TOWNSEND -- At Special Town Meeting on Nov. 14, the town unanimously voted to close the $417,728 deficit left by the school district override by appropriating the funds through $267,117 in departmental budget cuts, $27,000 from free cash, and available funds in the treasury. A list of cuts had been shown on a slide at the meeting. The cuts do not directly affect the salaries of any current employee.
"No personnel will have hours reduced or wages reduced," said Town Administrator Andy Sheehan.
The amount of cuts had originally been $271,117. Steve Cloutier, MIS director, had originally volunteered $4,000 of his salary when departments had first been asked to look at potential cuts. Town Meeting voted to amend the article to reinstate the amount of Cloutier's salary and take the additional amount out of free cash.
In other business, the Water Department was denied their request to create a separate water district. The question was listed as Article 2 on the Town Meeting warrant. The Water Department passed out an informational packet to voters immediately before the meeting stipulating the provisions entailed in creating a district. Superintendent Paul Rafuse presented a slideshow to summarize the department's desire for the district.
A district would have been an independent entity from the town and would have been subject to the votes of residents within the geographical boundaries of the district. By becoming a district, said Water Department employees, those who were directly affected by the water decisions would be in charge of voting on them, as opposed to the entire town voting on water items.
The decision came after lengthy discussion, with several residents voicing questions and concerns over the article. Many concerns pertained to the ability of a district to impose taxes on residents within its boundaries, including those who were geographically located within the district but were not water carriers.
Mary Bassett, attorney for the Water Department, said a super-majority vote of 70 percent of water district members at a district meeting would be required to determine if a tax should be imposed. The issue would then be moved to a ballot.
"Becoming a water district in and of itself does not create any new taxes," she said.
Additionally, Rafuse and Bassett said, the purpose of the provision would not actually be to increase taxes but rather to be able to maintain a good bond rating.
"Every single water district in Massachusetts has these same provisions," said Bassett. "I've never heard of a district imposing a tax."
To address the concerns, said Rafuse, the Water Department had included a provision allowing residents within the district but who were not water carriers to opt out of being a member of the district. This provision raised another question among residents.
Carol Wright asked about the provision, noting a section of the informational packet read that opting out of the district would have to be voted in the affirmative by the water district meeting voters.
"What if they don't vote in the affirmative?" she asked.
Bassett said majority ruled.
"The vote is the vote of the district," she said.
Resident Heidi Messing commented that in such circumstances, she felt it would be in the best interest of the people in the district not to allow others to opt out.
"You're subject to someone else's vote," she said. "That's not really an opt-out."
Resident John Barrett questioned what was wrong with the current system.
"I just don't recall a time when this meeting failed to do something that was in the best interest of (water) ratepayers," he said.
All other articles were approved by Town Meeting.