Many questions remain for this year’s Town Meeting, but the League of Women Voters attempted to provide some answers last week at the Millennium Building.
Here are the highlights from the event that organizers hoped would serve as a preview for what voters can expect on March 24 at the gym.
Articles 1 to 4
The first two articles, (accepting Town Reports and Fiscal Year ’12 Supplemental Appropriations) are uncontroversial and expected to pass easily.
Articles 3 and 4 (Fiscal Year ’12 Budget Transfers and Paying Unpaid Bills from Previous Fiscal Years) were placeholders that were removed due to lack of need.
Article 5 and 29
Article 5 allows the Selectmen to accept legal settlements obtained in litigation, and Article 29 addresses the same subject with an amendment of the town’s current bylaws, which requires a Town Meeting for any legal settlement over $1,000.
Selectman Valerie Wormell noted that Town Meetings cost $2,000 to put on, so some smaller settlements may actually cost the town money if Article 29 does not pass, and that various other towns studied by the Selectmen throughout the Commonwealth do not have such stringent limitations on the Selectmen to accept legal settlements.
Opponents were concerned with giving such authority to the Selectmen, fearing the fallibility of the town’s legal counsel in certain cases.
This article would allow the Town Water Department to use $180,990.56 from several accounts for the use of repairing and replacing large water meters that have become covered with silt, limiting their effectiveness.
Article 14/15 and Article 18
Articles 14 and 15 would allow the town to appropriate $5,000 toward studying potential parking solutions in Westford along the Bruce Freeman Rail Trail. Article 18 does the nearly exact opposite, prohibiting planning or development of public parking areas within a mile of the trail within Westford until a documented need arises and safety issues are adequately addressed.
The Friends of the Bruce Freeman Rail Trail and the Westford Conservation Trust are the main champions of the first two articles, citing the fact that all other trails in town have parking areas nearby, while residents living near the trail are the main advocates for Article 18, citing the impact that parking areas would have on their neighborhoods and concerns of zoning issues since parking is almost universally not allowed in residentially zoned areas.
Again, these two articles are identical, and would serve to allow the creation of a “Pocket Park” on the Vose Parcel, a small piece of land near the terminus of the Bruce Freeman Rail Trail on Acton Road that was taken by the town’s Tax Possession Sale Committee.
If this passes, the main purpose for the park would be as a location for an information kiosk, which a local Eagle Scout candidate has offered to build.
Residents of the neighborhood near the parcel oppose this Article because while parking cannot occur in most cases in residentially zoned areas under town zoning bylaws, there is an exception for ancillary purposes for things like parks or government buildings.
Currently, the Parks and Recreation Committee, which would obtain possession of the lot if the Articles pass, have no plans for any parking within the parcel according to what was said during the meeting.
This Article appropriates $1,313,500 for several capital appropriations recommended by the Capital Planning Committee ranging from trucks and a new ambulance to new windows for the Day School and and a new boiler for the Abbot School.
The main point of discussion at the Millennium School was the four truck scales, which would cost $20,000 in total.
Westford Police have requested the scales for the purpose of fining overloaded industrial trucks that are damaging local roads with the weight of their cargo.
Currently, the WPD has to wait for the State Police to weigh possible offending trucks, and if they are found in violation of the law, the state gets the money from the fines.