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After Passionate Debate, Town Meeting Voters Approve Debt Shift

Close to 600 residents pack Tewksbury High gym for Day 2 of Town Meeting.

After more than an hour of energetic debate, voters approved the partial sewer debt shift, as part of Day 2 of the Annual Town Meeting, Wednesday night at

In truth, voters had already approved the shift of half the remaining debt from the town's $100 million sewer project at the in April. However, the town needs to petition the Legislature for a Home Rule Petition to actually go through with the shift. The article on Wednesday's Special Town Meeting warrant asked voted for permission to do that.

The vote was 372-219 in favor, or 63-37 percent. said only a simply majority was needed to pass, though handful of residents, including former Selectman candidate Ed Sullivan, insisted that a two-thirds super-majority was needed for a home rule petition. Sullivan cited media accounts of the 2008 Town Meeting, which indicated that a two-thirds vote was needed that night to approve a Home Rule petition regarding Krochmal Farm.

Speaking in support of the article, said that shifting 50 percent of the sewer debt from the rate payers to the property tax levy was the "fairest" solution. He also stated that if the measure failed, sewer rates would jump 58 percent in Fiscal Year 2012.

Resident Warren Carey took exception to Montuori's verbiage, saying the plan is hardly equitable.

"You should not use the word 'fair,'" said Carey. "'Fair' is not a fair word."

Making an impassioned plea in support of the article, Todd Johnson, chairman of the Board of Selectmen, was unusually candid about how the town found itelf paying for a $100 million sewer project with incredibly high sewer rates.

"It is obvious now that when this project started that it was not sustainable," said Johnson. "It's painful to admit that our leaders made financial mistakes along the way. That reality is no doubt frustrating and disappointing.

"Perpetuating a poor decision is generally not good practice. The bill must be paid," he said, adding that he was not one of the 62 percent of town residents hooked into sewer.

In an interview after the meeting, Johnson said it was important to recognize and validate the anger many resident felt regarding the situation the town finds itself in. That anger was expressed by Sullivan, who he felt town officials had been less than honest when the sewer project was first presented to voters nearly a decade ago.

"Yes, we approved (the project), but if we aren't told the truth ..." said Sullivan. "It's hard for us to make the right decision  when we aren't given the right numbers."

 

