WEST NEWBURY — Voters quickly dispatched eight articles on a special town warrant — including two requests that will bring relief to taxpayers — on a quiet and sunny Sunday morning.
About 85 voters gathered at 10 a.m. in the municipal parking lot behind the 1910 Town Office Building, sitting in folding chairs placed in pairs with acceptable socially distant spaces. Everyone wore a mask and town leaders with microphones ran the meeting from the Community Bandstand. The session got underway at 10:10 a.m. and lasted about 15 minutes.
As they did with the annual Town Meeting in June, Town Moderator KC Swallow and the Board of Selectmen agreed to switch to the outdoor venue for safety reasons in light of the COVID-19 state of emergency. Originally scheduled for Saturday, Swallow postponed the session for a day because of the forecast for rain.
At the June meeting, voters overwhelmingly rejected a proposal by selectmen to increase the annual withdrawal from the school stabilization fund from $247,647 to $652,340.
The board proposed the increase to help those affected financially by the pandemic by offsetting the anticipated tax increase from the Pentucket Regional Middle/High School building project approved in April 2019.
At the time, the Finance Committee advised sticking with the original transfer amount out of concern for a possible longer-term economic impact from COVID-19, and voters agreed.
On Sunday, selectmen gave voters a chance to revisit the idea of offsetting the property tax impact of the Proposition 2½ override — and this time, voters said “yes” to transferring an additional $80,953 for a total of $328,600.
This is the same amount being transferred to the school stabilization fund for fiscal 2021.
Voters also supported a request from selectmen to tap $220,000 from the overlay surplus account to reduce the fiscal 2021 tax rate. The surplus is reserved in anticipation of possible tax abatements and exemptions. The Board of Assessors decides what surplus can be transferred by the end of each fiscal year.
Voters amended several line items in the fiscal 2021 town omnibus budget adopted at the June meeting, resulting in a net decrease of $234,460. The Finance Committee called the changes “prudent and appropriate” — noting in its appropriations booklet that the adjustments “will improve services, and lead to better business practices within the town.”
Director Wayne Amaral and his Department of Public Works crew received $240,000 to replace a 2008 dump truck with a new version and accompanying plow and salter/spreader for its plowing and sanding operations.
The new vehicle is anticipated to have a useful life of 12 years. The current truck had high mileage, greater than 4,400 service hours, and showed major rusting and structural wear; the Water Department received $14,920 in anticipation of revenue for insurance; and a sunset clause on spending $230,000 for a new Fire Department rescue vehicle — approved by voters in April 2019 — was extended to June 30, 2022.
The pandemic had a negative impact on the purchase process, according to Fire Chief Michael Dwyer.
The final article proposed a series of amendments to the West Newbury zoning bylaw that selectmen decided to postpone taking up at the June meeting in the interest of keeping the outdoor session as brief as possible.
Planner Ray Cook told voters on Sunday that “in general,” these changes aim to clarify language and bring the bylaw into compliance with state codes.
As she drew the meeting to a close, Swallow thanked voters for showing up on a Sunday to perform their civic duty.