Montague Special Town Meeting voters approve all articles

  • Special Town Meeting voters approved a replacement of the Unity Park field house’s roof for $100,000, but also considered an amendment to buy a more expensive metal roof instead. STAFF PHOTO/MAX MARCUS

Staff Writer
Published: 10/4/2019 6:53:33 PM
Modified: 10/4/2019 6:53:20 PM

MONTAGUE — Special Town Meeting voters passed all 17 articles on the warrant, which included salary adjustments to reflect union negotiations, tax agreements with industrial taxpayers and several capital expenses.

The only debate of the Wednesday meeting was over the replacement of the Unity Park field house’s roof, for which voters were asked to allow $100,000. Another $25,000 for the project was earmarked in the state budget by state Rep. Natalie Blais, D-Sunderland, according to Town Administrator Steve Ellis.

The present roof was built in 2008, but its shingles are falling off. Ellis said town officials found out after it was built that the shingles were from a faulty batch, which is why they fell apart so quickly.

“It’s not your typical or expected roof experience,” he said.

The plan is to replace the roof with the same shingled design, which has a life expectancy of about 20 to 30 years when the shingles are normal. But the Capital Improvements Committee and Finance Committee had also considered buying a metal roof, which would last twice as long but cost about $75,000 more.

At Wednesday’s meeting, an amendment to buy the metal roof instead of the shingled one, for $175,000 instead of $100,000, was proposed by Ariel Elan of Montague Center. Voters ultimately rejected the amendment, and accepted the article as it was originally written, but not without some debate.

Elan argued that the metal roof was more economical because it would last twice as long and cost less than twice as much. The argument against the proposal was that the town also has other capital projects that should be addressed sooner than later.

“If we had unlimited funds, I’d vote for putting a metal roof on. We just don’t,” said Selectboard Chair Rich Kuklewicz. Similar points were made by Ellis and Finance Committee members.

There were also concerns that changing the plans would require new engineering work, which could push the project past the end of the present fiscal year and thus disqualify it for the state funding that Blais had written into this year’s state budget.

“I can see this amendment is not popular,” said Elan, who had proposed it.

The amendment was rejected and the original article was passed — a shingled roof for $100,000.

FirstLight

There was a bit of discussion over an article involving the town’s dealings with the FirstLight Hydro Generating Co., but no arguments against accepting the article.

A tax dispute between the town and FirstLight was recently settled out of court. The deal was that FirstLight would accept its tax bills from 2014 through 2016, which it had previously disputed; and the town would retroactively reduce the assessed taxable value of the company’s Montague properties from 2017 onward, effective until the next legally required revaluation in 2022.

The deal was contingent on voters approving the retroactive revaluation, which they did. Originally, the properties were valued at about $135 million; the assessed value now until 2022 is about $125 million.

“It’s a compromise. There’s no question about that,” Ellis said. “But the benefits to the community are substantial.”

Notably, the deal allows the town to use the money it had been holding in case of a court-ordered payout to FirstLight. The newly available sum will probably be around $900,000 or $950,000, said Montague Director of Assessing Karen Tonelli.

Although FirstLight has challenged tax bills from Montague before, Ellis emphasized that town officials could not have assumed that they would win in a legal dispute.

“We had no guarantee of victory, folks,” Ellis said. “This was one of the things that kept me up at night over the last two years.”

Kuklewicz said that the town’s relationship with FirstLight has improved since the dispute was settled.

“This is, I’m hoping, the beginning of a positive relationship,” Kuklewicz said.

Other articles

■Appropriating $24,262 to fund a collective bargaining agreement with the New England Police Benevolent Association (the police union);

■allotting $39,927 for a collective bargaining agreement with the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America;

■appropriating $28,900 for a collective bargaining agreement with the National Association of Government Employees;

■changing the town clerk’s annual salary to $73,905 and the treasurer/tax collector’s to $64,985, thus amending an article from the May Annual Town Meeting;

■allotting $21,559 for wage adjustments for elected officials;

■appropriating $12,500 for Montague Community Television to buy equipment;

■allotting $1,821 for outstanding bills of the tree warden, Department of Public Works, building inspector and police;

■appropriating $158,002 for outstanding bills of the Water Pollution Control Facility;

■spending $100,000 for maintenance on sewer lines in Millers Falls;

■using $268,670 to buy a new or used streetsweeper;

■using $15,000 to repair Town Hall’s front door awning;

■approving an agreement for payment in lieu of taxes with SolarGrid;

■approving an agreement for payment in lieu of taxes with Kearsarge;

■and accepting an easement allowing the in-construction Public Works building to share a driveway with the neighboring Public Safety Complex.

Reach Max Marcus at mmarcus@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 261.




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