Saturday Town Meeting debuts in Westport: Fallen firefighter, money woes on agenda
Perhaps a time change might be the antidote to dwindling Westport Town Meeting participation, officials suggested last year — and voters agreed.
They'll test that theory this weekend when Westport moves the meeting to a Saturday morning — May 3 at 9 a.m. in the high school auditorium.
To boost odds of a good turnout, the town baseball league has agreed to call off action on Saturday. Weather — a sunny May Saturday would pose stiff competition — may also be a factor.
"I've heard from a lot of people that weeknights are a challenge," said meeting Moderator Steven Fors. "People with school-age children, who have to get up early for work or who don't feel comfortable driving at night" found it difficult to make it to Tuesday night meetings.
"The youth baseball league has courteously cancelled their schedule for the day. Babysitters will be easier to find on a Saturday. In other words, the excuses you have been using to skip Town Meeting are gone. It's time to show up."
The meeting itself will run about as always. Mr. Fors said he expect the meeting will go to around noon and, if there is more business to tend to, "return at around 1 or 1:30 and see if we can wrap things up."
If voters are unable to complete the agenda by late afternoon, Mr. Fors will entertain suggestions as to when voters would like to resume the meeting — perhaps Tuesday evening. "It's their decision."
His prediction — Lacking any especially unusual or controversial issues, "I'm guessing that we'll come back from recess and go another hour and a half." His forecast for a short meeting last year was right on the money, but over the years, "I don't have a very good record of predicting these things."
While "I'm not aware of anything unusually controversial this year … the biggest overriding issue is that this is a very lean financial year. Nobody is going to have as much money as they want," Mr. Fors said.
The meeting will open at 9 a.m. and, the schedule says, will break for the special town meeting at 9:30 a.m.
First up on that meeting-within-a-meeting agenda is a an article seeking voter approval for fund transfers, the biggest of which is for snow removal.
Always underfunded, the snow budget landed in an especially deep hole during this harsh winter and needs $148,274 to cover overspending.
Articles 4 and 5 ask voters to come up with money to pay for the hospital and rehabilitation costs involved in the care of Westport firefighter Steven Lopes. He was critically injured in early March after falling 30 feet from an icy roof while battling a house fire. He is now recovering at a rehab center in Braintree.
Westport is self-insured (such insurance costs less) under terms that call for the insurance company to pay up to $100,000 per incident involving public safety workers. The town is responsible for covering costs above that limit and, while the total medical costs are not yet known, money needs to be available.
Article 4 asks voters to approve the transfer of $456,000 from either the Free Cash account or the Stabilization Fund, while Article 5 seeks permission to borrow up to $500,000 for the medical expenses.
Continuing on that theme, Article 6 seeks permission to assess taxes above the increase limit to pay for "legally obligated medical expenses" in an amount not to exceed $500,000.
And Article 7 asks voters to use $35,000 from available funds to buy insurance sufficient to cover public safety personnel.
Article 8 brings back what has become a sore subject — PCB contamination at the middle school. The question seeks $50,000 to pay for continued PCB monitoring of a school that the school committee is now on a path to abandoning as soon as possible. School officials say the money is needed to keep the place open long enough to provide alternative locations for the displaced students.
More money please
Numerous spending questions await when the main Town Meeting resumes.
Among many other things, voters will be asked to approve:
• $15,000 toward closure costs at the landfill
• $42,000 from the cemetery perpetual care interest account for purchase of a dump truck
• Article 18 seeks $500,000 for capital expenditures including —
- two police cruiser ($76,000)
- fire pickup truck ($37,000)
- animal control van ($25,000)
- highway plow truck ($78,000)
- High school well ($75,000)
- Macomber School parking lot ($110,000)
- Elementary School roof repairs ($60,000)
- Desks, chairs for elementary and middle schools ($25,000)
• The town Water Resources Committee asks voters (Article 22) to reaffirm a vote token in November 2012 to appropriate $500,000 for water pollution projects including septic system repairs or replacement.
Sex offenders, marijuana
• Article 21 asks voters to change the elected town treasurer job from an elected post to an appointed one. That question received non-binding voter approval during the recent town elections. A similar change was made last year with the highway surveyor job.
• Article 23 seeks to authorize the Selectmen to enter into agreements for the purchase of solar energy power to offset energy needs for town facilities.
• Article 27 asks for approval of a new set of rules governing door-to-door solicitors. This has appeared before and questions were raised about its impact on collections for youth sports etc.
• Article 28 creates rules governing locations where certain categories of convicted sex offenders would be "prohibited from loitering and establishing temporary or permanent residence" as a means of protecting children and other vulnerable persons.
• Article 29 returns to the question of allowing and regulating medical marijuana treatment centers in Westport.
" I can't promise you a lot of fun (by attending)," added Mr. Fors, "but I can promise you the satisfaction of knowing you did right by your community."