NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

October 12, 2012

More money for Page School among articles

By Jennifer Solis Correspondent
Newburyport Daily News

---- — WEST NEWBURY — Voters will consider 13 articles on a warrant for a Special Town Meeting at the end of this month.

Among the requests are $188,000 for additional renovations to the Dr. John C. Page Elementary School, $155,300 for engineering work for proposed sidewalks along Main Street, $32,022 for a new police cruiser and $40,000 to cover the remaining balance to settle a lawsuit with the town’s former finance boss.

Special Town Meeting is Monday, Oct. 29. A quorum of 40 is needed to take up the town’s business at 7 p.m. in the Town Annex, 379 Main St. Requests over $20,000 require 90 voters. The town currently has $1.3 million in its Free Cash account.

At a meeting on Wednesday, selectmen met with the town moderator, town counsel and Finance Committee to vote the following recommendations for the special warrant:

Article 1 is for the purposes of hearing or acting upon reports from town officers and committees, but no reports are scheduled.

Article 2: A $16,000 transfer from the Water Department Enterprise Free Cash Account for engineering studies, writing requests for proposals, repair work and other related matters for water storage facilities. Selectmen and the Finance Committee unanimously approved this article.

Article 3: $1,371 from available funds for the Harbormaster Expense Account. Selectmen and the Finance Committee unanimously approved this article.

Article 4: A vote to change the town’s assessment for the Pentucket Schools on the omnibus budget approved at the April 2012 annual Town Meeting as follows:

A $165,381 decrease in the Pentucket Other Assessment. Of this total, $125,000 reflects an amount over-appropriated due to failure of the school budget in the other two district towns last spring and $40,000 is a treasury subsidy for the Phase 1 borrowing for the Page School renovation project;

A $12,379 increase in the Pentucket Capital Assessment that represents borrowing costs for a $2 million bond taken last May for the Page building project;

An $81,934 decrease in the Page School Phase II debt exclusion expense, representing savings found from a lower-than-anticipated interest rate.

Finance Director Warren Sproul said approval for the article would mean a $147 reduction to the average property tax bill, unless voters spend the money on other warrant requests. It will also increase the town’s excess tax levy by $165,000. Selectmen and the Finance Committee unanimously approved this article.

Article 5: To grant selectmen the authority to enter into a pole easement agreement with Massachusetts Electric at Page School. Selectmen and the Finance Committee unanimously approved this article.

Article 6: $35,000 to improve access and lighting in the entrance lobby of the Page School with additional doors and glass. Selectmen and the Finance Committee unanimously approved this article.

Article 7: $33,000 for upgrades to certain electrical feeders and branch circuitry at Page. Selectmen and the Finance Committee unanimously approved this article.

Article 8: $120,000 to upgrade the western facing wall of a new gymnasium at Page to a brick masonry finish instead of concrete-colored block. Selectmen voted 2 to 1 in favor of the request and the Finance Committee supported it 4-1. Chairman Bert Knowles and Joe Uniejewski voted no. They felt the repair was “purely cosmetic” and the money could be used more prudently on other, more urgent needs in the building. Proponents of the idea argue that the upgrade is in keeping with the building’s historical designation and there is a limited window during which the upgrade can happen.

Article 9: $32,022 for a 2013 police cruiser. Selectmen and the Finance Committee unanimously approved this article.

Article 10: $30,000 for the Finance Committee’s Reserve Fund account. Town leaders were circumspect about the reason for the funding but said a rationale will be provided in the Finance Committee’s appropriation booklet prior to Town Meeting. Selectmen voted 2-0-1 with Kemper abstaining. “I just don’t agree with it,” he said. Finance Committee unanimously approved.

Article 11: $8,056 for each Historic Resources, Community Housing and Open Space accounts from Community Preservation Act revenues.

Article 12: $155,300 for engineering for a proposed sidewalk upgrade along Main Street. State Sen. Bruce Tarr was on hand to discuss the issue prior. Selectmen approved 2-0-1 with Kemper abstaining because he felt further research was needed. The finance board unanimously voted against it.

Article 13: $40,000 as the final payment in a $100,000 settlement to resolve a lawsuit filed by former Finance Director Tracy Blais. Selectmen approved the article 2-0-1. Kemper, who is named in the suit along with former Selectmen Tom Atwood and John McGrath, abstained from voting. The Finance Committee voted 5-1 against the article. Sherri Gadd, who cast the dissent vote, said she felt a moral obligation to support the selectmen who had negotiated in good faith with Blais on behalf of the town. Reasons the other finance board members gave for voting “no” ranged from what was in the best financial interest of the town to individual members’ feelings about the validity of the charges in the lawsuit.