NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

May 20, 2013

Salisbury to decide library's fate

Town Meeting to debate important issues tonight

BY ANGELJEAN CHIARAMIDA
STAFF WRITER

---- — SALISBURY — A new library, the town’s next operating budget, energy conservation and the acquisition of roads are among the important issues Town Meeting will debate tonight at 7 p.m., when it gathers in the auditorium of Salisbury Elementary School.

Many see the biggest issue on Town Meeting’s agenda tonight to be the proposal to float bonds to build a proposed new and larger library. Needing a two-thirds vote to pass, the issue is Article 25 on the 30-question warrant, when voters will have their say on the proposal to replace the current 3,000-square-foot library with a modern 17,000-square-foot edifice. On April 30, voters approved placing the question on the warrant, with a vote of 1,134 in favor and 733 opposed.

The article requests permission to borrow $7.5 million, the total cost of the project, but adds the borrowing takes place only if the town receives the promised $3,856,187 state grant from the state Board of Library Commissioners, which would reduce the overall cost of the project by more than 50 percent. It could also be reduced by another $400,000, the amount Salisbury Public Library supporters promise to raise.

It’s estimated that the payback cost would be about $40 to $50 a year on the average tax bill, for five years.

To get the $3.8 million state grant, however, Salisbury Town Meeting must approve putting up its share of the cost by June 30. If this vote fails, it could be years before the state is willing to offer the grant again.

A proposed town operating budget of $20,127,443 is also up for a vote. Representing a 3 percent increase over the current budget, $9,487,410 of it will go toward paying for the town’s Triton Regional School District assessment.

For the first time in years, the proposed town budget holds money to hire additional town workers. One additional employee each would be added to the public works and fire departments. Further, a lieutenant’s position would be added to the police department, beginning in January.

Town Meeting will also be asked for permission to borrow $1,026,372 to make energy conservation improvements to some of its public buildings that will save substantial sums for the town over the coming years. The request comes after surveys were done to pinpoint ways to conserve energy in town.

The unique part of this bonding efforts is that the money to pay it back would come from the savings the town would experience from making the conservation improvements, according to Town Manager Neil Harrington. The estimated payback time is 16 years, he added, shorter than the traditional 20-year period of most loans of this nature.

Articles 19 and 26 both concern attempting to clear up road issues that have plagued the beach district area for decades. They both relate to roadways that belong to the Salisbury Beach Associates. Article 19 relates to Fowler Street only.

Article 26 concerns roadways along the west side of North End Boulevard, in the flood plain by the Blackwater River. This section has severe and repeated flood problems annually, and is where flood prevention efforts are currently going on with the Army Corps of Engineers.

According to Harrington, both questions authorize selectmen to acquire the roads for use as public ways, although these streets are considered by many to be public roads already.

“Over decades a large number of streets at the beach either were accepted improperly as public streets or were never accepted at all,” Harrington said. “Yet, they’ve been used and maintained -- plowed and repaved -- by the town as public streets. A large number of these streets are owned technically by the Salisbury Beach Associates, so we need to go through the legal language of giving the selectmen the authorization to acquire them.”

Harrington said town officials have been in touch with the heirs of the Salisbury Beach Associates and have found those individuals are willing to sit down with the town over the situation. Although currently private property of the SBA, Harrington said the town has so far not issued property tax bills for the land to the heirs.

Town Meeting will also consider accepting a new cemetery, the best way to tax its new solar energy utility and three citizens petitions.

Special Town Meeting

Also on the docket tonight is the Special Town Meeting’s warrant, which handles financial housekeeping issues by transferring money from one line item to another to cover projected expenses.

This year, nearly all the articles on the Special Town Meeting warrant relate to the police department. Through six articles, $25,500 would be transferred into the police department’s overtime budget from other areas.

Not the first year for such transfers, this year’s total overtime transfer is higher than usual, Harrington said. The reason is that this year many shifts had to be covered through overtime when personnel were out for illness or other service. One officer was out for a month, due to an injury, Harrington said, and FEMA called up another department employee for emergency service in Texas.

Another $125,000 in police department related transfers is included in the Special Town Meeting Warrant in another five articles. The money relates to the November ordered rehiring on officer Mark Thomas. Some $75,000 of the transfer repaid Thomas for lost salary while he was out of work after he was fired. The remaining $50,000 is to cover Thomas’ salary after he was rehired.

Complete copies of the warrants for both the Special and Spring Town Meetings are available at the town clerk’s office on the first floor of Town Hall, and are also available at Salisbury Public Library and the town’s website at www.salisburyma.gov.