Is it proper to bring a proposal back to voters after it’s failed multiple times to pass at town meeting?
Opponents of a proposed new council on aging facility, known as the center for active living, say no, that officials should have honored previous votes. Those technically won a majority but failed to reach the two-thirds threshold required for borrowing the required funding (the margin was one vote in May). So to argue that a majority of voters don’t want a new CFAL at 1610 Main St. would be wrong, and it isn’t unusual for measures that fail town meeting to be resurrected again. And, of course, candidates who fail to get elected are free to run as many times as they please. So bringing the proposal back to Monday’s special town meeting is not out of line.
But the emphasis on that argument shows the failure of 1610 Main St. opponents to find substantive reasons to vote against the $11 million proposal. Their other objections — that it’s the wrong site, it’s too large and too expensive — also lack substance. The facility meets the programming needs of the COA, whose constituency will only grow in the coming years, and it’s centrally located along a major roadway recently made safer, in the heart of a growing village center.
The major alternative proposed by opponents of 1610 is to renovate or rebuild the existing COA facility at 193 Stony Hill Rd. and add on to the community center to accommodate the agency’s needs. While this would weaken COA programs by bifurcating operations, it also wouldn’t save much money. A study last August estimated that a new building on Stony Hill Road and an addition at the community center would cost between $9 and $11 million, close to the cost of the 1610 plan. That would take much-needed green space away from the community center and retain what is clearly an inadequate site on Stony Hill Road. The study is available on the town’s website, as are dozens of other documents that show how we got to this point. We urge skeptical voters to do their own research, as the saying goes.
As finance committee chair Stephen Daniel said, a new COA is going to be built at some time. The current project has climbed from $6 to $11 million in the past several years, and the cost will only increase — whether at another site or in the scenario noted above — if this opportunity is passed up. The tax impact — initially 9 cents on the tax rate, declining over the 20-year life of the financing — may pose a hardship to some, but there are alternatives available for relief. For the vast majority of property owners, the additional cost will be manageable. We believe it makes sense to bite the bullet and approve the 1610 project. Voters have approved new facilities for police, fire and town workers, and show no hesitation in endorsing programs that benefit the town’s young people. It’s time to provide for our seniors.