Twenty questions await voters Tuesday in Westport

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UnknownOver $1.5 M in spending, term limits top town meeting issues

Voters will decide questions including over $1.5 million in spending, a thorny water treatment matter (Article 14), and term limits for appointed board members when they gather for a special town meeting at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 5 at Westport High School.

The 20 articles facing voters are:

1. Topping the list is a $451,510 appropriation to provide a four-year retroactive pay hike plus $64,000 to cover fiscal year 2015 for police officers. That figure is the result of arbitration between the town and police union and stems from the fact that town police have been without a new contract since 2009.

Money to cover the raises would come from the town stabilization fund for which two-thirds town meeting approval is required. Since the raise was reached through arbitration, Finance Committee member Hugh Morton urged selectmen to include the warrant since to put the matter off could prove even more costly for Westport.

2. This article seeks approval of spending $125,000 for the purchase and equipping of a new backhoe for use at the Transfer Station. Money for the backhoe would come from the $45,165 balance of the Landfill Closure Account and $79,835 from the Transfer Station receipts account.

James Walsh of the Board of Health said they now have a large front-end loader but rely on the Highway Department when a backhoe is needed which is much of the time. At what is now the transfer station/recycling center, there is continual need to level and compact loads in containers, work that a backhoe can handle but not the loader, he said.

“We also have lots of maintenance tasks to do like fixing retaining walls, snow removal … and we are constantly calling on the Highway Department. We really need one of our own.”

Foreman Chris Goncalves said the new machine would free up the Highway Department for other tasks. “We have been happy to help out but we only have one backhoe and need it most of the time for our own work.” The department is also short-staffed and must send along a driver each time it shares its backhoe — “which is pretty often.”

A similar request was on the warrant at the last town meeting but was dropped during the meeting when the budget committee encountered calculation problems with total warrant expenditures.

3. Voters will be asked to send $14,511 in Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) storm cost reimbursement  money to Fall River. They payment would pay Fall River for the cost of pumping done at South Watuppa Pond to help ease flooding in Westport neighborhoods caused by the big rains of March 2010. Fall River requested the payment as part of talks concerning the cost of Fall River water to some north Westport residences.

4. $19,401 is sought to cover extra fiscal year 2014 tuition expenses for sending Westport students to Diman Regional Vocational Technical High School. Towns using the high school are being asked to pitch in more to offset state funding cuts. Some towns that send more students are being asked for another $100,000-plus.

5. $15,000 to the town account for the care of cemetery lots and graves. This would be a fund transfer not requiring additional expenditure.

6 & 7. These articles will correct an error in language on Recreation Committee action at last spring’s town meeting when voters agreed to increase that committee from five members to seven. Article 7 will stipulate that Recreation Committee members are to be appointed rather than elected; Article 7 will be a repeat vote of the decision to boost committee membership from five to seven.

8 & 9. The Animal Control function has been transferred to the Police Department’s supervision. These articles amend the Personnel By-laws to reflect that change.

10. $608 in prior year bills were submitted to the Veteran’s Agent for payment in July, and because they were incurred by local veterans in the prior fiscal year, they need Town Meeting approval for payment.

11. Favorable action on this article will allow the Beach Committee to spend up to $3,000 from the Beach Enterprise Fund.

12. The article seeks approval of $37,500 for the purchase of a new police cruiser to replace one damaged beyond repair using funds from the Police Insurance Reimbursement Account.

13. A yes vote will allow the $12,906 purchase of a new motor and accessories for the harbormaster using funds from the Harbor Enterprise Fund.

14. This article will authorize the town to borrow funds (perhaps as much as $862,000) to pay for the design and construction of a water treatment facility to treat water to remove disinfection by-products in water supplied by Fall River to 158 north Westport residences. The DEP has issued an order that could result in the town paying a $100 daily fine if it does not move forward with this project. The bond issue would be paid from the Water Enterprise Funds received from customers using the system.

Town Administrator Jack Healy said the item would only authorize the borrowing and does not yet commit the town to such an expenditure.

This is “a very big problem for Westport,” he said. “We are between a rock and a hard place with this one.”

The problem stems from the reaction of chlorine treatment on natural organic compounds in the water which can create trihalomethanes, suspected carcinogens. The line from Westport to Fall River is a dead end within which water can stagnate, a situation that encourages creation of trihalomethanes, especially in warm weather.

The hope, Mr. Healy said, is that some solution other than a treatment plant can be found before Westport is forced to build a treatment facility “but if we don’t authorize (the borrowing) we face a fines which I don’t think anyone wants either.”

15. Seeks to authorize the selectmen to petition the legislature to pass a law that will allow the selectmen, in consultation with the Landing Commission, to lease property at 493 Old County Road for up to 30 years to the Westport River Watershed Alliance or other future tenants. The Alliance hopes to use the property, at the Head of Westport next door to the kayak shop, as its headquarters and would improve the old building at its expense.

16. This article will authorize selectmen to petition the legislature to authorize the town to enter into a payment in lieu of taxes agreement on land on Route 177, about two-tenths of a mile from the intersection with Route 6 that is planned to be used for development of Noquochoke affordable housing. The Affordable Housing Trust and the Board of Selectmen have entered into a purchase and sales agreement with developer The Community Builders to construct a 55 units there. The developers have agreed to a $22,000 payment, which is more than the estimate of the taxes that the assessors project.

17. Effective with 2014 appointments, this article would prohibit Finance Committee members from serving on any committee with authority to make recommendations with respect to funding or spending, with the exception of the Capital Improvements Planning Committee, Personnel Board and any employee search committees. The reason for this prohibition is to avoid any appearance of a conflict of interest.

18. This would establish term limits for persons appointed to boards, committees and commissions going forward. Beginning with appointments made after the adoption of this by-law, appointees would be limited to serving 12 years or four terms, whichever is greater. Prior service is not counted.

19. Favorable action would formalize the selectmen’s consultation with the Water Resources Management Committee on the acceptance of gifts of land or easements for stormwater management purposes. The Board of Selectmen is the only board that can accept easements of this type, but the board has established a Water Resources Management Committee to oversee and make recommendations on these matters.

20. Favorable action would regulate canvassing and soliciting or selling goods and services door-to-door by requiring a permit, with conditions, to protect public safety.

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