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Saugus Town Meeting disposes of articles

Saugus – Town Meeting members indefinitely postponed an article seeking local rent control of mobile home parks and upheld a previous vote that requires property owners to remove publicly visible graffiti.

Article 13 – To see if the town will authorize the Board of Selectmen to petition the Legislature to adopt an act that would provide for the establishment and administration of rent regulation and control of evictions in Saugus mobile home parks – was indefinitely postponed by a margin of 29-11.

The Saugus Mobile Home Park Association proposed the article, which requested that the town establish a board responsible for regulating rents at Saugus mobile home parks. The authors pushed for a board authorized to adjust rents up or down and to fine violators up to $1,000.

Town Meeting member Wayne Brooks spoke in favor of the article, referring to it as a safety net designed to prevent rent from becoming excessive for the 107 mobile home units in town. He noted that a mobile home park in Easton experienced a 33 percent rent increase in one month.

“We have no problems with the rent now, but this is a safety net for these people,” Brooks said. “It gives them a little certainty for the future.”

But Town Meeting member Stephen Sweezey labeled the article as a cumbersome additional layer of bureaucracy that would possibly require the town to do things that result in litigation.

Brooks countered that a three-member rent control board in North Andover hasn’t spent a dime in 15 years of existence.

Town Meeting member Maureen Dever warned there are additional costs tied to a rent control board that aren’t spelled out in the article. She advised against petitioning for legislation that would essentially take away the rights of property owners.

Arthur Grabowski said passing the article could expose the town to lawsuits from mobile home park owners upset they didn’t get the rental increases they sought, as well as residents who believe their rent went up too high.

Monday’s session began with a motion to reconsider Article 14, a request to add a bylaw to protect the public and private property owners from graffiti defacement that passed two weeks earlier.

Susan Drive resident Brian Costin objected to the measure, arguing that there are unanswered questions related to the proposed bylaw.

Costin wondered if the chalk his grandkids use on the driveway for hopscotch would be considered graffiti that needs to be removed within 14 days of notification. He said he also sees graffiti when he walks at Breakheart Reservation.

That’s a state park, do we go after them?” Costin asked.

Speaking on behalf of senior citizens living on fixed incomes, Costin said he doesn’t want to spend money set aside for medicine or go up on a ladder in wintry conditions to get rid of graffiti and comply with the bylaw.

Town Meeting member Peter Manoogian, who drafted the bylaw, said the police chief can use discretion in enforcing the bylaw and noted the Department of Public Works could help people victimized by graffiti.

Manoogian said the majority of properties tagged by graffiti are commercial as opposed to residential.

“We’re not going to go after people and say you’re going to be fined because you didn’t take graffiti off cedar shingles,” Manoogian said.

Dever asserted the article is well intentioned, but in her opinion is punitive and could be improved.

After nearly 30 minutes of discussion Town Meeting members voted 29-13 against the motion to reconsider Article 14.

Here is a rundown of other votes Town Meeting members took Monday:

· Voted unanimously to appropriate a water enterprise fund of $5,553,446 for fiscal 2014 and to appropriate a sewer enterprise fund of $3,826,735 for fiscal 2014.

· Unanimously reauthorized revolving funds to support recreational programs, to support the water system cross connection program, to support programs and activities at the Senior Center and to support the senior lunch program.

· Voted unanimously to borrow $768,400 at a 0 percent interest loan from the Massachusetts Water Resource Authority local pipeline assistance program to design and to improve water pipelines.

· Voted unanimously to indefinitely postpone Article 12 to increase water rates. Finance Committee Chairman Bob Palleschi said the town has enough in retained earnings to stave off water and sewer rate increases next fiscal year.

· Voted 33-2 (with two members voting present) to grant 402B status to retired Saugus Police officer John Coburn.

Chapter 402B allows the son or daughter of a police officer or firefighter who passes the written exam, medical exam and physical exam to receive statutory preference in the placement on any entry level police officer/firefighter list provided the public safety employee was permanently and totally disabled in the line of duty.

Coburn suffered a heart attack on duty in June 2009 while restraining a prisoner. He underwent a quadruple bypass and returned to duty for nine months, but had to retire because he was physically unable to perform the job requirements.

· Voted to table Article 16, to implement a five-member audit committee consisting of Town Meeting members that was established at last year’s annual Town Meeting.

Manoogian said the next step is to figure out how to select individuals to serve on the audit committee.

· Voted a substitute motion for Article 17, which originally sought to rename the Wind Power Study Committee formed in 2007 as the Alternative Energy Committee and to charge the committee “to study and report on all forms of alternative energy except for wind power. Said committee will not be authorized to recommend vendors, studies, apply for permits or seek grants that will result in the placement of wind turbines on town property or within the Area of Critical Environmental Concern.”

The substitute motion crafted by Manoogian and Town Meeting member Tim Hawkes reads as follows, “The SAEC will study and gather information on all forms of alternative energy and to consider their uses in Saugus with full consideration for public safety, public health and the environment. Said committee shall also consider and recommend energy conservation measures for residential, commercial and public facilities. The SAEC will not seek, study or advocate for the placement of wind turbines within the Area of Critical Environmental Concern at the Rumney Marsh. Furthermore the SAEC will not seek the placement of industrial size wind turbines anywhere else in Saugus unless or until it is determined that newer technologies of such turbines will produce wind power that is not detrimental to public health and safety or to the environment.”

· Voted to indefinitely postpone Article 26, to rezone 190 Lincoln Ave. from R-1 residential to B-1 business.

· Voted unanimously to commit Article 27 to the Economic Development Committee. The proponent originally proposed rezoning 90 Ballard St. from R-1 residential to B-1 neighborhood business, but withdrew the request in hopes of working with the Economic Development Committee on ideas for the property.

· Voted 40-1 to indefinitely postpone Article 28, which asked to rezone 313 and 315 Essex St. as high rise business and industrial (B-2) from single family residential (R-2).

The vote came after a motion to commit the article to the Economic Development Committee failed 34-6.

Town Meeting adjourned until Monday, June 3, at 7:30 p.m. at Saugus Town Hall.