Auburn Town Meeting members approved 33 of the 34 articles on the 2019 Annual Town Meeting Warrant. The final article was postponed indefinitely due to it being a redundant article. More on that later.
After hearing reports the from Finance Committee Chairman, Kevin Hussey, Town Manager Julie Jacobson, Town CFO Ed Kazanovicz and School Superintendent Dr. Maryellen Brunelle, members voted unanimously to approve the proposed $69,725,299.72 budget for FY 2020. Certain items, particularly Chapter 70 and Cherry Sheet funding from the state, are not certain and will need to be finalized at fall town meeting.
“This is a balanced budget and a conservative budget” said Kazanovicz.
The budget represented an increase of 2.35% over the fiscal year 2019 budget. According to Hussey, this is largely due to a couple line items.
“$1.1 million is for school department and another $1 million is for employee benefits, health insurance and retirement accounts funding.”
He added that the increases are partially offset by decreases in the costs of interest and debt service as the Town continues to hold an outstanding bond rating and pursues conservative financial policies.
Members continued through the warrant with few questions and little discussion until Article 26 which requested authorization to borrow $1.2 million for Drury Square improvements. Auburn is currently in line to receive some $3 million in state and federal funds for roadway work, and the Town sought to borrow an additional $1.2 million for “non-participating” costs. These include aesthetic improvements such as streetlamps and “pocket parks” – small green spaces along the Drury Square District – as well as for acquiring required construction easements along the Auburn St. area.
Town Manager Julie Jacobson said, “The Drury Square area has been highlighted in master planning back to 2002 as an area that deserves focus for future economic and community development.”
Jacobson added that the Drury Square zoning article and the request to borrow were the direct result of citizen and business input throughout the master planning and Drury Square Village District planning processes.
Article 27 sought authorization to borrow $2.2 million to install an emergency wastewater bypass from the Pinrock Rd. pumping station to the Upper Blackstone Valley treatment plant off Rt. 20. The bypass would basically create a redundant system to carry wastewater out of Auburn to the water treatment plant.
Town Meeting Member Bruce Hopper sought additional information before bringing the question to a vote.
“I just like to have more information before I vote to spend $2.2 million on anything” Hopper asked before Sewer Superintendent Jeff Mitchell stepped forward to respond to questions.
According to Mitchell, the $2.2 million is a proactive step to mitigate any future failure in the sewer line going to Upper Valley Wastewater Treatment.
“If there were a failure without such a bypass, the cost to repair it would likely be double this amount. You would also have restrictions on residential plumbing usage while the repairs were made.”
Town Engineer Bill Coyle added, “Pinrock Rd. is the last pumping station in the line [before the treatment plant] and it handles about 2 million gallons per day. In other areas of town we are able to isolate an issue, but this [Pinrock] is the last station and a failure there would be devastating.”
Articles 33 and 34 pertained to a zoning bylaw change that would allow for “tiny homes”, a trend in architecture and real estate that allows for very small, affordable, efficient housing structures to be placed or erected on residential property. These tiny homes can be mobile – chassis or trailer-mounted – or fixed to a foundation (such as a concrete pad) on a semi-permanent or temporary basis, though they can easily be moved from such a foundation.
As explained by town officials, the Planning Board received a request to place a citizen petition on the warrant that would effect such a zoning bylaw change. However, the citizen petition, as presented, would have been unlikely to pass Massachusetts Attorney General scrutiny due to the wording of the citizen petition. Instead, the Planning Board and Town Planner drafted a zoning bylaw for these tiny homes that they believe would receive AG approval should Town Meeting approve the article.
There was less debate around the subject matter than there was confusion over the voting procedure. Town Meeting Member Daniel Largesse sought to amend the bylaw as proposed to strike two sections pertaining to placement and setback of any such structures. Ultimately, the Town Meeting declined to consider the proposed amendment. The zoning bylaw change required a 2/3 supermajority vote, and the initial vote count was 52 in favor and 23 opposed. However, there was concern among Town Meeting members that not everyone was clear on which question they were voting (the motion to amend or the article 33 itself) or whether the moderator had called for a show of hands from ‘yeas’ or ‘nays’.
As the vote was close to the 2/3 requirement, several members requested a “recount”, but the motion to request a recount was denied and the original count of 52 to 23 stands, allowing the zoning bylaw to allow tiny houses, pending Mass. AG approval of the bylaw. Currently, Nantucket is the only other community in Mass. to have such a zoning bylaw.
Town Meeting also approved the appropriation of $200,000 from Community Access Enterprise retained earnings to renovate Camp Gleason off off upper Central St. so that it can again be used for town business, community groups, and recreational purposes. While the grounds remain accessible, the building has been closed due to it not being ADA compliant and because of required maintenance and repairs.