Approximately 275 people braved the sun and the heat to attend Scituate Annual Town Meeting on Saturday, June 27 which lasted just under two and a half hours at the turf field at Scituate High School. People brought water bottles, and many donned hats. Everyone wore masks, and abided by the social distancing mandates due to concerns of COVID-19.
“We’re here in some unusual times,” said Town Moderator James Toomey. “I know this is a history-making meeting, not necessarily because it’s outside but because it’s outside on a turf field. That has never happened in Scituate before.”
Prior to addressing the warrant articles, former Planning Board member William Limbacher received a standing ovation for his years of service to the town. Planning Board Chairman Ann Burbine read a resolution to Limbacher from the Board of Selectmen praising his dedication to the town.
Shawn Harris, who had served on the Board of Selectmen for 24 years until this spring when he chose not to seek re-election, was also acknowledged. He received a Citation of Special Recognition, as well as congressional cufflinks, from Congressman Stephen Lynch. State Senator Patrick O’Connor presented Harris with a Citation on behalf of the Senate, and State Rep. Joan Meschino presented him with a Citation from herself and State Rep. Patrick Kearney, who could not be present, on behalf of the House. Former State Rep. Jim Cantwell, representing Senator Ed Markey, said a few words about having worked with Harris over the years. Harris also received a standing ovation.
Article 4 of the Special Town Meeting passed unanimously by two-third vote. This article asked voters to approve $3,227,205 for the construction of sewer pipe replacement for the Cedar Point area, and to authorize the Board of Selectmen to assess betterments to the affected area homes to cover 100 percent only this additional cost and to authorize the borrowing of the sum.
At Town Meeting, as expected, there were two consent agendas. The first bundled articles were regular routine articles that were rarely debated or discussed. Fifteen articles were passed unanimously in the first consent agenda.
Nine articles were bundled as the second consent agenda to be postponed until the special Town Meeting in fall. Among these articles were Article 16 which would authorize the Board of Selectmen to sell the current senior center building on Brook Street as well as the Minot Fire Station on Mitchell Ave.; Article 19 which would allow the town to enter into an intermunicipal agreement with the towns of Hull and Cohasset for the purpose of expansion of the sewerage system; Article 20, a zoning bylaw change relating to signs that would replace the existing section with a new section so the town would be compliant with a U.S. Supreme Court decision.
Three of the four petition articles were also included in the second consent agenda to be postponed until special Town Meeting. Article 25 asks voters to amend the town’s General By-Laws by adding a section on the right to farm; Article 26 asks voters to lower the current tax on room rentals for hotels, motels and AirBNB from the current 6% tax to 4%; and Article 27 asks voters to approve $5,000 for the South Shore Community Action Council, Inc. for services to low-income children, families, and elderly residents in the Town of Scituate.
Resident Heather Clark spoke to Article 28, a non-binding petition article supporting an act establishing Medicare for All in Massachusetts. She stressed the need for affordable healthcare in the country, and pointed out towns could help get things moving in that direction.
After some discussion, the article passed.
Article 3 - The Capital Improvement Plan - passed by unanimous vote. Voters approved the Capital Budget totaling $8.2 million.
“The financial forecast looked very strong in January,” Vegnani said. “Then the situation looked better in that there would be higher state aid budget. Then the world changed due to COVID-19 and we had to adjust our financial forecast.”
A balanced budget was before Town Meeting, Vegnani said, with no additions or cuts to personnel. The two largest ticket items, continued investment in the water system and the renovations to the Widows Walk golf clubhouse, are paid by user fees and not tax dollars.
“Our town is very well run,” Vegnani said. “We have a very skilled and dedicated work staff, and we’re forward thinking.”
Voters approved the Fiscal Year 2021 Operating Budget of $81,404,617 – Article 4, with some discussion.
A recommendation was made from a member of the body to have the school budget itemized rather than listed as a simple line item. The moderator noted that the school budget line approval is by state mandate and does not allow line item review by Town Meeting.
Item 7 of Community Preservation Article 12 received the most discussion as it addresses the acquisition of the Mordecai Lincoln Property in North Scituate for historic resources for $900,000. The concern was about the possibility of affordable housing, also covered under Community Preservation, at some point being built on the 5.6 acre property. This is one of the most significant, unprotected historical properties in Scituate. The main house, built in 1695, was home to Mordecai Lincoln, President Lincoln’s great-great-great-grandfather.
Town Administrator Jim Boudreau said the intent is that nothing would happen on the property that would be inconsistent with the historic nature of the property.
“So any recreation would be passive recreation, maybe some canoeing or kayak launches,” he said. “We’re not talking athletic fields, we’re not talking affordable housing, we’re talking preserving a historic house and a historic vista.”
The article passed unanimously.
“I thought Town Meeting was conducted very efficiently today despite the social distancing and safety measures that had to be put in place,” said Selectmen Chairman Karen Canfield. “Thank you to everybody who showed up to conduct this important business. I look forward to gathering again soon to discuss the items that were postponed until the next meeting.”
Town Clerk Kathleen Gardner thought Town Meeting “went very well.”
“Everyone followed the ‘social distancing’ guidelines and the procedures that were put in place for this meeting,” she said.
Gardner wanted to thank her staff, Town Meeting staff and everyone who assisted in organizing, setting up and breaking down this meeting – the town administrator, the town moderator, Scituate High School building and custodial staff, the Recreation Department, Scituate Police and Fire Departments, and most especially, the various DPW Departments who worked tirelessly in the heat setting up chairs, cones, and tape all to ensure social distancing for staff and voters. “My sincere gratitude goes out to all as it takes so many departments to successfully execute these events.”
Follow Ruth Thompson on Twitter @scituateruth
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