Montague Town Meeting voters reject funding for Unity Park security cameras

  • From left, Town Clerk Deb Bourbeau, Interim Town Moderator Mike Nelson and Town Counsel Gregg Corbo at Town Hall during Thursday’s virtual Special Town Meeting. STAFF PHOTO/JULIAN MENDOZA

Staff Writer
Published: 3/4/2022 4:02:15 PM
Modified: 3/4/2022 4:01:46 PM

MONTAGUE — Debate regarding the ethics and practicality of installing more security cameras at Unity Park was a matter of high contention among those in attendance at Special Town Meeting Thursday evening.

Article 7, which asked the town to appropriate $4,500 to buy and install additional security cameras and update the park’s surveillance system, was the only one of the 14 warrant items that was rejected by voters. Concerns surrounding the prospect of installing cameras included those related to privacy, effectiveness fighting crime, uncertainty of precise installation locations and the use of punitive measures to combat what Parks and Recreation Director Jon Dobosz framed as a serious vandalism problem.

“Just in general, the behavior of some of our patrons seems to be taking a turn for the worse, which is kind of understandable I guess,” Dobosz said to preface discussion.

The Selectboard had voted 2-1 in favor of recommending the warrant item, while the Finance Committee was split 3-1-3. Selectboard Clerk Matt Lord, who was the sole “no” vote from the Selectboard, cited two reasons for his disapproval, the first relating to issues of privacy.

“I’m generally opposed to surveillance, general surveillance of the population,” he said.

Lord also scrutinized the plan to put cameras in spots where they would function “without being able to hit the targets necessary.” He highlighted how one of the backboards on the basketball court had been the target of some of the park’s most notable vandalism and that the cameras — which would be directed toward the playground, baseball field, skate park and parking lot — would not capture the area of concern.

Later, when looking to specify more precise locations for the cameras’ installations, Dobosz was cut off by Town Counsel Gregg Corbo, who advised that revealing exact locations would compromise the very security the article looked to ensure.

“The answers to those questions defeat the purpose of having those cameras in the first place,” Corbo said.

Residents overwhelmingly voiced disapproval, with many collectively downplaying the severity of the vandalism issue. When asked to provide statistics as to how many times police have responded to such issues, Dobosz said he didn’t have the information.

“This is a pretty reactive measure,” Town Meeting member Ian Tapscott said. “Surveillance has substantial potential consequences. … It just seems like a bad idea.”

“I think it limits spontaneous and natural human behavior,” said Town Meeting member Peter Hudyma. “I’m not afraid of my neighbor. I don’t think we live in a dangerous town.”

Residents denounced the criminalization of youths who have supposedly vandalized the park, instead suggesting that the town invest in more positive solutions that target somebody’s urge to self-express, such as the installation of a designated graffiti wall.

“They need an outlet, so let’s give them an outlet,” Tapscott suggested.

Article 7 was rejected, with 44 out of 71 members, or 62%, voting “no.” The other 13 articles were overwhelmingly supported, with the percentage of “yes” votes never falling below 88%.

Articles 2 and 3, which involved cemetery repairs, were overwhelmingly approved. Articles 4 and 6 involved maintenance equipment purchases of a Vactor truck and riding mower, respectively.

Article 5 accommodated “significant unexpected costs of over $20,000” to prepare the Turners Falls Municipal Airport’s 325 Millers Falls Road property for rental after “the bare minimum was done to keep the property in shape” by previous airport managers, according to manager Bryan Camden. He said the property is “a good source of long-term revenue for the airport.”

Articles 8 and 9 pertained to Montague Public Libraries, with the former accounting for former Library Director Linda Hickman’s buyout and the latter regarding engineering for driveway re-grading at Carnegie Public Library.

Article 12 was a “vote to appropriate the sum of $315,000 for the purpose of abating, replacing and/or covering existing tile flooring in the Hillcrest Elementary School.” The project entailed the replacement of a floor that had been crumbling over the years. Gill-Montague Regional School District Director of Business and Operations Joanne Blier said the district has “already gotten the paperwork to get this out to bid.” The project is slated for completion this summer.

Article 13, to appropriate $66,481 for improvements to reduce flooding and related issues on and along Montague City Road, supports the Montague City Road Flooding Relief Project that “is engineered to accommodate a 100-year flood event through restoration of the floodplain and wetlands surrounding the channel with a backstop of additional catch basins at the road shoulder to accommodate extreme rain events.”

Lastly, Article 10 appropriated $25,100 for new assessing software; Article 11 set aside $25,000 from free cash to pay the tuition and transportation costs for a Montague resident attending Smith Vocational School; and Article 14 adds “battery energy storage facilities” to the list of uses allowed by special permit in the Industrial District and Historic Industrial District.

Reach Julian Mendoza at 413-772-0261, ext. 261 or jmendoza@recorder.com.


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