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TM OKs $15M Budget

By M.E. Jones, CorrespondentMay 23, 2019

SHIRLEY — All 22 articles on the annual Town Warrant passed Monday night, with just 105 residents (4% of registered voters) braving the pelting rain to attend.

Many had left before the meeting ended, just after 10 p.m. But by then, the few had decided for the many, approving the $15 million municipal operating budget, as presented, along with several other money items, including $577,023 in capital items.

Specifically: A DPW sidewalk machine ($155,517) to clear snow and ice and repair sections of roadways. A DPW paving hot box trailer ($45,000) so crews can apply asphalt to repair pot holes year-round, versus cold patch, which doesn’t last; Replacement computers for the Police Department and the Library (Total: $21,006) and sidewalk and stair repairs at town hall ($35,000.)

Also, $21,500 for the Fire Department to buy protective gear — jackets, boots, pants, gloves -- that must be periodically replaced for firefighters’ safety. Replacement schedule is every five-10 years, for full-time and part-time firefighters, respectively. Rather than buying a ton of pricey equipment all at once, the annual line item makes it more affordable to buy on a rotating basis, ensuring it’s always up to date.

Another item on the capital plan list was a $215,000 outlay for trash barrels for a new solid waste and recycling collection program slated to start in October.

Board of Health Chairman Jay Howlett laid out details, recapping a presentation he made to the selectmen last week in which he explained why the pay per bag program isn’t sustainable and why the health board, which administers it, came up with the new plan: bins instead of barrels, for a cost of $244 per year for those who choose to participate. That cost is reduced to $125 for seniors.

In addition to the participation fee, levied quarterly, like property taxes, the town kicks in $38,530 annually over the term of a three-year contract with the hauler, Howlett said. Plus the initial cost of the bins, with a 10-year warrantee.

If a bin is lost, stolen or removed from the property it was issued to, the owner must buy a new one or reimburse the town, Howlett said, but he didn’t know what the price would be.

Why this change now? The problem, he said, is recyclables, which used to be free but now cost dearly to dispose of, more every year. It’s a world wide issue, Howlett said and it won’t go away. The health board thinks this program is the best solution, compared to other options that would cost more, he said, such as upping the price of town trash bags.

Basically, it works like this: Each participating household gets two sturdy, lidded, wheeled bins with handles, a 95-gallon bin for recycling and a 64-gallon bin for trash. The curbside collection schedule will stay the same as now, he said, weekly for trash, every other week for recycling.

After some discussion, a majority of voters approved the idea and the budget line item designated for it. Now, it’s up to individual households to sign on, which they will be asked to do this fall.

Howlett said his board anticipates more participation as people who now pay private haulers for the service realize how much more it costs — up to $600 a year — versus $242 for the town program.

Education was not a bone of contention this year and both regional school district assessments passed: $662,012 for Nashoba Tech and $1,682,603 for Ayer Shirley. The overall increase — 3.9% --- was within anticipated parameters, Town Administrator Mike McGovern said.

In addition, a majority of voters said yes to Article 11, a request from Nashoba Tech to borrow $3.7 million for a roof, window and door repair and replacement project, as previously presented to the selectmen. Per the regional agreement, each member town pays its share of the total cost, estimated at $13,000 a year for Shirley over the 20-year bond period.

Nearing the end of the warrant, there was some discussion about articles forwarded by the Conservation Commission, one of which sought to transfer funds from its Forestry Revolving Fund (money from timber sales) to build turtle habitats on conservation land that was harvested.

The Board of Selectmen recommended “no action” on the request, while the Finance Committee opposed it. Asked why, FinCom Chairman John O’Keefe said the wording of the article was different when his board reviewed it but the board would not oppose it now. It passed by a majority vote.

When Article 21 came up, seeing to transfer $15,000 into the Conservation Land Acquisition Fund, the selectmen made the same recommendation as it did for the previous article. So did the Finance Committee. Member Mike Swanton explained. He’s concerned, he said, about any board amassing money it can then spend on its own without Town Meeting approval. People should have a chance to review each proposed project or purchase on its merits, he argued, with all the facts laid out in detail.

Conservation Agent Mike Fleming had the facts at hand, however, and after more discussion, the majority of voters said yes: 35-24.

The last article on the warrant sought to reaffirm dedication of the Fredonian Nature Center, which was acquired in March 1973 and dedicated that year. It will be a plus when the Conservation Commission applies for grants, Fleming said and they plan to celebrate as well. This will be a 40th anniversary event, he said. The article passed by a majority vote.

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