Lynne May 06, 2011 at 07:40 PM
Bonnie, I didn't mention anything about the town paying for the senior center. My point is that the sewer system infrastucture covers more than the 62% of homes - it covers the public buildings and town businesses too. I don't see what's so assinine about that, Tony.
Melissa Gleaton May 06, 2011 at 07:43 PM
Umm, Bonnie, no one mentioned who paid for the Senior Center. They're talking about usage of the sewer system. Each person who flushes in there or eats a meal there makes use directly or indirectly of the town sewer system. Is it a stretch to use that as a real argument? Yeah...I think so. However, Citizen didn't say what you're accusing him/her of saying.
Melissa Gleaton May 06, 2011 at 07:47 PM
And continue to spend for maintenance and such... I don't begrudge anyone who uses or supports the Senior Center, but don't act like an elite class of people who think that they can use town funds for programs that are not available by everyone, and then shoot down other initiatives (schools, sewer, sports, whatever) because they won't use those services.
southie May 06, 2011 at 08:46 PM
The way i see it the selectmen got what they wanted, those that have sewer and those that don't fighting with each other and they (selectmen) sitting back saying you guys voted on it not us.
Jade May 06, 2011 at 08:57 PM
Well said, southie!
Jade May 06, 2011 at 08:59 PM
Tony D, check your figures. I didn't see any fund raising for the Library, the Police Station, or the South Street Fire Department.
Melissa Gleaton May 06, 2011 at 09:07 PM
Good point Southie! They made it a point to say over and over again that they COULD have decided, but wanted to bring it to the voters. How benevolent.
Bill Gilman (Editor) May 06, 2011 at 09:10 PM
But here is the question Southie and Bonnie ... what should they have done? The project was already built ... done ... finished .... and it was done, as Todd Johnson said, based on mistakes made by the old town manager and the BOS in place a decade ago. There was absolutely no way to reverse the decision that was made. Remember, they had every right to make a decision without asking voters. Instead, they put it in the hands of the voters and vowed to follow the will of the people. I'm not sure what options they had.
Jade May 06, 2011 at 09:25 PM
Bill, I suggest that we call Mr. Cressman in and put his head on the chopping block. What poor planning! We will probably be making up for his mistakes for many years to come.
southie May 06, 2011 at 09:34 PM
Bill i'm also not sure about other options but the TM did say at town meeting that there were other options that they did consider but this was the best one according to him and the selectmen. How about letting the people know about the other options. By the way this all started because the whole project was mismanaged from the get go.
TONY D May 06, 2011 at 09:38 PM
The money raised by the Senior Citizens with their fundraisers was a pittance compared to the actual cost of the Center. I didn't bring up the subject of them paying for most of the construction, you did. The Center is a social gathering place. The Library, Police Station and the South Street Fire Station were built to serve the common good, not a particular group of citizens. Although too much was spent by the Town for all four projects. Both cumulatively and individually.
TONY D May 06, 2011 at 09:46 PM
245 is a simple majority. Not a 2/3 majority of the 382 votes that cast. The statement was that the petition was sent to the State based on a 2/3 majority approval. If it had to be 2/3 majority then the State should have rejected it as not meeting the requirements. The State did approve it so apparently it did not need 2/3 majority or the State made a mistake approving it.
Ed Sullivan May 06, 2011 at 10:09 PM
Dear Citizens of Tewksbury, First of all I would like to thank the Tewksbury Patch for providing a venue that we can all speak freely without all the bashing that occurs on other blogs. I did present to the voters the Massachusetts General Law Statues and precedents with regards to the Home Rule Petition. Home Rule Petitions are not broken down into various levels and are treated the same with regards to Mass. Legislation. I encourage all citizens (whether they were present or not) to view the recording of the Special Town Meeting. While watching, keep track of the number of times phrases such as “I believe”, “to the best of my knowledge”, “from what I can recall”, was cited on the debt reduction article. All from individuals that should be in the know. Of the five selectman present, only two spoke in favor of this article. Chairman Todd Johnson used a scare tactic stating that if we did not approve of the fifty percent debt reduction, the selectmen could unilaterally vote independently to 100% of the tax levy. I implore Selectman Todd Johnson to provide any evidence that we have given the selectman of Tewksbury the power to override proposition 2 ½. (continued..)
Ed Sullivan May 06, 2011 at 10:11 PM
Continued from above: Selectman Scott Wilson, to his credit, did stand with full confidence stating the last home rule petition only required a simple majority vote. Based on the following link: http://www.wickedlocal.com/tewksbury/news/x1985674405/Home-rule-petition-passes#axzz1LRZNYXTX As you can see by reviewing the above link, that statement was 100% wrong. We no longer live in the era of Stalin, Lenin and Hitler. Our American men and women have given up their lives for the protection of our freedom and constitution. We are in this situation based on lies, let's not move forward with additional false statements. Sincerely, Ed Sullivan
Melissa Gleaton May 06, 2011 at 10:54 PM
Hi Ed, I didn' t have a pen that night, and I couldn't write down which statues in the MGL or the Massachusetts Constitution you referred to. I attempted to look them up on my own, but it was a lot of legalese to weed through and i really couldn't find it. Would you mind sharing the statues or providing a link to them on the state's web site for review?
TONY D May 06, 2011 at 11:01 PM
And here is the answer, Bill. The system was voted on and approved several years ago to be built and paid for by usage fees. No mention at that time about having to move any part of costs to the tax base. Why can't people understand that. If you were going to use it you were going to have to pay for it. No matter that the costs were exorbitant. Don't forget CDM, Cost Don't Matter, was in charge.
Ed Sullivan May 06, 2011 at 11:48 PM
