Marion’s two-member Board of Selectmen has jettisoned the article for the new town house construction design from the Annual Town Meeting Warrant, deciding on March 20 that the Town Meeting warrant will feature only one option for voters – the $7.8 million Article 14 to renovate the existing town house.
“Stop right there,” said Selectman Norm Hills when Article 15 came up during the board’s review of the draft warrant. Reading a prepared statement, Hills criticized the subcommittee’s associated cost estimate of a $5.1 million Mill Road town administrative building option, saying that the plan lacks detail and would result in a higher price tag in the end. Hills said the subcommittee did not factor in a $300,000 sewer upgrade cost and another $200,000 Hills claimed it would cost to digitalize town records as per the plan’s storage concept.
According to Hills, the original Town House Building Committee in its three years of work has produced a town house renovation design that is refined and better detailed with a more accurate cost estimate, saying, “I have more confidence in the renovation cost estimate than I do in the new construction cost estimate.”
“It’s logical that the center of government remain in the village,” said Hills, citing the “village style” prioritized in the Master Plan. “It is not logical to destroy the fabric of the village by abandoning one of the key architectural buildings.”
Hills continued in defense of a town house renovation, and when Hills said, “…Old is not useless,” that’s when the new construction subcommittee co-chairman Rob Lane shook his head ‘no.’
“Remember,” said Hills, “the least costly option often is not the most cost-effective one in the long run.”
Board of Selectmen Chairman Jody Dickerson agreed with Hills, saying, “This [building] has been the fabric of our community for many, many years – the heart of local government.”
Dickerson said he had received numerous calls, emails, and comments asking that the town government continue to reside at the town house.
“I think it would destroy the Town of Marion,” said Dickerson, if the town house was moved to the senior/community center site.
Dickerson then said that only the town house renovation article would be on the warrant, and residents could argue over it on the Town Meeting floor if they must.
At that, Lane left the town house.
The selectmen also had the question pertaining to a Proposition 2½ exemption for funding a new town house construction removed from the ballot for the May Annual Town Election. The question for a Proposition 2½ exemption for a town house renovation remains.
After the meeting, candidate for Board of Selectmen John Waterman approached Hills and Dickerson, telling them to expect pushback from supporters of the new construction. Before leaving, Waterman told the press, “The voters should have both on the ballot. For those two guys to pull it off the warrant is the ultimate in arrogance to think that it’s their decision and not the voters’ decision.”
To the other residents in the room, he said, “Those guys think they know what’s best. They don’t know what’s best.”
Resident Joe McDonough submitted a letter dated March 6 to the selectmen, saying he heard the board would be making this move.
“Town Meeting has voted funds for each of the two alternatives being considered,” wrote McDonough. “How could you consider not respecting these votes?” He asserted, “The results of each taxpayer-funded alternative must be placed on the Town Meeting warrant.”
Leslie Dole in her letter to the selectmen dated March 10 wrote, “The selectmen have the responsibility to present both of these choices on the upcoming Town [Meeting] warrant. It is imperative that all 3,800 active voters have the opportunity to vote on this very important subject, not just the 2.5 percent that attended the March 1st meeting.”
David Pierce, a member of the Energy Management Committee and other town entities, in his March 6 letter urged the board to list the board’s preference – the renovation option – first on the warrant, followed by the new construction option. “If the first choice is turned down, then we face the next choice on the agenda. This saves having to wait for a special town meeting down the road. I see that we have nothing to lose by this plan, and a great deal to be gained.”
The selectmen have closed the Annual Town Meeting Warrant with the omission of the new town house construction article, bringing the total number of articles down from 45 to 44.
In other matters, Dawson said the new heating system at the Town House should be operational by the end of the day on Wednesday, March 21. As of the meeting, the wiring had been completed in the basement, the boiler installed, and all the wiring throughout completed that day. The temporary exterior heating system will be removed on Thursday – “…And the saga ends,” said Dawson, who thanked Town House employees for their patience (and suffering).
The board tabled the appointment of Amy Tamagini to the Registrar of Voters to confirm that Tamagini lives in Marion. The address she stated on her correspondence does not match with residency records at Town House. Dawson said a member of the Registrar of Voters must be a resident. However, the selectmen approved the Marion Water Committee chairman’s request that the board allow retired DPW superintendent Rob Zora to remain on the committee until his term expires on June 30. Zora is no longer a Marion resident, but the Water Committee chairman requested that Zora remain on the committee because of his “expertise.”
The board also appointed interim DPW superintendent Jon Henry to the Water Committee as a voting member.
The next meeting of the Marion Board of Selectmen is scheduled for April 3 at 7:00 pm at the Marion Town House.
Marion Board of Selectmen
By Jean Perry