By K.B. Sherman, Contributing Writer
Shrewsbury – Only 174 of the 35,600 Shrewsbury residents showed up at the four-hour initial night of the Annual Town Meeting May 18. Voters approved, with little change, next year’s budget under Article 6 of the meeting warrant.
The $111,279,799 budget request includes the addition of new positions of deputy fire chief and junior civil engineer and more money for town parks. Another proposal, to upgrade the Council on Aging’s administrative assistant position, was met with some resistance. Several voters voiced that if such was to be the case, then the administrative assistants in other departments should also be upgraded, with slight increases in salary. Despite objections, the article was voted upon and passed overwhelmingly.
As has been the practice in the past, the school budget came under the closest scrutiny. School Committee Chair John Samia took the opportunity to address the dollars and cents. Because of the successful Proposition 2 ½ override of 2014, he said, the budget had recovered from what had been presented as a bleak picture earlier that year. Because of the override, said Samia, class sizes had been reduced and elementary school students “are happier and more relaxed.”
On the other hand, special education expenses and resource management have become more expensive. The annual budget request of $58,455,519 is approximately 52.5 percent of the total town budget and 2.2 percent higher than last year’s. Because of the school’s increasing performance, Samia maintained, charter school enrollment has continued to decline. Shrewsbury High School is now ranked among the first tier in the U.S. although state funding continues to drop.
Superintendent Dr. Joseph Sawyer then took some questions from voters. Several were concerned about the ever greater number of 40B proposals and their impact on total student population. Sawyer admitted that this is a potential problem for all school districts and that the total high school student population of 1,684 is near the capacity of approximately 1,700, but downplayed the need for high school expansion at this time.
One unusual issue was dealt with by Article 10, a proposal to build an outdoor columbaria – a place for the respectful and usually public storage of cinerary urns at the Mountain View Cemetery. The anticipated cost would be $75,000. A cemetery representative explained that at present, 28 percent of those being buried at the cemetery are cremated, and that cremated remains take less space than standard coffin burials. After assurances that a columbarium would not interfere with cemetery expansion, the article was passed.
Another article which generated interest and discussion was based upon a petition submitted by Bryan Moss and signed by other town voters. The petition, included in the warrant as Article 13, would approve a resolution to urge divestment of the town from any investment in fossil fuel. Town Manager Daniel Morgado explained the fiscal issues such a divestment would involve, primarily the decrease in the growth of the town’s pension and retirement funds. According to Morgado, the town assumes an annual growth in its retirement fund of 8 percent, predicting that by 2022 the retirement fund will have become fully vested. Such a fossil fuel industry divestment, he claimed, would drop the town’s fiscal growth below what he considered acceptable. The Finance Committee then rejected the proposal and, in a lopsided vote, it was rejected by the voters.
By the end of the meeting, just 13 of the 41 articles on the meeting warrant had been addressed. The meeting was set to continue May 20.