HARVARD -- Selectmen at their meeting last Tuesday night signed the warrant for the upcoming Special Town Meeting to be held on Wednesday, Oct. 16, at 7 p.m. in Cronin Auditorium at Bromfield.
Reviewing the 12-article warrant, there were some questions and one attempt at a "friendly amendment," that would have scratched one item, but in the end, selectmen decided to leave the document as is.
Selectman Leo Blair proposed the amendment to remove Article 8, which asks for $480 to replenish the Rantoul Trust Fund the board tapped into earlier this year in that amount.
For such a small item, it could become a big issue on Town Meeting floor, Blair predicted. Besides, "we don't need to ask" when the fund is used, he reasoned.
Chairman Marie Sobalvarro said she could see his point, noting that selectmen have full control of the Rantoul Trust and can transfer funds out of it without Town Meeting approval.
But Lucy Wallace rejected the amendment. The article should stand, she said.
Ron Ricci agreed. "I don't think the folks who established the trust (the Rantoul family) intended it should be used for mundane purposes," he said. "I think it should stay in."
Stuart Sklar, who first backed Blair's amendment, said he was "swayed" by Ricci's opposing argument. Blair conceded. "Me, too," he said.
Articles two, four and five relate to the Solar Farm project and were inserted by the citizen's petition that called for the STM.
Article 2 seeks support to forward to state Rep. Jen Benson and Sen. James Eldridge a written request to file legislation to "exempt community solar shares from taxation on the same basis as if installed on site." That is, shares in a community solar energy system would be tax-exempt, same as if the shares were individual systems installed on a residential or business property.
Article 4 seeks approval of a PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) agreement for one or more community solar systems as described, with the caveat that the PILOT would be "null and void" if the proposed tax-exempt legislation is passed.
Article 5 seeks to amend building permit fees by creating a new category for specific kinds of resident-owned community solar as described, with the fee "determined by the number of full or partial 10kW portions in the system, multiplied by the single system fee of $125." For example, a 261kW array would be charged a $3,375 fee. Electrical inspection fees would be similarly determined, with the number of 10kW portions multiplied by $36.
Article 3, inserted by selectmen, seeks authorization for the board to enter into a PILOT and thus precedes the citizen's petition article asking for approval of such an agreement.
Article 6 seeks authorization for selectmen to grant a perpetual utility easement to Mass Electric for Town Hall.
Town Administrator Tim Bragan explained that due to the renovation project, an existing pole-mounted transformer behind Town Hall has to come down and the utility company needs the easement to access its equipment.
Article 7 would authorize selectmen to lease town-owned property on the hill behind Town Hall and at the top of Bolton Road for construction of cell towers.
Article 9 seeks to amend the dog bylaw, increasing the penalty for an owner not licensing a dog from $15 to $50. This one's a must-do, Bragan said, since it brings the town into compliance with state law.
Article 10 seeks to amend town bylaws regarding access to the Bare Hill Pond beach and the beach parking lot. Access to those areas is now restricted to residents or current taxpayers in town and their guests "and other groups authorized by the Harvard Park and Recreation Commission." Under the amended bylaw, the same restrictions apply, but authorization for nonresident groups to use the beach and parking lot must also come from selectmen.
A commissioner present said the added authorization could be problematic if Parks & Rec must seek the board's approval every time there's an event, such as a fishing derby. The board disagreed. The commission can simply submit a list of dated events for selectmen to sign off on, they said, then everybody knows what's going on and when.
Article 11, inserted by the Community Cable Access Committee, seeks $35,000 to fund remaining construction and equipment costs for the new TV studio at Bromfield.
Article 12 seeks a temporary moratorium on medical marijuana treatment centers. A couple of pages long, the article is a boiler-plate description of a pre-emptive prohibition in light of a new state law that allows use of medical marijuana and opens the door to such facilities. Similar articles are making the rounds in other area communities.
Article 1 on the STM warrant asks to appropriate "a sum of money" -- previously stated to be at least $1.1 million -- to complete the Town Hall renovation and addition project, which is now in the red by that much.
With a completed design in place and construction bids on the table, $1 million of the original $3 million appropriation has already been spent, including unanticipated items. The payout list so far ranges from contracts with architects and the owner's project manager to additional work required to settle a zoning issue, design adjustments to address Historic District Commission concerns and leasing temporary space at the Apple Works Building on Ayer Road.
The project has moved forward steadily, but not without some controversy. There have been clashes with the Town Hall Building Committee and some angst among the public at various points as it progressed. But it could all come to a halt if people say no.
It's a risk the selectmen are apparently willing to take, having previously agreed that even if they could tap other sources without a Town Meeting vote, it would send the wrong message and the public should have a say.
They also agreed that the best way to cover the shortfall and continue the project would be to call for a debt exclusion, which requires a separate ballot vote. Requiring a majority vote to pass, the single ballot question will be asked at special town election on Nov. 5.