Melissa, In Mass. General Laws Chapter 44 section 7 paragraph 188 clause (10) Mass. General Laws Chapter 59 Section 21c clause (j) These should answer your questions with regards to a 2/3 vote and any type of 2 1/2 override. Ed Sullivan
TONY D May 06, 2011 at 11:49 PM
I realize that the sewer system was provided to all residences, commercial and industrial sites in the Town. Is it required for the commercial and industrial customers be connected to the system? If it is, then are we going to have more empty buildings, especially on Main Street. It is getting to look like a ghost town. All these old and new buildings with hardly any tenants and barren filthy lots.
TONY D May 06, 2011 at 11:53 PM
At least until 2041. That is 30 years from now. I'll be 101 at that time and still be paying for someone else's !@#$ going into the sewer system.
Jennifer Nagle May 07, 2011 at 03:13 AM
OK, not to start or end a dissagreement on things here.... BUT, the homerule "Krochmal" petition was passed with a majority vote (I have the DVD of it in my hand as we speak - not notes made by a transcriber or a letter from a newspaper). In theory, Mr. Sullivan is correct that the "Krochmal" Petition SHOULD have been a 2/3 vote, as it did contain verbage for a set back change (zoning change.... all zoning changes in any town NEED a 2/3 public acceptance vote). Other than that issue, a home rule petition can be passed with a majority vote. The Krochmal petition should NOT have been passed with a majority vote due to the zoning changes, however, keep in mind that the Krochmal petition was not your "typical" verbage for a home rule petition. Allright, let me put it in black and white. The Sewer Debt Homerule Petition can be passed with the Majority Vote. The majority of the voters who were at Town Meeting voted to pass it. It is now a Homerule petition. Done. The "Krochmal" Homerule Petition could have (legally) been passed with either a zoning change vote OR with a 2/3 vote of the voters who were at the Town Meeting to pass it. Only the majority voted to pass it. It became a Homerule petition anyway. Done.
DCN May 07, 2011 at 03:44 AM
What's that old saying..."One Lies and the others swear to it" "If a lie is repeated often enough all the dumb jackasses in the world not only get to believe it...they even swear by it" ~Billy Boy Franklin~
Melissa Gleaton May 07, 2011 at 04:28 AM
Hi Ed, MGL Chapter 44, section 7, Clause 10 - the very end of the section states that "Debts may be authorized under this section only by a two-thirds vote." I wasn't around when the town voted to incur the debt, but that wasn't what we were voting on last night. The debt was already incured. I'm trying to read through the other Chapter (whereas, whereas, whereas) but it's too late right now. My brain isn't working. It does seem like this Chapter is about increasing the tax rate. We know that ultimately, that is what is happening, but my understanding is that the Home Rule Petition is separate as, the town is required to get permission from the state to move the debt service from one place into another. Would that mean that we'd have to ALSO officially pass an override? I could be wrong, but that's why I'm asking for all this info.
Melissa Gleaton May 07, 2011 at 04:30 AM
actually, the Home Rule Petition was to ask the state to approve moving only 50% of the debt (as the law states we would have to move 100% of the debt or none). This is what I've HEARD, but haven't been able to read anywhere. The MA Legistlature's MGL website is difficult to search & navigate.
Shannon Scopa May 07, 2011 at 11:21 AM
There absolutely was fundraising for the library. I'm sure it was a drop in the larger tax-funded bucket, but I very distinctly recall attempts at fundraising for the library.
Robert L Homeyer May 08, 2011 at 03:55 AM
All good comments. Very good reading. My opinion is that infrastructure improvements should be shared by all. My kids did not go to the high school but I supported it wholeheartedly. We needed a new high school. I believe we should maintain it well so it lasts. A building (or a house) needs 5% of cost per year to keep it good shape. The sewer system needed to be built. It had to happen. It is an infrastructure improvement and should have gone on the tax roles and we could deduct that on our taxes. The elephant in the room of course is legacy costs. This is what will be the ultimate budget breaker. Legacy costs for town employees should be accrued in the years they work here and not paid in future years with no accrual. That is the big problem. I happen to think the police station, library, and improvements to the Town Hall were all warranted. This is my opinion. I live here and have a business here (with 45 employees). I like it here and have been here for 25 years. Nothing is ever perfect but you have to admit...it is pretty good town.
Karyn May 08, 2011 at 04:38 AM
Something tells me "people" would have complained either way re. the BOS making the decision for them or not.
TONY D May 09, 2011 at 11:09 PM
Robert, are you connected to the sewer system?
J May 19, 2011 at 05:30 PM
I moved to town after off all this business had been put into place. Not knowing the full history certainly surprised me when my water bill rose from an average of $85 to $900. I am told my meter is correct, super high summer usage, blah, blah. The reality is, I may not have moved here had I known what I know now. This is a real budget buster, and like many, I am not, nor do I intend to tie in to the sewer. Why would I, just from a financial standpoint alone? A few hundred bucks every few years as long as you maintain it well...great. Regardless, left with a choice of continued astronomical fees, with the absurd tier system that is not deductible, or an increased tax base, which is deductible, of course I would choose the latter option. I at least get some relief on my income taxes.
Ed Sullivan January 03, 2012 at 02:31 PM
My tax bill went up $2500. this year and I am not even on sewer. Is the town going to bail me out? I think not.
Robert Rosa January 04, 2012 at 12:39 PM
It is shocking to see home values going down, but taxes going up so drastically. I have lived in this town for over 11 years, my home value has appreciated over 70% during that time ( with significant home improvements), my tax bill has increased over 130% in that same time, something is wrong. We need to stop borrowing money, and bring our property taxes back in line, otherwise good people are going to leave the town.

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