Town Moderator Bryan Tanner, Town Clerk Carol Jammalo and Town Administrator Carl McKinney clarify an item in the town budget before the vote.
CLARKSBURG, Mass. — Town meeting on Wednesday night easily passed a $4.2 million spending plan for fiscal 2019.
The 53 voters in attendance worked through some 17 articles over an hour and 20 minutes, passing every one of them and raising only a few questions. The longest discussion was related to appropriations from the sewer enterprise fund and had to do with ratepayers having to pick up the slack from delinquent payments.
The school budget was approved at $2,409,566, down about $40,000 from this year. The assessment from McCann Technical School was down nearly 11 percent, from $342,169 to $306,146. The town budget is $1,495,135, up $60,000 or 4.21 percent over this year.
One element in the budget did cause some confusion when the town clerk's salary seemed to appear twice. Article 6 set the stipends and salaries while Article 10 authorized the raising and appropriating of the funds for those salaries and other expenses attached to town operations, including the town clerk's office. Town Administrator Carl McKinney moved that the article be accepted with the revision of "voting, registration, and expenses" replacing the line item for "registrars [of voters]" to clarify the spending.
Voters also approved a 6 percent rooms tax on local bed and breakfasts. Town meeting had adopted a similar bylaw last year that looked at short-term rentals like AirBnB but that was dependent on the state passing a law regulating such rentals, which it has not. Instead, this bylaw would impose taxes on B&Bs at the rate of 6 percent, which was motioned by Town Administrator Carl McKinney. The original article simply stated, "not to exceed 6 percent."
McKinney explained that this would allow the town to inspect these properties and charge fees for those inspections. One voter asked what purpose the article filled and what it might bring in in revenue. McKinney said it was unknown what the revenue would be but designating such establishments was really a matter of public safety because they may not have smoke or carbon monoxide detectors, and police have been called to them.
He said the town could not inspect private property without a bylaw in place granting it the authority. It was more a matter of public safety because these buildings may not have working smoke or carbon monoxide detectors or appropriate exits. There have already been cases where the police have been called, he said.
"We would be neglectful not ensuring any guest that comes to this town is not safe," he said. "Once the state does something [about Airbnb], we will have something in place."
That article and one setting a cap of $15,000 on inspection fees going to inspectors also raised complaints about the building inspector. While other inspectors, such as the Board of Health, can keep 75 percent of their inspection fee, the building inspector is paid a flat salary for five hours of work a week. Some citizens said they have had trouble getting her to show up. McKinney said officials are aware of problems.
A vote on implementing a 3 percent retail marijuana tax also was passed; a similar bylaw had been approved last year but the state had not yet set a local tax limit.
Article 12, setting the sewer budget at $309,253.11 for fiscal 2019 led to a lengthy discussion on delinquencies that has caused an increase on the bills.
"Why am I paying an extra $40?" asked one woman. McKinney said the town had been told by the state Department of Revenue that it had to make up the deficit by charging the ratepayers. The DOR has made the same demand in the past.
"We do have a couple of instances in town where they're about $4,000 behind on their sewer and behind on their [property] taxes," he said. "So we're going to have to do a tax foreclosure on their property and then the sewer fund will be made whole."
McKinney assured voters that the funds would be recovered but that it takes time to put on liens to get the payments. He said their only options were to take out the $12,000 or so from the Sewer Enterprise Fund to cover the delinquencies or make the payments spread out between the 400 or so households on the sewer system.
He advised them not to tap into the $150,000 fund because that money and more will be needed soon to cover the costs of replacing the system's 30-year-old pumps. The money couldn't come out of the general fund or spread to other taxpayers, he said, because the fund is exclusive only to those who are hooked into the sewer.
After about 15 minutes of back and forth, someone motioned to pass the article as written, which was swiftly seconded. The article passed.
Voters also swiftly passed a dozen articles having to do with town operations and overwhelmingly approved four articles requiring two-thirds approval.
The first made Saturdays a legal holiday for the town clerk's office. Town Clerk Carol Jammalo explained that it had to do with filing deadlines. Since the primary this year is on a Tuesday after Labor Day, the deadline for absentee ballots would have been Saturday at noon. Voters also approved taking $5,500 from the school stabilization account and $6,000 from the town's stabilization account to match a Green Communities grant to replace the school boiler and for energy improvements on town buildings. An appropriation of $43,429.41 from the stabilization account to balance the snow and ice account was also approved.
After approving the last article, Edward Denault said he wanted to thank the Highway Department crew for the good work they had done this winter. McKinney agreed as did town meeting, which applauded.
"We had a really tough winter. Our roads stink, our sewer stinks, and our buildings are old," he said. "But we had the most snow during that March storm of any town in the commonwealth and they did a hell of a job."
Voters also applauded Select Board Chairman Jeffrey Levanos, who was attending his last meeting as a town official. Levanos served two terms on the board and three terms on the School Committee, which overlapped for several years.
The Select Board had planned an informational meeting on a proposed temporary Proposition 2 1/2 override vote this year to address infrastructure needs but the Finance Committee was unable to attend Wednesday's meeting.
"I would really strongly prefer we do it in tandem," McKinney said. "We will make sure we schedule [an informational meeting] and go from there."
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