Selectmen Sign Warrant For 11-article Special Town Meeting

By: Alan Pollock

Topics: Politics , Town Meeting , Conservation


CHATHAM Though the headline article is the acquisition of the former Eldredge Garage property, the Jan. 23 special town meeting has a few other items to pique voter interest.

The board of selectmen voted last week to close the warrant, which contains 11 articles.

Selectmen voted 4-1 to recommend approval of Article 4, the acquisition of the Eldredge Garage land at 365 Main St., for possible use as open space, parking, rest rooms or other town and public uses (see related story).

The first three articles are financial ones, starting with a request that voters authorize the payment of $13,180 from free cash to pay bills received after the close of the fiscal year. Selectmen and finance committee members voted unanimously to endorse the article, which requires a nine-tenths majority to pass.

Article two is a housekeeping measure that rescinds unneeded borrowing authorizations from the town's books. The funds authorized by the original articles were not fully borrowed and are no longer needed because the projects are complete or grants reduced the need to borrow.

Article three, which won the unanimous endorsement of selectmen, seeks an appropriation of $375,000 to continue the town's program of converting old water meters into new ones that technicians can read without having to walk on individual properties. Once all the meters are upgraded, every meter in town can be read in a couple of days, rather than the three months it takes to read every manual meter in town. The additional funds, being sought from existing water revenues, would allow the town-wide conversion to be finished by December 2018, more than two years ahead of schedule.

In considering Article five, voters will decide whether to purchase the .64-acre Gilmartin property on Valley Farm Drive in West Chatham for preservation as open space. The article seeks a $125,000 appropriation from existing Land Bank receipts, which will be added to $55,000 being contributed by the Chatham Conservation Foundation. The private conservation group is also spending an additional $5,000 to remove the existing house foundation from the land. Selectmen voted 4-1 to endorse the article, and the finance committee plans to make its recommendation on the floor of town meeting. A two-thirds majority vote is required for the article to pass. Several years ago, the town, working with the Foundation, acquired much of the area around the lot as open space.

Article six would create a provision in the town bylaws that allow certain property owners with overdue property taxes to have up to half of the accrued interest waived, provided that they agree to pay a certain amount of the debt immediately and enter into a payment agreement to pay off the remainder within five years. Various other restrictions apply, including one that requires the property to be valued at 150 percent or less than the mean assessed value of residential properties in town. Selectmen unanimously endorsed the article, and the finance committee will make its recommendation at town meeting.

The seventh article is labeled as a “moral obligation tax abatement” for the owner of a Habitat for Humanity-built property at 3 Beach Plum Rd. Because of a complex series of errors by town staff members, the property owner and a bank, the property owner is in arrears for $7,197,51 in back taxes. Finance Director Alix Heilala has proposed spending overlay surplus funds to cover the outstanding taxes and interest. “In essence, we are paying ourselves to rectify a tax situation that is complicated by numerous issues,” she wrote in the article's explanation. Selectmen endorsed the article on a 3-2 vote, and the finance committee unanimously recommends approval.

Article 8 seeks $175,000 to cover three line items in the fire department budget which would otherwise likely run out of funds before the end of the current fiscal year. The budget items are medical supplies for the ambulances, overtime costs for staffing the shifts of three firefighters who have on-duty injuries, and the pay-out of accrued vacation and sick time for soon-to-retire department members. Both the selectmen and finance committee will make their recommendations on this article on town meeting floor.

In 2015, town meeting passed a home rule petition to exempt the town from certain provisions of the state's prevailing wage law, specifically targeting small jobs for capital repairs where the town received no bidders or had bids that were higher than project estimates. The petition has been stalled in the state legislature, and Article 9 on this month's special town meeting would authorize the town to re-file the legislation.

Article 10, endorsed unanimously by selectmen, would authorize the town to seek special legislation to use 100 percent of boat excise tax revenues for the town's waterways improvement fund. Without the change, the town would be limited to spending only half of those revenues for the fund. The article requires a simple majority to pass.

The warrant also includes a placeholder as Article 11 which would fund contract settlements with either of two employee unions, should contracts be negotiated in time for the meeting.

The special town meeting will take place Jan. 23 at 6:30 p.m. in the gymnasium of Monomoy Regional Middle School, 425 Crowell Rd.; the snow date is Jan. 30. The deadline to register to vote at the meeting is Friday, Jan. 13 at 8 p.m. The town clerk's office will remain open until that time to accommodate late registrations.