By BOB TUROSZ
NORTH READING — The Annual Town Meeting will get underway Monday, June 1 at 7 p.m. in the High School’s Performing Arts Center with a focus on financial matters, including the annual town operating budget, capital purchases, paying the bill for the snow and ice removal from this year’s record–setting winter (ouch!) and more revolving accounts and stabilization funds than you can shake a stick at.
This is only the second town meeting to be held in the new auditorium and town officials have arrived at a slightly different staging plan to take full advantage of the center’s dimensions and layout. On Monday, the Selectmen and Finance Committee will be seated on the stage, unlike last fall when the Selectmen were pretty much out of sight in the orchestra pit. Student “runners” will continue to bring the cordless microphones to residents standing to speak in the audience, which worked quite well in October.
There are 36 articles on the warrant, nearly all of them financial. Two exceptions are articles 35, for the town to legally accept a portion of the driveway leading to the new high school and article 36, a citizens’ petition to rezone parcels of land on Fairway Road and Pluff Avenue.
The meeting will start writing checks right away with Article 2, to provide the necessary funds for the $817,000 deficit in the snow removal budget. That was the projected deficit as of May 18 – the final number could be slightly higher. All together, the winter of 2015 cost the town well over $1 million for the 103.5 inches of the white stuff that buried us all.
Under Article 4, the voters will be asked to approve the transfer of $108,547 to the Water Department Stabilization Fund, where it can be used to fund future capital needs.
The 800 lb. gorilla in the room is always the annual town budget, tipping the scales at a hefty $61 million, made up of the school department, ($27.4 million), general government, ($14.1 million) and fixed costs, ($19.5 million), a number that encompasses numerous expenses such as employee health insurance and debt service.
The general government portion of the budget is balanced. The school budget still has a gap of about $277,000 but that’s expected to be closed by town meeting.
Article 16 is the annual capital expenditures budget, requesting funds for 16 general government, school and water department pieces of equipment or projects, totaling $1.4 million, most of it through bonding.
Article 17 requests $56,225 to fund a chemical treatment to combat a Milfoil invasion at Martins Pond. Eurasian milfoil is an invasive plant that has been found in great quantities in the pond and the problem threatens to get worse, not better.
Article 35, for the high school driveway, has been in the works for a couple of years and closes out land transactions associated with the intersection improvements (set of traffic lights, turning lane, etc.) at the Park Stret entrance. Residents will not see any substantial changes resulting to what’s already on the ground.
Article 36, the citizens’ petition, is likely to be the most controversial issue of the night. Sponsored by Seth Pasakarnis and other residents, it seeks to rezone 16 parcels of land on Pluff Avenue and Fairway Road from Highway Business to Residential Zoning. The petition has been the subject of contentious public hearings before the Selectmen and Community Planning Commission.
The sponsors of the petition say it’s not about restricting business but preserving the residential character of their neighborhoods. At their hearing, the Selectmen urged the two sides to compromise, possibly by excluding the parcel at 4 Pluff Ave. from the petition, (see other story). They also urged the CPC to take a leadership position on the article. Because this is a zoning amendment, two–thirds approval from the voters will be necessary.
With most of Monday night’s business being considered routine, it’s considered very likely the meeting will wrap up all of its business in one session and likely well before the 11 p.m. witching hour.