Westborough Town Meeting to tackle town solar project, budget
Westborough – A potential solar field on town-owned property, a host of capital items and a level-services operating budget top the warrant for Westborough’s Annual Town Meeting (ATM), which convenes on Saturday, March 15.
Town Meeting voters face two dozen articles this year, including zoning changes, raises for non-union town workers and a number of capital expenditures, including a new public safety radio tower, proposed renovations to restrooms at the public library and funds for new fire chief vehicle, to replace one that recently had to be towed off I-495, according to town officials.
The biggest-ticket item on the warrant is the $78.7 million operating budget for fiscal year 2015, which includes $43.7 million for schools. Town Manager Jim Malloy said the budget presented offers level services on the municipal side, stays with the limits of Proposition 2- ½ and avoids dipping into free cash.
“The budget meets the needs of the town departments to continue providing quality services to the public,” Malloy wrote in his annual budget message.
Articles related to the potential solar project have drawn the most discussion leading up to the meeting. Voters will take up two articles related to a potential solar array being built on six acres of a larger town-owned parcel at the intersection of Smith Valve Parkway and Otis St.
One article authorizes selectmen to negotiate an agreement with an outside firm for a solar production facility at that property–formerly an EPA Superfund cleanup site–and possibly on other town-owned sites. A second adjusts zoning setbacks on the property to enable the farm to fit around existing constraints, including Hocomonco Pond and existing and proposed trails.
Selectman Chairman Ian Johnson has suggested the town is moving too fast on the proposal and that too many questions remain unanswered. He asked selectmen to pull the articles from the warrant, but the rest of the board agreed to push ahead, hoping to have more answers by the time the articles are discussed.
Malloy has said that pushing the vote back could risk the town losing momentum on the project and missing the ideal investment window for solar companies and their financial backers.
In addition to funding some unpaid bills in the current fiscal year and setting aside $40,000 for an electronic voting system for future town meetings, other articles to be taken up by voters starting at 1 p.m. on Saturday, March 15 include:
● New Tower: The town is seeking $307,000 to fund a new police and fire emergency radio transmitter tower to be built next to the Newton Hill Water Tank.
● New Wheels: In addition to $40,000 to replace the fire chief vehicle, voters will be asked to fund $206,000 for three new DPW dump trucks; $60,000 for a new sewer department van; $94,000 for two new police cruisers; and just under $13,000 to replace an aging assessor’s department vehicle.
● Raises: Changes to the wage and salary schedule would result in a 2 percent raise for non-union town workers, matching the raises collectively bargained on behalf of unionized employees.
● Payback: Voters will be asked to set aside $22,000 to repay a state grant used on the Nathan Fisher House. Repaying the grant is the final step in releasing deed restrictions on the property, Malloy said.
● Library upgrades: $63,000 is being sought to repair and improve public restrooms at the Westborough Public Library, which officials say are heavily used by the public and do not currently comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
This year’s warrant includes no citizens’ petitions articles.
The ATM will be held in the Westborough High School’s auditorium, 90 West Main St., Saturday, March 15, starting at 1 p.m.
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