The Annual Town Meeting members convened for about three and a half hours on Tuesday, May 2 to attack 35 articles on the 2017 warrant.
The primary order of business was the town’s fiscal 2018 budget covering July 1, 2017 through June 30, 2018. The total budget asked for $63,953,067, which was approved by Town Meeting Members with little discussion.
The budget represents a3.29% increase in revenues, largely due to a 10% increase in projected Cherry Sheet receipts from the Commonwealth. The Town’s tax levy represents .99% excess levy, meaning property taxes increase less than the maximum allowed under Proposition 2.5.
Expenses also increase for FY2018, with plans to add additional police and firefighters, as well as DPW staff and public school staff. As Auburn maintains a balanced budget, the expenses also increase by 3.29%.
Business more or less cruised along until Article 27, which called for a change to Auburn Zoning Bylaws to allow for two digital billboards to be installed adjacent to the Auburn Mall, visible to motorist on the Mass Pike. Total Outdoor Advertising was working in conjunction with Auburn Mall to install the billboards.
The digital billboards would have been 100’ high, and utilized a “blackout” technology that prevented the signs from being viewed outside of a certain radius. They would also have prohibited animated images or image changes more than once every 10 seconds.
In addition, Simon/Auburn Mall had planned to make a $1 million donation to the Town of Auburn, with $250,000 payable immediately and the remainder paid over 20 years.
Several Town Meeting Members raised concerns about the proposal. One Member questioned the wisdom of changing zoning bylaws to essentially benefit just one business. Another raised concerns about the safety issues and distracting drivers.
In a presentation given by Town Planner, Matt Benoit, photos taken around town by Total Outdoor Advertising attempted to indicate that the signs would be minimally invasive or not visible from most areas of town. However, several residents questioned that conclusion.
Ultimately, the Article fell by a vote of 47-33.
Members also approved Article 35, which approved an 18 month moratorium on retail marijuana dispensaries in town, providing officials more time to research zoning and permitting processes.