By Pattie Pacella, Neighb News Correspondent
Acushnet town meeting voted on 6/5 to indefinitely postpone an article that would have supported a study to explore the possibility of regionalizing schools with Fairhaven.
Article 16 sparked discussion on both sides of the issue. Fairhaven has already received a grant for the study, so the Acushnet article was to create a volunteer committee to explore the issue.
School Committee chairperson Sarah Gomes stated that the Town of Fairhaven had approached them to participate in the study.
“It is simply to study the options,” she said.
Resident Rebecca Ashley stated that she was a teacher in the Acushnet Elementary School for 13 years, and she had some concerns. She said she believed Acushnet students out-perform Fairhaven students.
“Why fix something that isn’t broken,” asked Ms. Ashley.
Moderator Nicholas Gomes stated the true discussion of the article should be the “studying” of the regionalization, not whether regionalization is good or bad for their community.
Monique Cote said that “Fairhaven has gauged us in the past,” and Acushnet students are in the Top 10.
“We make them look good,” said Ms. Cote. “Why are we not keeping our students in our schools?”
“On the motion of a study, we’re not against a study,” said John Howcroft, a Finance Committee member. “A study should’ve been done prior to this study to see if we need this study,”
After a bit of wrangling over how to word his motion, Mr. Howcroft motioned to indefinitely postpone Article 16, and it passed overwhelmingly.
Several other articles of the 32 on the warrant also garnered some discussion.
The snow deficit article to add $175,000 for snow removal got a few hackles up.
“When did it snow enough last year for the sum of $175,000,” asked Amy Andrews. “There’s a lot of streets that weren’t even plowed.”
Town Administrator Brian Noble said that the budget for snow removal has always been in a deficit and never properly funded.
“Snow removal has always been under budget,” he stated. “When you see snow falling from the sky, think of it as money landing on the ground.”
Paul Pelletier asked a point of order question, calling out the new moderator for not asking for opposing votes.
Mr. Gomes took a minute to speak to his predecessor, long time moderator Robert Francis, then apologized.
“Yes, you’re correct,” said Mr. Gomes. “Going forward I will ask for those in opposition to the Article.”
In Article 5, which was the Fiscal 18 Annual Budget of $28,224,714 the budget was passed unanimously with just a few small discussions and debates. First, Resident Paul Pelletier asked how much was in the reserve fund and was told approximately $60,000 dollars, but that number was not finalized.
Newly elected Selectboard member Roger Cabral raised a concern about the Town Clerk’s position. He said he wasn’t looking to change any dollar figures, however he wanted the Town Meeting members to be aware that the Town Clerk has always been a part-time position and now they were making it a full-time position with a $69,000 salary.
Mr. Cabral was concerned with the “timing” of it all, stating that the election was just held a couple of months ago, and he wondered if the public had known that the position was going to become full time with a $69,000 salary attached to it, if in fact more people would’ve not tried to run for the position.
Mr. Cabral also raised the concern whether or not the position should be appointed versus elected.
“It’s not for us to make that decision tonight,” he said. “But certainly to keep it in mind for future discussions.”
Fellow Selectboard member Michael Cioper said that what Mr. Cabral neglected to say was that they are actually reducing a full-time clerk’s position to part-time and increasing the Town Clerk’s position to full-time, which in fact is only a difference of approximately $4,800 a year in total.
Town Clerk Pamela Labonte said that she has been Town Clerk for approximately nine years and has always been the type of person that reflects on what’s best for the Town
“I have worked tirelessly regardless of the fact that I was only supposed to work 20 hours a week,” she said, adding that she was confused on why Mr. Cabral was bringing it up at TM for the first time and not at the forum that was held last week for Town Meeting.
She said she was not looking to “sit back”
“I love what I do,” she said. “I take this position very professionally.”
Resident Norman Stanley stated that both Ms. Labonte and Mr. Cabral were right in their remarks. He stated that he believed Mr. Cabral was right that it was bad timing, but also that Ms. Labonte is a great Town Clerk.
Mr. Cabral stated that his comments were not meant to attack Ms. Labonte directly or personally.
“I am merely concerned on the timing of this matter and the change of compensation,” he said.
Andrew Gomes asked how many hours is part-time versus full-time.
Ms. Labonte said that by law, there is no recommendation on the number of hours she is required to work; however to obtain health insurance she has to work a minimum of 20 hours.
Mr. Gomes then asked her about working Tuesday evenings.
Moderator Gomes called Andrew Gomes out of order, stating that they had to keep the discussion specific to the Town Clerk’s wages as listed in the FY18 budget.
Resident, Constance Preston asked if the position could be voted tonight to change to an appointed position versus an elected.
Again, the moderator ruled Ms. Preston out of order, but thanked her for her comments.
“That certainly can be brought up at a future meeting,” he said.
A bit of discussion occurred for Article 30, which was to see if the Town Meeting members would vote to amend Article II, Section 2 of the Bylaws as follows, “Any number of registered Town voters present shall constitute a quorum sufficient for any Town Meeting for the transaction of all business.”
That would mean that if only one person shows up for TM, the meeting could be held.
“I’m not in favor of lowering the quorum,” Mr. Gaspar said. “However, I’m not sure what the difference of .001% and 1% is.”
He expressed concern over sometimes not meeting the quorum.
“I definitely think there has to be some thought on this,” he said. “It’s a shame that we can’t get 75 people here, there are over 7,000 registered voters and we can’t even get 75?”
“A quorum protects taxpayers, it makes sure that there are checks and balances,” said Mr. Howcroft. “I’m in opposition of this article.”
Leslie Dakin also spoke against the change. He stated that without a quorum any department could “stack the meeting.”
He then added that he wanted to make a motion to table the article and it was seconded.
Unfortunately, Mr. Gomes informed Mr. Dakin there was a “technical deficiency in the motion as stated.” Mr. Gomes advised him that he was a part of the debate brought forward by Mr. Howcroft and because he participated in that discussion, he then cannot make a motion to table the Article.
“But it doesn’t stop someone else from the audience in making the same motion,” Mr. Gomes stated.
Paul Pelletier made the motion to table Article 30 and it passed unanimously.
In other business, TM:
• Approved $75,000 in Community Preservation Committee funds for the Parting Ways building; but did not approve $20,000 in CPC funds for the Perry Hill Church;
• Approved a temporary moratorium on recreational marijuana facilities;
• Approved borrowing $285,000 for a new ambulance;
• Approved $100,000 for technology improvements;
• Approved $180,00 for three trucks for the Department of Public Works;
• Approved $110,000 in Sewer Enterprise funds for a new pump station at the school, with ab additional $100,000 paid from the school department budget’
• Approved $50,000 to expand the parking lot at the schools;
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