Calvin Carr said his board recommends the moratorium, and is working with Peggy Sloan of the Franklin Regional Council of Governments to craft a wind turbine bylaw. He said it’s possible that the Planning Board’s advisory panel will have a draft bylaw for solar PV sitings ready in a couple of months and a draft bylaw for wind turbines in the next four to six months.
“So, why wait until next year?” he asked. “Right now, we have nothing.”
In other action, at the selectmen’s recommendation, the town passed over two articles to borrow money. The first, to borrow $100,000 for engineering costs to repair town bridges, was passed over because the town learned last week that the closed Sadoga Road bridge will be replaced with state and federal funds, over the next two years. The board recommended waiting to see if an insufficient Route SA bridge will also receive funding or state engineering.
The second item, to borrow $30,000 for a “space needs” feasibility study for town buildings, was passed over, at the recommendation of the town’s. lawyer. Legal counsel Mark Reich said towns can’t borrow sums for a feasibility study, so the town will consider other money sources for this project. The town is considering possible land sites for a new municipal building, which might include fire, highway and police departments.
Voters approved the very last mortgage payment, of $53,372, for the Heath Elementary School with a big cheer and round of applause. The school was built in 1995.
All other line items were approved, including a 3 percent cost-of-living-adjustment raise for town employees, and $40,000 to put a new body on the town’s 10-year-old dump truck.
When asked why the town would spend so much for a new body on an old, high-mileage truck, Highway Superintendent Michael Smith explained that the truck is in good condition, except for the rusted body. He said a new truck would have cost about $180,000.
Also, the town clerk’s hours were expanded from 10 hours per week to 15, because the state is converting to electronic record-keeping, and the demands of the job are more time-consuming.
The approved spending plan for fiscal year 2013 will add about 21 cents to the tax rate, which will be $20.05 per $1,000 valuation in the new fiscal year.
The approved budget items include:
• $1,130,669 for town government spending.
• $738,606for the Mohawk Trail Regional School District assessment and $5,354for captal costs.
• $74,938 for the Franklin County Technical School assessment and $1,254 for’ its capital costs.
• Transfer of $50,000 from “free cash” to help balance the FY13 budget without higher taxes; and a “free cash” transfer of $25,000 to the town’s stailization account, or “rainy day” fund.
• $16,000 to widen the old highway garage doors, to accommodate modern, wider highway equipment.
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