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Town Meeting Accepts VFW Building

Marion Special Town Meeting

By Jean Perry

There was quite a bit of discussion about the Special Town Meeting article to accept the donation of the VFW building, mostly over the pros and cons of acquiring another property. Still, when it came time to take a vote, the result was a unanimous 'aye' followed by thunderous applause.

Council on Aging Director Heather Sylvia, seated at the far back of the Sippican School auditorium, was one of the more overjoyed in attendance, saying to The Wanderer that she was grateful to all the residents who turned out to support the acquisition of the VFW building at 465 Mill Road where the likelihood of an actual senior center/community center/recreation center in Marion appears imminent.

Marion Board of Selectmen Chairman Jody Dickerson acknowledged the VFW Post #2425's last act of generosity to the town as it disbands, saying that the selectmen, should the donation be accepted, would strive to find the best use of the building and the 6.5 acres upon which it sits.

The Finance Committee gave a recommendation on the floor to accept the donation with the selectmen's pledge to conduct a thorough assessment of all town-owned buildings to ensure efficiency and sound maintenance.

Resident Lee Vulgaris, the most vocal of Town Meeting members that evening, brought up costs to bring the VFW building up to code, saying, "There is an awful lot of things that goes into bringing old buildings up to code."

Dickerson said an assessment concluded that a total of $93,000 would be needed to prepare the building for municipal use and broke it down as follows: $30,000 for a fire alarm/extinguishing system; $5,300 in electrical work; $27,500 to make the restrooms ADA accessible; $8,500 for a general commercial cleanup; $16,500 for commercial grade carpeting; and an unspecified relatively small amount for painting and labor provided by the Plymouth County Sheriff's Department worker program.

Former Planning Board election candidate William do Carmo said the building would be best if under the direction of the Affordable Housing Commission, of which he is a member, in order to find the best use of the property, perhaps by developing it into senior housing or another use to generate revenue for the town; however, he did not receive much verbal support in his idea.

Residents spoke in favor of accepting the building, with words such as "a long time coming" and "a gift that keeps on giving," followed by applause.

There were concerns, however, of another town building acquisition when the town already has "a long history of not maintaining their buildings," as one resident put it.

In the end, though, the voters accepted the gift, clapping and applauding before a standing ovation to thank the VFW Post #2425 members present that night for the decades of service to the town and the generosity of the building donation.

An article to earmark anywhere from $80,000 to $100,000 in cash payments to the Town from the developer of the Future Generation Wind project was rejected by a decisive majority who rejected a 50-50 split of the receipts between the OPEB (other post-employment benefits) Trust Fund and an Energy Efficiency Account to support town efforts to conserve energy.

An amendment to change the percentage to a 60-40 split proposed by the Finance Committee and supported by the selectmen was also shot down by voters who argued that earmarking the money now would restrict the town from using that money in the future for other urgent costs that could arise.

As Town Administrator Paul Dawson explained, the town anticipated reimbursement from the wind energy developer in the form of net metering credits, essentially a reduction in the municipal electricity rates. The developer, fully within its right to do so, emphasized Dawson, instead chose to reimburse the town with cash payments that would now be counted as actual revenue.

"Once that money is earmarked, you're out of luck," said Vulgaris.

Town Meeting voters did accept Article S3 to enter into a PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) agreement with local solar farm developer Clean Energy Collective, the site located off Tucker Lane.

There were some concerns from residents that this would mean a 'tax break' or 'tax deal' for the solar developer; however, Dawson made it clear that this was in no way a tax break or deal.

The developer will pay the full amount of taxes over the span of the 20-year project, with the annual estimated 2.5% tax rate increase and depreciating value of the project over time.

"All this will do is allow [the developer] to make equal payments and for the Town to receive equal payments over the course of time," Dawson said. "It's simply a different way for the town to collect the revenue."

Selectmen opted to pass over Article S1, which would have appropriated $20,000 under the direction of the Planning Board to engage in consultant services to assist in the development of the Master Plan, and Article S2 appropriating $475,976 for consultation in the Marion Town House renovation was passed over, as expected, at the request of the selectmen.

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