By Dakota Antelman, Contributing Writer
Northborough – Residents filled the Algonquin High School football field for an atypical town meeting on July 18.
Postponed four times due to the coronavirus and weather concerns, this meeting was unlike any in recent history, taking place outside, with social distancing in place, after weeks of preparations by local officials.
“This is the al fresco version of Northborough’s town meeting,” Town Moderator Fred George joked in his opening statement.
Town meeting was originally slated to take place April 27, then several other times before finally successfully on July 18.
Officials opted to follow the lead of other area towns like Southborough and Grafton and move proceedings outdoors.
“We had several starts and stops due to concerns and conditions in the community,” George said later in his opening statement. “But, finally, we’re here to do this today.”
Organizers required anyone walking to and from their seats to wear masks. Alongside those precautions, workers also sat near microphones to sanitize them after each use by members of the public.
As part of the meeting, a new budget was approved. That document accounts for a projected $1 million drop in state aid alongside a 14 percent loss in local revenue from sources like meals, hotel, and vehicle excise taxes due to the COVID-19 economic crisis.
As the budget made cuts, including potential furloughing of recreation department staff, Town Administrator John Coderre offered an explanation.
“This is a best case scenario for a worst case scenario,” he said.
Elsewhere, voters approved a $425,000 revamping of the Assabet Park. That project will bring the location into ADA compliance while offering new seating, shade, and open play options to visitors.
Among other things, voters also favored an article clarifying solar panel zoning policy in town.
That allows small ground mounted and roof mounted solar installations across town while banning canopy installations above parking lots in residential districts. The zoning further relegates large-scale, ground mounted installations to industrial zones.
“The proposed bylaw provides the necessary guidance for safe implementation should a solar project come to Northborough,” a supplemental explanation read.
As voters appreciated COVID-19 precautions, some were frustrated about other issues.
Held at 9 a.m. on a Saturday, the meeting precluded many regular attendees from showing up, in part to the day of week as well as the oppressive heat.
Free water was available as well as on site cooling stations and EMTs were stationed in the parking lot. At least 45 minutes after the town meeting began, though, two of the three misting fan cooling stations were not operational.
Still, with their meeting moving forward and ultimately concluding in the early afternoon, people like Fred George were happy to have the meeting take place.
In an unprecedented situation, George explained, town staff made this happen.
“We see the chairs out here in the field and think, how hard could it be?” he said. “I tell you, the administration and the department heads have done a phenomenal job.”