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Town Meeting Voters Approve New Contracts For Police, $13M Water Filtration Plant Project

May 06, 2015 12:53PM ● By Bill Gilman
Voter apathy, which resulted in a record-low turnout at last month's Municipal Election, continued this week as just 211 people turned out for Day 1 of the Annual Town Meeting Monday night at Tewksbury High School.
The voters who were on hand were in a "yes" frame of mind, approving the town's $95.1 million budget for Fiscal Year 2016, as well as the $13,1 million water filtration plant upgrade and various spending articles funded by Stabilization Fund transfers that benefit every town department.
In all, voters approved 30 of the 31 articles presented Monday, with one article (new contract with the Firefighters Union) withdrawn.
Session 2 of the Annual Town Meeting will take place tonight (May 6) at Tewksbury High School, starting at 8 p.m. It immediately follows a Special Town Meeting, which starts at 7 p.m. The warrants for both the Annual Town Meeting and the Special Town Meeting are attached to this story as printable PDF files.
Among the articles generating the most discussions were Articles 11-15, which called for the transfer of funds from the Stabilization Fund for various purposes. Residents Jay Kelley, Warren Carey and Joe Gill each spoke against at least one of the transfer articles and the arguments they made were almost identical.
"These funds should be included in the Town Budget and gone over by the Finance Committee," said Kelley, adding that he has consistently opposed this method of fiscal management by Town Manager Richard Montuori in previous years. "It was a bad idea then and it is still a bad idea. This year (the total is) an even higher amount."
Transfer spending items included such things as $140,000 for tree and stump removal, $145,000 for an ambulance upgrade,$2,500 for repairs to the Senior Center roof, $25,000 for new carpets for the library and $50,000 for demolition and site work at the old Police Station.
"These projects should be in the budget, where they belong," said Gill. "This usurps the budget and I would ask the Finance Committee to take a look at this (practice) in the future."
Montuori said he would have preferred to include the spending items in the regular budget but that it simply wasn't possible.
"The problem that we face in the town is that we cannot afford to fund these items in the regular budget," he said. "But I felt they were important enough to bring to Town Meeting and let voters decide if they should be funded or not."
The largest of the transfer items were for the School Department. Article 15 provides $725,000 to be used specifically to set up a Special Education Out-of-District Tuition fund. Money from the fund would be spent only if out-of-district tuition costs exceeded what the School Department had budgeted for it.
A problem arose this year, when Superintendent of Schools Dr. John O'Connor announced that a dozen new Special Education Out-of-District placement families had moved into the district, creating a significant budget shortfall.
Article 16 provided the School District with another $222,223 for building maintenance and $33,500 for technology. In particular, the Trahan School has major structural problems that need addressing.
Resident Warren Carey said he supported spending the money but he opposed the language of the article, arguing it was illegal for Town Meeting to restrict the spending of money being given to the School District. He said if the wording were not changed, to allow for any spending with certain recommendations included, the State could reject the articles completely and the schools would lose out on the funding until the next Town Meeting.
"Don't jeopardize these funds," said Carey. "Let (the school committee) spend it. They can handle it better than these people."
Despite Carey's objections, the article passed, as written.
The $13.1 million water filtration plant renovation and upgrade nearly hit a roadblock. Residents Keith Rauseo and Joe Gill led an effort to try amend the language of the article to require ballot vote approval as well as Town Meeting approval. But the amendment was defeated 70-41 and the article, as written, passed 99-19.
Voters overwhelmingly passed articles ratifying new contracts for the Police Patrolmen's Union, the Police Superior Officers' Union and town employees represented by AFSCMA.
Tonight's second part of the Annual Town Meeting will feature 11 articles relating to zoning and development issues.

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