AP NEWS

Voters to Decide on Town’s Form of Government

March 16, 2019

WESTMINSTER -- In the coming weeks residents will vote on two issues that could fundamentally transform the community -- a change to the town’s form of government and whether to approve a bylaw that would make it legal to sell recreational marijuana.

At a special town meeting on April 2, voters will decide to approve or reject a proposal that supporters say would streamline the town’s form of government and improve its overall efficiency. The change to the town’s charter would create the new position of town manager, who would oversee the community’s annual $21 million budget. The proposed charter change would also eliminate several commissions in the town, including those that oversee the town’s water, sewer, and parks. Instead, the new charter would allow for the appointment of department heads who would then be accountable to the town manager.

The creation of the new position would cost the town an estimated $40,000, but supporters point out that a more streamlined form of government would save residents money in the long run. They say a town manager would manage to save money through consolidation of departments, enforcement of laws, collection of revenues, and reduction of other outside services that could now be done in-house. The town manager would also have the power to evaluate, discipline, and terminate employees as needed to best implement the day to day operations of the town.

Officials said no current town employees would lose their jobs if the proposed charter change is approved by the voters.

If residents vote to change the charter, the measure would then have to be approved by the state legislature and signed into law by Gov. Charlie Baker. Residents would then vote by ballot on January 28, 2020, to adopt the new charter, which would then go into effect the following day. By February, the Board of Selectmen would appoint an interim town manager and establish a search committee to find a person to fill the position permanently.

The decision to allow the sale of recreational marijuana in the community will be made by voters at the annual Town Meeting on May 4 of this year, when several proposed zoning amendment will be under consideration. Voters will be asked to decide between two options: whether to regulate the sale of recreational marijuana in the town or support a bylaw that would prohibit all retail sales of the product within the community. If neither bylaw passes, retail marijuana sales would be considered just another type of retail sale and would be allowed anywhere in the town where such sales are permitted including in all commercial districts and the town center.

Voters will also be asked to decide on a proposed bylaw regulating industrial uses for recreational marijuana in the town, including the growing, processing, testing, and distribution. Under the bylaw, such uses would be restricted to the town’s industrial zoning districts as approved by the Planning Board.

Another zoning bylaw would expand the industrial district on Simplex Drive. The owner of the 75-acre property has asked the town about the possibility of expanding the district to encompass about 25 acres to the north. The measure would allow the owner to build a 1 million square foot warehouse that supporters say would generate as much as $1 million in new tax revenue for the town once it became operational.

At a recent public forum, residents expressed frustration over the fact that the identity of the property owner and his or her future plans for the site remained unknown to voters. Other than ruling out a marijuana operation or an Amazon warehouse, town officials have released little information about what type of business residents could expect to operate in the new industrial zone.

Voters will also be asked to decide on a proposed change to the town’s bylaw regulating signs in the community. The revision, which is the last phase of the Planning Board’s three-phase project to overhaul the town’s decades-old zoning bylaw, is aimed at establishing comprehensive and enforceable regulations that would retain the unique rural character of the community.

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