Gathering in the small office of Town Administrator Mike Gagne on May 2, the Mattapoisett Board of Selectmen met for a final review of the Annual Town Meeting Warrant before signing it.
The warrant contains 26 articles that include the annual budget and appropriations for the five stabilization funds, but there are also a couple of big ticket items as well as zoning bylaw amendments that are sure to elicit questions, at the least, and debate, at the most.
Gagne presented a printed financial retrospective that will also be handed out at Town Meeting, intended to explain the Town’s current debt and its ability to carry the proposed new fire station construction.
It reads, in part, “Mattapoisett’s indebtedness has declined as a portion of the Annual Town Budget from 6.9-percent to 4.6-percent. Within the next five years debt will decline by 79.3-percent…”
The handout states that the decline represents a payoff of $11.5 million in previously approved capital projects.
Road improvement projects would continue to represent another $3 million to be paid off, which Gagne projected would be done by year five.
“This fiscal position would put Mattapoisett in a very solid position to sell bonds,” said Gagne.
He closes the comments by writing, “For a small increase of $13.38 on a tax bill for a home valued at $440,000 (the anticipated tax increase if town meeting moves to build a new Fire Station), and, the town can reserve funds for other future capital needs that are prioritized in the ten-year Capital Plan.”
The selectmen were in agreement with asking voters to fund a new fire station, and to amendment zoning bylaws that would allow greater lot coverage at the Limited Industrial District if the property owners connect to public sewer.
Another article will ask voters to spend $39,000 on sewer infrastructure that would allow businesses along Industrial Drive to connect to the system.
The selectmen also agreed to advance an article that asks voters to amend zoning bylaws that would allow medical marijuana to be cultivated within that zone, with a portion of that crop allowed to be supplied to adult-use marijuana retail outlets outside Mattapoisett.
But when it came time to look at the article for improvements to the Old Rochester High School athletic fields and auditorium, the board continued to express deep concern.
“I just want to make a statement that this was done in disrespect for the Capital Planning process,” Selectman Paul Silva said. In his opinion, the planning process was specifically intended to evaluate capital expenditures in a pragmatic manner “to afford groups coming in with their wants and needs impacting the tax rate.”
Gagne commented that one of the criteria for receiving an AAA bond rating was that the town did, in fact, have a capital needs process to rank projects based on the long-term financial impact on the community.
“I’m not saying it (the project) isn’t necessary,” Silva clarified, “but the manner in which they went about it was wrong.”
Gagne shared that both the Capital Planning and Finance Committees wanted to see the $2.5 million request processed through the 10-year planning schedule.
“We asked them to present their 10-year plan – they never did it!” Selectman Tyler Macallister said. “We told them there are ways to do this.”
Selectman Jordan Collyer added, “We asked them for a revenue plan – we still don’t know what needs to be done or when. We know there are major issues and we asked for the plan; doing it piecemeal
is not the way Mattapoisett has been doing it.”
“It all comes back to a plan. There are significant unknowns,” Gagne stated.
“The request is valid,” said Collyer. “The timing – not good.”
Gagne emphasized that, with retiring debt, which was planned for in order to take on large-scale improvements such as a new fire station, property owners wouldn’t experience large increases in tax bills. He explained that there is $310,000 available for the fire station pre-construction needs that would cover design, engineering, bid documents, and contractor selection, allowing the town to put off securing a bond to cover the estimated $9.7 million for the total project until March 2020 with the first payment due in March 2021, “… putting us further down the road in terms of retiring debt.”
The selectmen signed the warrant hoping that Mattapoisett voters would once again conduct business in an expeditious manner with Collyer quipping, “Let’s get this done in one night.”
The next meeting of the Mattapoisett Board of Selectmen is scheduled for May 13 at 6:00 pm in the ORR auditorium before the start of Town Meeting.
Mattapoisett Board of Selectmen
By Marilou Newell