A large turn-out had been anticipated for the May 13 Mattapoisett Annual Town Meeting, so the gymnasium next to the auditorium at ORR High School was prepared for the overflow crowd. More than 400 voters turned out to determine the fate of predominantly three major articles in the warrant: a new fire station, a zoning bylaw amendment to allow marijuana cultivation for both recreational and medical wholesale distribution, and whether or not to advance a request for funding for repairs to ORRHS athletic structures and auditorium lighting and sound.
Packed cheek to jowl, the people were ready for the democratic process to begin.
Mike Hickey, chairman of the committee that spearheaded the project, and Fire Chief Andrew Murray presented Article 14: Fire Station Construction Project Funding. Their presentation included a video that demonstrated the lack of safety systems inside the aged firehouse, health concerns when firefighters cannot adequately decontaminate personal gear and equipment, as well as the lack of conformity to current OSHA standards. Hickey explained in detail the more than a year-long process of studying the needs of the Fire Department, visiting new facilities in surrounding cities and towns, and evaluating costs against must-haves associated with a new structure and 21stcentury standards.
During a prior public hearing, abutter David Fuerman spoke on behalf of himself and his neighbors about their stormwater run-off concerns. He said that ever since the police station, funeral home, and condominium complex had been constructed on Route 6, runoff has flooded the Pepperbush neighborhood. Hickey shared that the design was only in the schematic phase, but that engineering would have to take stormwater calculations into consideration through the Planning Board review process, and water management systems were a high priority.
Donald Fleming asked what would happen to the retired fire station. Selectman Jordan Collyer, also a member of the fire station committee, said that plans include selling the property and using those funds to pay down the bond that will be needed to fund the project.
The article passed 446-5.
Article 25: Pine Island Watershed was carried by a 2-thirds majority. The article asked voters to approve the appropriation of $250,000 to purchase 120 acres along Angelica Point in the Pine Island Watershed region that the Mattapoisett Land Trust (MLT) proposed to purchase and preserve via a conservation restriction. The MLT has been fundraising, while the town’s contribution represents monies that will be drawn from the general fund and the Community Preservation Act. Town Administrator Michael Gagne said the Selectmen supported the MLT plan and believe protecting this sensitive eco-system was vital to the health of the wildlife-rich acreage. He also assured the public that access to Pine Island Pond for shell fishing and other forms of recreation is part of the overall plan, as well as establishing another evacuation roadway for those living in the area in the event of a catastrophic weather event.
Another hot button was Article 26: Adult Use Marijuana Establishment, and the associated Article 27: Adult Use (Recreational) Marijuana Establishment Prohibition – citizen’s petitions being advanced by local businessman David McIntire. The articles stirred the crowd who asked a number of questions of the petitioner and his partner, Attorney Phil Silverman of Vincente Sederberg, LLC– a national law firm serving the marijuana industry.
Earlier in the evening, resident Brad Hathaway motioned Town Meeting to advance the bylaw amendment articles, taking them out of sequence given that the articles would not be taken up until much later in the evening when people might have to leave due to the lateness of the hour. McIntire asked that the articles be kept as-is so that his team could arrive closer to 8:30 pm. Hathaway’s motion was defeated.
Then the voters addressed their concerns or support. Gagne and the Finance Committee supported the amendments that both had been evaluated as money-makers for the town. The new revenue generated from the industrial cultivation of marijuana had been estimated at anywhere between $300,000 to over $1 million, depending on the size of the structure(s) and market conditions. Gagne had said that new revenue could be set aside for capital projects versus operating budgets.
McIntire asserted that it was unlikely that anyone would even realize that marijuana cultivation was taking place, given the inconspicuous appearance of the building. He touched on the security required for both the building and the products therein, and that the Police Department had been consulted.
Chief Mary Lyons rose to speak, asking McIntire what he was basing his financial projections on. Silverman said it was based on the size of the factory and the current per pound price of marijuana, which he said stands at $3,600 per pound. McIntire’s 25,000 square-foot proposed facility could produce 20,000 pounds per year, he said. Lyons also said that, although she had been part of the committee that helped to write the original marijuana bylaws that restricted sale and cultivation, she had not been asked by McIntire to weigh in on his proposal.
Several people voiced concern over protecting children from exposure to marijuana products with lifelong resident George Randall being the most outspoken.
Public discourse was closed and voters raised their hands in what appeared to be a fairly equal proportion for and against allowing the amendments to be carried. The minutes ticked by as a second counting was required. But in the end, the two-thirds majority needed was not there, 188 in favor and 125 against. With the defeat of Article 26, Article 27 became null and void.
The other article generating the most interest was Article 28: ORR Athletic Facilities and Auditorium Improvements Funding. The article asked voters to approve their Tri-Town portion of a $2-milllion bond to make repairs and improvements to several athletic structures as well as auditorium lighting in the regional high school.
The lateness of the hour did not dampen the enthusiasm of those who had striven to bring this article to the people at Town Meeting. A presentation by ORR School Committee member Carey Humphrey included a video showing the current conditions of the football field and track, while describing the high school building itself “as the most used structure in the Tri-Towns.”
Humphrey said of the Finance Committee’s characterization of the School Committee’s lack of capital planning as incorrect, saying, “We have followed protocol from day one.”
Earlier in the debate, Finance Committee Chairman Pat Donoghue said, “We’ve never seen a capital plan. … We feel like we are not getting the whole story.” She said it defied accounting practices to bond a project on an asset that might not last the length of the bond. While she acknowledged there were capital needs throughout the school property, including the facility manager’s concern that the high school needed a new roof, prioritization and financial planning was lacking.
“We are concerned about the safety of all the people in town,” Donoghue concluded, “not just the students.” She invited parents to join the Finance Committee saying there were two open seats.
In the end, the motion carried with a majority of 190 votes in the affirmative.
Articles 1 through 23 dealt primarily with annual financial matters such as the FY20 Operating Budget totaling $28,024,603, with highlights such as the appropriation of $167,77 for the Sanitary Landfill/Transfer Station Enterprise; $2,384,150 to defray Water Department expenses; $2,518,976 to defray Sewer Department expenses; and $279,260 to defray Waterfront Enterprise Fund expenses.
The OPEB liability fund received $414,000, and $602,957 was appropriated for Capital Plan Funding. The projects advanced for funding under the Capital Plan were: Highway Barn repairs and improvements at $231,000; the purchase of a trench safety box at $12,457; local school education modules at $49,500; and the appropriation of $310,000 for engineering and bidding costs associated with the construction of a new fire station.
To view the full Warrant and the results visit www.wanderer.com.
Mattapoisett Annual Town Meeting
By Marilou Newell