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Stormwater Bylaw, CPA Funding, Confusing Conclusion Highlight Annual Town Meeting

Jun 12, 2017 06:28PM ● Published by Bill Gilman

Gallery: Dracut Annual Town Meeting [4 Images] Click any image to expand.

Dracut's Community Preservation Act property tax surcharge will remain unchanged, following a vote by residents at last week's Annual Town Meeting.
While the vote itself was fairly decisive, it came after a spirited debate and led to a quorum challenge that brought the meeting to a screeching halt before all warrant articles had been addressed.
Article 29, as originally printed in the ATM Warrant, was brought forward by resident Gordon Scott and would have cut the CPA surcharge from 2 percent to 1 percent and would have eliminated the waiver for the first $100,000 of property value.
However, after presenting the article, Scott immediately proposed an amendment, which would have called for the recommended changes to be decided by a ballot vote at the next Municipal Election.
"This won't change the law yet. It only (creates) a ballot question," said Scott.
In speaking in favor of the amended article, Brian Bond said the CPA funding mechanism had gone from a means of preserving Dracut's character to a "slush fund" used circumvent the budget process and fund broad range of projects.
"It['s not what we voted on back in 2001," said Bond. "It's time we put it back to the voters. With all the new taxes and fees, taxpayers could really use some relief."
A flyer put together by the Community Preservation Committee was included with the warrant handed out to voters attending the meeting and outlined what had been accomplished using CPA surcharge funding over the past 16 years. According to the flyer, a total of $9,601,128 had been accrued via the surcharge between 20012 and 2016. the state contributed $5,349,167 for a total of $14,950,295. Those funds had been used for several preservation projects, including the restoration of Harmony Hall, purchase of the 48-acre East Richardson Preserve and purchase of the 25-acre Yapp Farm on Marsh Hill, among others.
Speaking against the article, CPC member Don Plummer said the CPA funding, in its present form, was essential to preserving open space and maintaining Dracut's character.
"Keeping Dracut looking like Dracut is really a lot of hard work and it takes money to do it," he said.
In the end, the amended article was defeated by a vote of 130-95. About three seconds later, as proponents quickly did the math, a cry went up from several residents for a quorum count. The 225 people that voted on the amendment made it fairly clear that there were no longer the 250 registered voters in attendance needed for a quorum, as required by the Town Charter.
Town Moderator George Malliaros tried everything he could think of to get the residents to reconsider their request, from a simple request to telling them another town meeting would cost $5,000-$10,000. But the voters held their ground, a count took place and Malliaros officially declared there was no longer a quorum and that the town meeting was officially over.
The impact of that action is in dispute. Bond attempted to make the point immediately after the meeting was declared over that the vote on Article 29 should be voided because the vote showed there was not a quorum at the time it was taken. However, Malliaros fired back that according to Town Counsel, all votes taken prior to the quorum call, including Article 29, are valid and binding.
Bond feels the Town Meeting should have been adjourned, not ended, and restarted on another date. Last week, on his DATV show "the Dracut Connection," he announced he was filing a complaint with the State Ethics Commission.
In the meantime, there were also questions regarding the fate of articles 30-33, which had not been acted on at the time the meeting was ended. According to Town Manager Jim Duggan, there was no harm done. According to Duggan, the proponent of Article 30, which would have amended the zoning bylaws to allow for a "mini-warehouse" at 303 Broadway for a proposed U-Haul rental business, was not in attendance to present the article and therefor it would have been disqualified.
In addition, the proponent of articles 31-33, which would have amended the zoning bylaws for a section of Hampson Street, had withdrawn those articles earlier in the day at the Town Clerk's office.
In other business:
  • Voters approved several articles that established a new Stormwater Bylaw, an enterprise fund for expenses associated with that bylaw and $200,000 from free cash for that enterprise fund. Duggan told voters the bylaw was essential to meet the terms of an unfunded state mandate. He said not establishing the bylaw could cost the town well over a million dollars.
  • Voters approved spending $705,000 from available free cash to cover the snow and ice removal deficit.
  • Voters approved taking $600,000 from available funds to purchase new LED street lights. These will replace traditional street lights and will be more energy efficient, Duggan said the project is expect to cost $435,000 but he wanted to allow for contingencies.
  • Voters approved spending $200,000 in CPA funds for the restoration of the exterior of the old Dracut Center School/Town Hall Annex. The funding is contingent upon an approved plan to improve or develop the entire building.
  • Voters approved spending $50,000 in CPA funds to update the town's Master Plan, which was last updated in 1999.
  • Voters approved spending $304,567 from the Stabilization Fund for equipment for the police and fire departments. Duggan said that leaves $1.4 million in the Stabilization Fund.

Dracut Annual Town Meeting. It was a lively affair

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