NORTHBRIDGE, Mass. – The Board of Selectmen stressed at a meeting last night the importance of the upcoming Annual Town Election which will be held next Tuesday, May 15 from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. at Northbridge High School, 427 Linwood Ave.
Though there is only one contested race on the ballot – Selectman James Marzec and former Selectman Joseph Montecalvo competing for one available position on the Board of Selectmen – there are six important ballot questions.
The first three suggest changes in the Town Charter, one of which reduces the School Committee from nine to five members; the last three ask voters to exclude from the confines of Proposition 2 ½ the expenditure of $2,160,000 for three separate projects - $635,000 for Town hall repair and renovation, $625,000 for a five-year road maintenance program, and $900,000 to install artificial turf on Lasell Field.
All the debt exclusion questions passed at Spring Annual Town Meeting last week, two of them approved unanimously. The Lasell Field project passed on a secret ballot vote, 127 to 92. Debt exclusion questions must be approved at Town Meeting and Town Election.
The town is in a “unique situation’’ this year, Town Manager Theodore Kozak said, because of early payment of the high school by the state and a debt reduction of $436,000 which could result in a $480 tax savings for the average homeowner.
If all three debt exclusion questions are approved, the one-year cost will be $409 on the average tax bill. With the allowed tax increase of 2.5 percent allowed under Proposition 2 ½ raising the average tax bill by about $100, Kozak said, tax bills would remain about the same.
Christopher Thompson, who chaired the Charter Review Committee, said it was a two-year process for its nine members. The proposed changes were approved by voters at last fall’s Annual Town Meeting. The Town Charter must be review every 10 years.
The Charter, though 20 years old, needed few changes, Thompson noted. “It is a living document that has passed the test of time,’’ he said.
In addition to reducing members of the school board, the changes reword some terms in the Charter and make the final step in the process of replacement, revision or amendment of the Charter be a ballot vote at town election.
It is a three-year process to reduce the School Committee members from nine to five, and currently there are vacancies on that board with only three candidates for five available positions.
Town Planner R. Gary Bechtholdt II and Wendall Kalsow of McGinley Kalsow & Associates, Inc. outlined again the Town Hall repair and renovation plan.
Kaslow said he wanted to answer some questions raised at the Spring Town Meeting last week. The town received a grant from the Massachusetts Historical Commission to replace the slate roof about 12 years ago and in return agreed to have all repairs reviewed and approved by the Commission. He also noted the plan includes a detailed maintenance plan.
The $635,000 repairs every window in Town Hall in addition to making several other exterior repairs. Bechtholdt said he has applied for a grant of up to $100,000 from the Massachusetts Historical Society to offset the cost of the project.
A PDF of the Town Hall renovation plan is attached.
Department of Public Works Director James Shuris outlined his $2.85 million five-year road maintenance program, $625,000 of that contributed by the town. The plan is to look at every road and make repair using several new processes before the roads fail.
Shuris plans to spend $125,000 of town money each year along with $485,000 of state Chapter 90 funding to achieve his road maintenance goal which he said will be an ongoing process. “Each dollar spent now saves $6 in the future,’’ he said.
“I’m hoping for a favorable ballot vote next week,’’ he said.
Brian Burke, co-chair of Friends of Lasell Field, outlined the $900,000 project. “We had hoped to raise the funds privately,’’ Burke said, but weren’t able to do that.
Turf is easier and cheaper now, Burke said, “and much safer for the athlete.’’
“We can understand that it’s their money,’’ Burke said of taxpayers. “If anything, the proposal raises some eyebrows and gets people to the polls.
“People in this town are willing to do what it takes to make this a better place to live,’’ said Selectman James Marzec.