NEWBURY — A quorum of 40 was needed, but more than 125 voters gathered in the Triton Regional High School auditorium Tuesday for an unusual but efficient Town Meeting.
Thanks to extensive premeeting planning by town and school officials, voters wore masks and sat apart at appropriate distances for safety purposes as they were swiftly led through the 23 articles on the annual warrant by newly elected Town Moderator Dick Bazirgan.
“It’s nice to be with people at a real meeting,” Bazirgan told the crowd, then joked, “I almost forgot to put my pants on, though.”
He praised his predecessor, Christopher Armstrong — who received an ovation from the crowd, and introduced the newest selectperson, Gerry Heavey. Heavey defeated incumbent Damon Jespersen in the election last week.
To keep the meeting short for health and safety reasons, Bazirgan waived the reading of each article and the Finance Committee did not present its annual report. The report will instead be presented at the next selectmen meeting.
Voters approved all but four articles, including a $21 million operating budget; funding for repairing the town library and elementary school; technology and phone system upgrades to Town Hall, the Council on Aging, Public Works and Public Safety; adoption of the state’s Stretch Energy Code; a 25-year tax agreement with Main Street Newbury Solar for a photovoltaic solar facility on 12.1 acres near 136 Main St and the West Newbury border; and a $90,000 request for a basketball court at the Central Street Recreation Area.
“This is a big deal for Newbury,” Selectperson Alicia Greco said of the new court after the meeting.
Four citizen petitions placed early in the warrant were defeated, including a request to sell 31 Plum Island Blvd. — which voters agreed to buy at a Town Meeting, then at a subsequent one rejected appropriating the money needed to renovate it into a seasonal bathroom facility for beachgoers. The vote on the request to sell the property was 87-37.
In her first public action since being elected, Heavey successfully amended upward a request for $95,050 for Public, Educational and Governmental Access cable service and programming to $190,100.
The amount would be evenly split between Channel 9 for government and general public use and Channel 8 for educational coverage. Heavey noted that the past few months underscored the importance of having access to good technology.
With a balance of $704,000 in the PEG access special revenue fund, she favored giving more resources to Triton for technology.
“Who knows, maybe the next Steven Spielberg is entering seventh grade,” she said. From the back of the hall, Jespersen said funding the Triton channel should be a collaborative effort with Rowley and Salisbury, the other district towns.
“It’s not Newbury’s burden alone,” he said. But voter Evelyn Noyes stressed that legally the town cannot use the PEG money for anything other than cable access needs.
“Quibbling is foolishness,” Noyes said. “If it can help the kids, who cares.”
The article was approved 101-25.
Many town moderators do not allow amendments that are significantly higher than the amount posted in the warrant, arguing that the town has not been properly informed about the additional expense prior to the meeting.
But Bazirgan said that after consulting with town counsel, he decided to allow Healey’s amendment. It’s the moderator’s call, he pointed out, noting that the amendment did not affect the town’s tax resources.
“This money is from the fees paid us by the cable company to be used only for purposes like this,” he said following the meeting.