TOWNSEND -- Selectmen and some members of the Capital Planning Committee are in dispute over a proposal to change the wording of the bylaw governing the Capital Planning Committee.

The warrant article, which is expected to go before annual Town Meeting on May 6, would allow selectmen to overstep the committee by adding items that are "of compelling need" to the capital plan.

The bylaw as it is currently worded only allows selectmen to add emergency items to the capital plan.

The conflict stems from an incident before last fall's Special Town Meeting, when the Capital Planning Committee voted against adding an $11.3 million article to build a new fire station headquarters to the plan, preventing it from going before voters.

Since the fire station was not considered an emergency, selectmen did not feel they had the authority to add the project to the capital plan.

Colin McNabb is the only member to serve on both the Board of Selectmen and the Capital Planning Committee. He said he has supported the idea of changing the bylaw since Special Town Meeting.

"The Capital Planning Committee is advisory to the Board of Selectmen and the Board of Selectmen is the elected executive board of the town. I really just don't think that an appointed board should be able to overrule an elected executive board," McNabb said.

Voters should have been able to make the decision on the fire station at the Special Town Meeting, McNabb said.


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Selectmen Chairwoman Sue Lisio said she does not believe the original intent of the bylaw was to allow an appointed committee to be able to block projects from going before voters.

"I just simply don't think that was the intention when the charter was written, because if you asked everyone in that hall, they probably wanted to be able to talk about that that night," Lisio said. "It's perfectly legal what they did. But I don't think it was the right thing to do and am hoping to modify the law to be more specific, because that's how you do it, you change laws when they're not working well."

Some on the Capital Planning Committee, however, say that the bylaw change is an overstep by selectmen.

Chairwoman Lorna Fredd said the change essentially negates the purpose of the committee, which is to objectively review and prioritize all capital requests.

"By convincing the town administrator that their project is of 'compelling need,' a department head would be granted license to bypass CPC review, bringing their funding request immediately to the forefront without benefit of its evaluation in relation to the town's other, and potentially more urgent, capital needs," Fredd said in an emailed statement.

"Simply put, the proposed language undermines the systematic, analytical approach to capital planning that currently exists and replaces it with a subjective process that represents a reversion to earlier times, when only the largest, most powerful departments received a share of Townsend's capital funding resources," she said.

CPC member Carolyn Smart said the committee's bylaw was based on a model from the Department of Revenue.

"This move by the Board of Selectmen lacks respect and a complete understanding of what Capital Planning does. They have not shared their proposed change with us. They have not met with the moderator to discuss the change, they have not met with the Finance Committee for feedback. They have not explained why they are proposing the change or what it would accomplish. For all we know, the committee might agree. This is just another example of the poor communication, lack of respect and support for committees and elected boards that do not report to the Board of Selectmen," Smart said.

The Capital Planning Committee has added the fire station headquarters to its fiscal 2015 capital plan. The project is expected to go before annual Town Meeting on May 6, along with the proposed bylaw change.

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