By Beth David, Editor
Fairhaven’s annual town meeting was largely a quick and uncontested affair, with Town Meeting members voting to pass just about every single article that required a vote, and finishing up just a few minutes after 12 noon. There was almost no discussion on spending items, just one or two questions on budget items, and only one “no” vote at the annual meeting, held on Saturday, 5/6, at Hastings Middle School.
The only outright rejection was for a non-spending article that was petitioned by citizens. Article 54 sought to get the town on the record as supporting an amendment to the United States constitution that would reverse the supreme court decision that allowed companies to spend unlimited funds on political races (Citizens United decision).
Ken Pottel, who petitioned the article, told TM that Citizens United “opened the floodgates” to money in all areas of politics. He said the money has a “corrupting influence” on politics and is not a “healthy thing for democracy.”
He said it would move the legislation along and that 77% of voters supported the petition.
Michael Silvia told TM that he had not problem with the contents of the article, but that Town Meeting was not the place for the issue.
He said the “beauty of local government,” and town meeting is that people come together to work on things, “practical things, like potholes.”
“Let us reserve town meeting as a place to do town business,” said Mr. Silvia.
Another TM member disagreed, saying that the issue got 77% of town support on the ballot question.
“It is a bipartisan issue,” she said. “It’s about democracy and getting our voices heard, whatever side you’re on.”
Al Benac said he believed that the issue should go to town voters in a ballot question. He said he represented other voters in his district and did not want the responsibility of choosing for them.
The vote was the only vote to be challenged, causing a count. But it did fail.
The marijuana moratorium generated some discussion, and passed easily. Planning Board chairperson Wayne Hayward noted that it was a zoning bylaw and would give the PB time to come up with zoning regulations. Voters approved recreational marijuana in November, but the state has delayed implementation of retail shops pending regulations. Municipalities around the state are passing moratoria so they can draft bylaws, but they have to wait until the state drafts its own regulations.
Resident Diane Hahn said that she supported the legalization of marijuana, but that “responsible communities” are voting to wait.
“This is happening, folks,” she said.
TM member John Pond, however, spoke against “so-called recreational marijuana,” and railed against the dangers and “harmful effects” on young people.
“So I say whatever we can do to keep it out of our society, we should do it,” said Mr. Pond.
The moratorium passed by the obligatory 2/3 vote.
The wheelchair ramp and other renovations to the Academy, a 1798 building that now houses the town’s visitors center and Historical Society museum, also garnered some discussion. The project would use $119,000 in Community Preservation Committee funds to make the building wheelchair accessible.
Mr. Benac reiterated his opposition to the changes (the appropriation failed at last year’s meeting), saying that the money should be used for other things, such as widening the sidewalks around town hall.
Those opposed to the change say the historical building should not be changed.
The renovations would not only add a wheelchair ramp in the back (north side) of the building but will also rebuild the front entrance to make the stairs compliant with the American with Disabilities Act (ADA).
Mr. Benac also noted that the space is not large and the new exit in back will take more space from the visitors center. He said the ramp was not needed.
“There hasn’t been a handicapped person there since he has been in that building,” said Mr. Benac, which solicited a bit of laughter from members.
Diane Hahn took issue with that logic, saying there has never been a handicapped person there because they have not been able to get in the building.
David Despres, chairperson of the Historical Commission, said the changes will address three problems: the deteriorating front door, making the front steps ADA compliant, and making the whole building ADA complaint/wheelchair accessible.
He noted that the building only has one entrance, which is dangerous. The only way out besides the front door, is to climb the stairs and then use the fire escape. But the stairs are right near the front door anyway.
The building has a town office in it now, the visitors center, and should be wheelchair accessible.
“The building deserves to be [ADA] compliant,” said Mr. Despres.
Everyone, he said, whether in a wheelchair or not, has a right to be able to access the building.
Ann Ponichtera DeNardis noted that when the visitors center was moved to the building, supporters said it would save the town money. Now it was costing money, she said, because the office of tourism/visitors center was moved there. She asked if there was a cheaper way to make the building compliant.
The measure passed.
TM also voted to appropriated $50,000 in CPC funds to the Stratford Capital Group for the Oxford School Residences, despite some opposition.
Ann Richard opposed the measure, noting that SCG first wanted $350,000 in CPC funds, which is the amount they agreed to pay for the building.
“I feel we should not give this multi-million dollar company any more money,” said Ms. Richard.
Town Administrator Mark Rees explained that the project will be financed mainly by tax credits and the funding authorities like to see community support for projects. He said the money will not be allocated until all other financing is in place.
“So, a private company is asking for CPC funds so they can carry on their business which in part will be giving residences to our elderly citizens,” asked Ann Ponichtera DeNardis.
Mr. Rees said that Fairhaven residents and veterans will have priority for the income-based apartments.
“This private company is getting CPC funds to make a profit, which in part will provide residences to elderly individuals,” said Daniel DeNardis. “They’re not doing it for free.”
“These buildings have been sitting around a long time,” said a TM member. “We can’t keep them forever. We have to move forward. If that’s what it’s going to take to move forward, then we have to vote for it.”
In the end the measure passed.
The article to create School Regionalization Study Committee also generated some discussion. The article appropriating money for the study was passed over because the school department received a grant for the study itself.
“This is not about regionalization,” said superintendent of schools Robert Baldwin. “This is about a…study to look into it.”
He said for every two Fairhaven residents in the high school, there is one Acushnet resident. He said sports programs between the two towns are already integrated.
“Why wouldn’t you look into it,” he asked.
“This is strictly to create a committee to study it,” said Pam Kuechler, chairperson of the school committee, adding that no decisions have been made about regionalization.
“We’re not going to supply Acushnet a high school,” said Mr. Benac.
“We are Acushnet’s high school,” said School Committee member Brian Monroe, noting that 236 Acushnet residents already attend Fairhaven High School.
The article passed.
The town meeting warrant, with operating budget expenditures and revenue, and all 58 articles, is on the town’s website at www.fairhaven-ma.gov, under news and events “essential documents for Town Meeting members.”
The FY18 operating budget, totalling $45.9 million includes $21.7 for the school department, about 47%. The money comes from a variety of sources, with $27.5 million coming from property taxes and $10.1 million in state aid.
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