By Bonnie Adams, Government Editor
Westborough – Stating that they would not be fulfilling their commitment to the town as elected officials, the Board of Selectmen declined to approve a citizen's request to allow a question regarding a $4 million underride to be placed on the warrant for the May 14 Annual Town Meeting. They did, however, approve three non-binding questions regarding required proof of U.S. citizenship and state residence to be put on the warrant.
The issue of the underride had first been brought up by resident Len Mead at the March 1 selectmen's meeting. At that time, Mead had asked the board to consider putting the question on the warrant and thus allow the voters to have their say on the matter at Town Meeting. But after a presentation that night by Town Manager Jim Malloy, in which he explained the possible ramifications that could occur, including a number of layoffs and significant reductions to the budgets of various town departments, the selectmen decided to wait until the March 22 meeting to make their decision.
At that meeting, the consensus between the four selectmen present was unanimously not in favor of allowing the question to be put on the warrant. (Selectmen Chair Rod Jane said Selectman George Thompson was in favor of allowing the question to go forth, but because Thompson was not present, he could not formally vote on the issue.)
Before issuing their decision, the board heard from a school official and a few residents on the matter:
Steven Buttigliere asked, “Why is our levy limit so high? When it was set, there were a lot more high tech companies in the town. [Proposition] 2 ½ doesn's seem to have a mechanism in place for when businesses leave town. My taxes have more than doubled in the past ten years.”
Mark Silverberg said he disagreed with the proposed question because it did not explicitly state from where the monies would be cut.
School Committee Chair Ilyse Levine-Kanji said, “We (the school committee) are very cognizant of the need to have a tight budget. This would throw the entire budget process into chaos.”
Selectwoman Leigh Emory also weighed in on the issue.
“Our taxes may be higher than other communities but we get a lot more compared to a place like Lawrence,” Emory said. “I am not willing to give up my responsibility as a sworn official to hijack the budget process.”
“The average voter probably doesn's know the whole picture [on how an underride would work], Jane said. “This would be an irresponsible way to balance the budget.”
The board did agree to allow three non-binding questions to be placed on the warrant. Those questions would instruct state legislators who represent Westborough to vote in favor of legislation that would do the following: 1) require proof of legal residence in Massachusetts from the applicant before providing taxpayer-funded state benefits; 2) require proof of U.S. citizenship and legal residence before a person is allowed to vote in all elections; and 3) require Massachusetts election officials to require a picture ID before a person is allowed to vote in any elections.
In other business, both Police Chief Alan Gordon and Fire Chief Walter Perron met with the board to discuss their fiscal year (FY) 2012 budgets.
Gordon noted that the police department budget was up $87,320 over FY 2011. This was due, he said, to an oversight in the FY 2011 budget that did not account for a salaried position of $57,000. Rather than address the matter at last year's town meeting, the department instead made adjustments to accommodate the oversight. The remaining increase for FY 2012 was due to contractual salary increases, he added.