Town Meeting passes all articles in record time
Every warrant article was passed by a majority of voters during a remarkably brief Town Meeting that clocked in under an hour and a half on Monday night.
Voters gathered in the gym at the high school in chairs spaced more than six feet apart and wore their masks for the duration of the meeting.
Town Moderator Claire Smith gathered the majority of the articles in the annual town meeting agenda into a consent agenda, which allows voters to act on many uncontroversial articles at once. Somewhat unusually, this year’s consent agenda included 11 articles to pass over, all of which were non-financial articles that may be addressed at a later Town Meeting.
Smith worked with the Board of Selectmen and Town Administrator Derek Sullivan to determine which articles could be passed over in the interest of brevity, and cut the agenda down to only articles that are necessary for the town’s ongoing financial activity in the new fiscal year, which begins on July 1 (with several exceptions).
The town’s capital plan for fiscal year 2021 rings in at $1.1 million, which will pay for five projects at the Water Pollution Control Facility. The funding source for all five projects is the facility’s own budget.
The town’s budget for the year was also approved, but it is much tighter than initially planned. The budget was initially set at $70,426,422, but it has been cut down to $58,701,238. That dramatic decrease is due to the coronavirus pandemic, which has had wide-ranging effects on both local and state budgets. Sullivan estimates that state aid to the town will decrease by at least ten percent, and town revenue from taxes on hotel rooms and meals are likely to be dramatically lower this year as tourists stay home.
Sullivan noted that he has included $600,000 from the town’s stabilization fund in the budget, which is a highly unusual step for him to take. He said that it is through the town official and taxpayers’ support that he has been able to build up some funds to support the town during times when the budget is tight, and so it is time to thoughtfully use some of those funds while keeping the majority in reserve for the future.
Several voters had questions about the surplus money the school district has due to the lack of transportation costs while schools have been closed. At the end of the fiscal year, Sullivan explained, those funds revert back to the town’s general fund. Any excess will be put into the stabilization fund, which is especially important as the pandemic will likely mean that funding is scarce for at least two years.
The Special Town Meeting also included a consent agenda to pass routine articles and pass over some items that were not deemed urgent.
Included on the warrant was the transfer of $3,060,000 from the Water Pollution Control Facility’s earnings to pay for two projects: a new denitrification filter ($2 million) and rehabilitation of man holes and gravity main lines at Mirror Cove in Pinehurst ($1.06 million).
Town Meeting attendees also voted to allow the Board of Selectmen to forward a petition to the State Legislature that would allow Stone Path Malt to sell bottled malt beverages to-go.
Moderator Claire Smith received a round of applause for her hard work in organizing and running the meeting, as did Mary Bruce for her three years of service on the Board of Selectmen.