Shutesbury to hold open-air Town Meeting on June 27

Staff Writer
Published: 6/24/2020 5:34:14 PM

SHUTESBURY — Voters will gather outdoors, and at a new location, when Annual Town Meeting convenes on Saturday.

A 32-article warrant, which includes a proposed $6.6 million operating budget and three zoning changes, will be discussed beginning at 9 a.m. in the large field behind Town Hall, rather than in the Shutesbury Elementary School gymnasium.

Having the open-air session is necessary to maintain safety and social distancing during the pandemic, according to town officials.

Selectboard Vice Chair Elaine Puleo said there has been extensive preparation to hold Town Meeting in the fresh air, including renting a large tent that will provide some shade and covering.

People are encouraged to bring their own chairs, and everyone will be asked to keep face masks on at all times. Only water bottles, not food, can be brought to the session. Any children must remain with parents and will not have a play space. Hand sanitizer, wipes and some masks will be available, along with a cooling area set up at Town Hall.

Two portable toilets will be in place, along with bathrooms inside Town Hall.

Because members of the town Board of Health will escort people into Town Meeting, which will be set up from front to back, it could take some time to get organized.

“We’re really encouraging people to come earlier because it will take more time to usher people to their seats,” said Town Administrator Becky Torres.

“Be flexible and understand we’re trying to provide as normal a situation as we can,” Puleo said.

Handicapped parking will be available only at Town Hall, with all other vehicles to be parked on the town common. Prescott Road at Route 202 will be posted for no through traffic due to the anticipated congestion that day in the town center.

With the tent rented through July 1, Town Meeting can be pushed back if there is an electrical storm or other inclement weather.

The proposed town budget for fiscal year 2021 is only about $8,500 higher than the current fiscal year’s $6.58 million spending plan. Torres said the town is trying to maintain services, even with a projected 30 percent loss of state aid, by using $220,000 in free cash to backfill accounts.

Additional spending is being proposed for several capital items, including $25,000 for new flooring in various town and school buildings, $7,200 to replace two sliding glass doors at the elementary school’s conference room, $2,700 for two overhead door operators at the Fire Station, and $2,200 for a radar gun and breathalyzer for the Police Department.

Community Preservation Act money totaling $13,800 would pay the town’s share of a schematic design and engineering study for improvements to the track and field at Amherst-Pelham Regional High School.

Additionally, three zoning changes are being proposed by the Planning Board, with a hearing having been held Monday.

The first adjusts the existing ground-mounted solar bylaw and makes conditions stricter for developers by offering expanded protection for historic resources and buildings.

A revised sign bylaw will clarify how signs are regulated on town property and would require signs on private property to be 5 feet back from the right of way.

The final proposed zoning change is to language in the open space design bylaw adopted in 2008.

The warrant also includes a citizen’s petition to take $750,000 from free cash, the stabilization account or capital funds to pay down the $1.69 million in borrowing that funded the town’s broadband network. The idea is to reduce both property tax bills and monthly bills for the broadband service.

Because of the broadband availability, Torres said the town is not sending the warrant and budget by mail to most households this year.

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