By MARK SARDELLA
WAKEFIELD — It took 108 voters just under 75 minutes to complete all of the business on last night’s Regular Town Meeting warrant. All nine articles passed unanimously or by wide margins, with no contentious debate.
Under Article 1 Town meeting heard Town Administrator Stephen P. Maio’s wrap up report on the FY 2016 budget. Maio said that the town finished last year in good shape, with over $9 million in its Free Cash account. He talked about some of the capital projects that having a “robust” Free Cash has enabled the town to complete. He also took the opportunity to discuss some ongoing and upcoming projects including transforming Albion Street into a cultural district, looking at the feasibility of building a hockey rink on the high school campus and cleaning up Lake Quannapowitt.
Maio asked School Superintendent Dr. Kim Smith to discuss some of the educational initiatives such as full-day kindergarten enabled by last year’s infusion of cash into the School Department budget.
Maio talked about the new growth that the town has been experiencing as exemplified by the Brightview Senior Living project, the Hallmark Health medical building and the Wakefield Station condo project on North Avenue.
Town Meeting voted to accept Maio’s report.
Under Article 2, Town Meeting voted to use $2 million in Free Cash to balance the FY 2017 budget. Maio explained that the town’s healthy reserves allowed the Board of Selectmen to increase the current fiscal year’s tax levy by only 1.5 percent instead of the 2.5 percent allowed by law. The result will be a $60 savings on the average residential tax bill and $300 on the average commercial tax bill. There was no discussion from the floor on Article 2 before it passed.
Article 3 was a request to supplement the Legal Damages budget by $100,000 to pay residential property owners for damage caused by an October 2015 water main break on Green Street. Maio explained that the money was for damage not covered by either the homeowners’ or the town’s insurance.
Marc Luca of Water Street opposed Article 3, arguing that it would set a precedent for future claims.
But Muriel Campbell, who said that her Main Street home sustained thousands of dollars’ worth of damage, asked Town Meeting to approve Article 3.
Elizabeth Lowry of Green Street wondered why that water main had not been replaced before it broke. DPW Director Richard Stinson explained that the pipe was found to be in good shape. There are a lot of unforeseeable reasons that can cause a water main to fail, Stinson said.
Town Meeting voted to approve Article 3.
Under Article 4, Town Meeting was asked to adopt a state law that would allow the town to abate back taxes owed on commercial properties that have environmental issues. Maio explained that some commercial properties that have experienced a release of hazardous materials can languish unused when the cost of cleanup exceeds the property value. He said that the ability to abate back taxes would enable the town to help new owners clean up such properties and get them back on the tax rolls.
After a brief discussion, Article 4 passed by a wide margin.
Articles 5 and 6, to accept two new streets as public ways, passed unanimously. The streets, Nazareth Road and Winship Drive, are part of the recently completed “Wincrest” subdivision on the former Our lady of Nazareth Academy site. Both articles 5 and 6 required a two-thirds majority, but the unanimous votes obviate any need for a hand count.
Under Article 7, Town Meeting approved the borrowing of $373,737 for water meter replacement. Stinson explained that the BPW has been using its own employees to do the replacements a section of the town at a time. He said that securing an interest free MWRA loan for the amount requested would allow the town to hire contractual help and complete the project in about a year. He said that the funding would not impact water and sewer rates.
After a brief discussion, Article 7 carried by a wide margin.
Town Meeting voted indefinite postponement on Article 8, which would have appropriated funds to address space issues at the Walton School. Permanent Building Committee chairman Joseph Bertrand said that a study to determine the best way to address those issues has not been completed. He said that he hoped that the study would be ready by the spring 2017 Annual Town Meeting.
Speaking for the Walton School parents, Andrew Bray stressed the urgency of remedying the situation at the school.
Article 9 asked Town Meeting to establish a revolving account to be used by the School Department to help pay for the maintenance, repair and replacement of electronic devices (such as laptop computers) loaned to students. School Superintendent Dr. Kim Smith said that the revolving fund would protect parents from having to bear the full cost of repair or replacement of electronic devices lost or damaged while in the students’ possession. She said that the revolving account would be funded by participants and involve no taxpayer money.
Laurie Hunt of Terrace Court asked if the School Department was looking into screen protectors and cases to help protect the devices. Smith indicated that such measures were being considered.
Town Meeting approved the establishment of the revolving fund, which would be capped at $50,000.
At 8:13 p.m., Board of Selectman Chairman Patrick Glynn moved to dissolve the 2016 Regular Town Meeting.
According to Town Clerk Betsy Sheeran, there were 72 voters on hand when Town Meeting opened at 7 p.m., before attendance swelled to 108 at 8 p.m.