Conway voters approve 2 of 4 Highway Department equipment purchases

By BELLA LEVAVI

Staff Writer

Published: 06-06-2023 2:34 PM

CONWAY — Following the rejection of proposed equipment purchases at December’s Special Town Meeting, Highway Department spending requests continued to be an uphill battle at Saturday’s Annual Town Meeting.

Voters ultimately passed all but two of the 35 warrant articles, including a $6.86 million operating budget for fiscal year 2024, in a meeting that lasted several hours, broke for lunch and was restarted following confusion over Robert’s Rules of Order.

After transferring a total of $395,695 in Articles 6 and 7 to partially fund an addition to the Public Safety Complex, residents voiced concerns about the Highway Department capital requests outlined in Articles 9 through 12. Ultimately, residents approved purchasing a used 60- to 70-foot boom lift and an 18-inch wood chipper, alongside a chipper box, but buying a compact loader and a four-door plow truck did not receive the necessary support.

David Potter, an automotive repair and maintenance manager, felt that the capital requests for the plow truck and compact loader were unnecessary due to a low number of hours spent working on the existing machines.

“1,200 hours is ridiculous,” Potter commented.

Potter brought up that he previously served on the Capital Improvements Committee, during which time he developed a 15-year maintenance and replacement schedule for the department that is not being followed. Current committee members said they did not know about this replacement plan prior to the meeting.

“I spent a year putting together a program,” he said.

Both the plow truck and compact loader spending requests failed to receive the necessary two-thirds majority to pass, with the plow truck article receiving 89 votes in favor and 50 opposed. The compact loader article received 72 votes in favor and 70 opposed.

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The boom lift and wood chipper spending requests narrowly passed, but not without continuing the heated discussion. Highway Superintendent Ron Sweet previously explained that he currently rents a chipper and boom lift, and he said buying the equipment will save the town money over the years and will expedite responses to weather events. Selectboard members noted that the equipment purchase will help the town abide by the Massachusetts Shade Tree Law. The two equipment requests previously failed at a winter Special Town Meeting.

Sweet defended the proposed purchases, saying that much of his time is spent repairing equipment and a lot of thought was put into the capital requests that he brought before Town Meeting voters.

“It is frustrating for people to think that the Highway Department doesn’t do anything,” Sweet said.

The Highway Department also brought forward a budget increase of $82,000 for fiscal year 2024, with Selectboard members explaining this increase is mainly due to rising fuel and material costs. The full budget of $6.86 million — which is 4.21% higher than the current year’s figures — passed, including the Highway Department line item.

Among other articles, residents approved rescinding a vote made last year that appropriated $330,000 for bridge repairs. Because the state has paid for a temporary replacement for the bridge on North Poland Road, it saved the town money. Residents followed the vote with a standing ovation.

State Rep. Natalie Blais, D-Deerfield, also showed up at the meeting to present a legislative commendation to Police Chief Ken Ouimette, thanking him for his more than 30 years of service. Ouimette is set to retire later this month.

Reach Bella Levavi at 413-930-4579 or blevavi@recorder.com.

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