With a short list of articles to get through during Mattapoisett’s November 21 Special Fall Town Meeting, and with a quorum of 92 voters, things got off to an easy start as the community breezed through the first five articles with thumbs up.
The first two articles, Article 1 in the amount of $57 to pay for a prior year bill and Article 2 in the amount of $300,000 from free cash to fund engineering work to achieve 25% of design and other work needed for repairs to Main, Water, and Beacon Streets, received little comment.
Regarding Article 2, voters heard from Town Administrator Michael Gagne that in order to receive consideration for state and federal grants to fund the $4.5 million village road repair project, the town must commit to pay a percentage of the total cost.
Gagne, who sits on the state’s joint transportation group, said, “If a project doesn’t have twenty-five percent design, they are not going to get funding.” He explained that the first step will be to do a 10% design and if the remaining 15% looked feasible, then the balance of the requested $300,000 would be used.
Article 3 passed unanimously for the appropriation of $200,000 from certified free cash to the capital improvement stabilization fund.
Article 4 in the amount of $72,680 from free cash with $55,000 going towards FY17 reserve fund and $17,680 to FY17 accrual liability funding for the purpose of funding two retirement packages got the green light.
Former Selectman George Randall reminded the voters, “Free cash isn’t free cash and when it’s gone, you’ve got to put it back.”
Article 5 for supplemental FY17 budget appropriations also passed unanimously to settle various departmental employment contracts.
Police Chief Mary Lyons addressed the voters regarding Article 6. The voters were asked to spend $45,000 from free cash to purchase radar speed signs that would be used on Mattapoisett Neck and Brandt Island Roads. Lyons explained that she was part of a committee asked by the selectmen to research ways to improve safety on these roads where the bike path intersects.
She received some push back from Randall who wondered what the long-term costs would be for maintaining the signals, and Paul Osenkowski suggested warning cones be placed in the middle of the roadway.
Cindy Johnson asked about Route 6 pedestrian crossings. Gagne reported that work began this very day on new traffic warning signals at several locations between North Street and Main Street and in front of the high school.
The motion passed 71 for and 19 against.
Article 7, $70,000 for sewer treatment costs, and Article 8, $25,000 for waterfront repairs, took little time to pass.
School security was addressed in Article 9. The voters were asked to allow the town to move $60,000 from one account to another, moving money previously earmarked for Old Hammondtown School roof repairs to the construction of security vestibules.
Gagne explained that the roof repair costs would be added to the FY18 capital improvement list but that the security of the schools had been identified as a critical need. He said that construction could take place over the February school vacation. The motion passed 89 to 3.
Article 10 received considerable review as voters were asked to allow the police and fire departments to hire new full-time personnel.
While the Finance Committee had thoroughly vetted the requests from the police department for $20,985 and the fire department for $10,000, Finance Committee Chairman Pat Donoghue had written a Letter to the Editor cautioning that the full costs had not been disclosed and that the matter should be brought to the voters during the Annual Town Meeting in the spring as opposed to a special town meeting floor.
When the public was invited by moderator Jack Eklund to discuss the requests, Donoghue began by saying, “Both positions have merit.” However, she said that she was troubled this was coming up at the fall town meeting and also took partial responsibility for not creating a capital planning process for human resource needs. She said that the voters were only being asked to fund direct salary costs and not benefits. “We don’t know the full cost of adding a full-time person,” she said.
Several people in attendance seemed to agree. Randall made a motion to indefinitely postpone acting on the article.
But the needs as expressed by the two chiefs held sway. Lyons talked about planning for the future as the retirement of two officers will drive up over-time costs and with Fire Chief Andrew Murray discussing the difficulties of protecting the community that includes over 1,000 school children with only one-full time staff member during the weekdays.
The article passed 85 to 7 with Donoghue voting with the majority.
By Marilou Newell