AP NEWS

Ashburnham Voters OK Budget, Speed-limit Law

May 9, 2019

ASHBURNHAM -- Town Meeting voters on Tuesday approved a $17.3 million operating budget and an amendment to the town’s sign bylaw, while giving the green light to a new speed limit law.

The operating budget for the fiscal 2020 was unanimously approved by the 82 residents at the meeting. It represents a 2.04 percent increase over the previous year’s budget, according to Town Administrator Heather Budrewicz.

Meredith Fagan and other residents expressed concern about budget cuts in several departments, including Park and Recreation, Veterans Services and the Historical Commission.

“I think this year everyone is trying to be more on the conservative side of things,” said Budrewicz. “We’re trying to keep our expenses under wraps as much as we can.”

Budrewicz said that the Agricultural Commission is expanding and a new committee was recently formed, so the idea was to try to “spread the wealth.”

Residents also approved a bylaw that updates and “modernizes” the current sign bylaw by adding a section defining the signs allowed in town.

According to town officials, the change will encourage the use of signs as a means of communication, maintain the character of the town, and minimize the possible adverse effects of signs on nearby public or private property.

Joseph Duclos said the bylaw would give the town too much power over signs on private property. “This strikes me as little overreaching. Why do we need this?”

Town officials said the main goal of the bylaw was to update sign regulations. The major component of the process was to identify specific signs and eliminate any ambiguity in the bylaw.

For example, there would be a restriction on temporary signs in terms of length of time they are allowed to be up. According to the Planning Board, “sandwich board” signs are not currently allowed under the bylaw even though they are all around town. The update would permit those signs.

Fagan said she was worried that the new regulations would not be enforced. Walt Meissner of the Planning Board agreed, adding there is an expectation of enforcement by the town.

Building Inspector Richard Travers said enforcement depends on how strict the town wants to be, which it would figure out “as it went along.”

Budrewicz added that it would be physically impossible for Travers to enforce every aspect of the bylaw on his own. In some circumstances, she said, the selectmen can suggest a specific policy for the inspector to proactively enforce some parts of the bylaw.

The bylaw passed with more than the required two-thirds vote.

The majority of voters approved a bylaw that would allow the selectmen to change the speed limit in thickly settled areas from 30 mph to 25 mph.

Under Massachusetts General Law, towns have the option to select this reduction to promote safe driving. Police Chief Lorring Barrett, Jr. said there were concerns that traffic was moving too fast in some areas.

He added that the Selectmen would likely decide to reduce the speed in an area only after conducting a traffic study, and this does not mean every thickly settled area will see a reduction.

Residents also unanimously voted to impose a 3 percent sales tax on any retail marijuana establishments in town.

An amendment to a general bylaw that adds a new section to the sexual harassment policy was passed unanimously. According to officials, the town’s current policy was no longer in compliance with state law and fails to cover all forms of harassment and all protected groups.

Another bylaw amendment removed both maternity and paternity leave from the leaves of absence bylaw. It added “parental leave,” which includes adoption and placement of a child.

Voters also approved a bylaw that provides a definition of a half-story, which only applies to future building projects. Travers said there wasn’t a definition before and it has caused some issues in the town.