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ANNUAL TOWN MEETING: Voters Split Fire, Education Debt Exclusion, Approve Marijuana Tax And Zoning

Jun 06, 2018 08:22PM ● By Bill Gilman

Dracut 2018 Annual Town Meeting.

A new tax, a new fire station and an old debate took centerstage Monday night, as residents gathered at Dracut High School for the Annual Town Meeting.

The "old debate" was whether town departments seeking extra money from taxpayers via debt exclusions or Prop 2 1/2 overrides should package the requests together or ask residents to vote on them separately.

The issue came up during debate on Article 22, which asked voters to approve a $4,950,000 debt exclusion, of which $4 million would be used toward construction of a new fire station at 545 Nashua Road and the other $950,000 would be used to fund a package of school building security upgrades.

Voters were virtually unanimous in their support of both projects. But the method of voting on the items stirred controversy. Town Manager Jim Duggan said packaging the two spending items was intentional, as administrators didn't want to pit one department against another for tax dollars.

"We've seen what has happened in the past," said Duggan. "There was a clear message from the Selectmen and the School Committee that we are all in this together."

But resident Ray Leczynski, running as a Republican for state representative for the 36th Middlesex District, made a motion that the two items be separated. He argued that voters should have the opportunity to make a decision on the merits of each request, rather than be forced into an "all or nothing" vote. Leczynski said that while he supported the need for a new fire station, as well as the need to upgrade school security, he said he opposed "bundling two unrelated items."

Leczynski's motion to separate Article 22 into two questions sparked a bit of controversy, as questions were raised over the Town Charter requirements for such a separation. At first, Town Moderator George Malliaros indicated that support of 20 voters was needed to bring Leczynski's proposed amendment to a full vote of the meeting. However, Town Counsel corrected Malliaros and indicated it was not, in fact, an amendment. Rather, the support of 20 voters was all that was needed to actually split the article into two spending questions. 

After double (and triple) checking that at least 20 voters still supported Leczynski's motion, the article was split and both spending items were overwhelmingly passed. As a result, both debt exclusions will now appear separately on the September ballot, for final approval by voters.

Marijuana zoning and tax approved

Voters approved multiple articles that will position Dracut to be able to accept retail marijuana businesses, once the state and the courts finally settle the issue of legalized recreational pot in Massachusetts.

Voters approved a zoning article that will allow marijuana businesses on parcels zoned Industrial 1 and Industrial 2. An amendment proposed by resident George Boag to include business zones B-1, B-2, B-3, B-4, B-5 in the bylaw was defeated.

Article 32 outlined the specific rules and regulations that will apply to retail marijuana businesses. Article 33 established a 3 percent surtax on local marijuana sales, allowing the town to generate revenue from such businesses. Both easily passed.

In other business:

  • Town Meeting voters approved establishment of a revolving fund for the receipts generated by the rental of space at the Council on Aging center on Mammoth Road.
  • As part of the new Collinsville fire station project, voters approved the location at 545 Nashua Road and $225,000 for the purchase of the parcel of land at that address.
  • Voters approved Article 24, which declared the farm house at the Beaver Brook Farm to be "surplus property." The town intends to put out a Request for Proposals (RFP) in the hopes that the building will be purchased by someone with experience at maintaining and restoring historic properties.
  • Voters also approved Article 25, which gives the town permission to lease or license the "Squash Barn" on the Beaver Brook property. According to Duggan, there have already been agricultural entities that have expressed an interest in using the building.
  • Voters approved spending $250,000 from free cash to build a second floor on the Department of Public Works building. The second floor will be used for office space.
  • After some debate over past expenditures on the building, voters approved spending $350,000 from the Affordable Housing Account of the Community Preservation Act fund to rehab the interior of the old Dracut Centre School/Town Hall Annex at 11 Spring Park Ave. The town is partnering with the Coalition for a Better Acre to create and manage eight affordable housing units for veterans in the building. At an earlier Town Meeting, voters had approved spending $200,000 to restore the exterior of the building.
  • Voters approved spending $100,000 from the Technology Stabilization Fund for the purchase of new equipment for Town Hall.
  • Duggan withdrew Article 27, which would have asked voters to approve the use of Community Preservation funds to purchase 20 acres of farmland at 133 Phineas St.
  • Voters approved Article 28, which returned $750,000 to the Community Preservation Account. The money had been allocated for the purchase for farmland at 52A Avis Ave. However, negotiations with the family broke down. A representative of the family indicated the owners were still interested in selling the land to the town.
  • At the request of firefighter Justin George, Article 45 was deferred to the Fall Town Meeting in November. The article requests Dracut to adopt the provisions of Massachusetts General Laws Section 33, Chapter 59, which would require the town to pay public employees their usual salary for up to 34 days, while they served in the military reserves and National Guard. The article had generated significant discussion at a recent Board of Selectmen's meeting, at which George attempted to explain the provisions of the article and gain the endorsement of the board. According to a published report in the Lowell Sun, George decided to defer to the article to the Fall Town Meeting to provide additional time for explanation and education about the article.

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