Heath voters approve all articles in back-to-back Special Town Meetings

  • Heath held back-to-back Special Town Meetings on Saturday outside the former elementary school. Staff photo/MARY BYRNE

  • Heath held back-to-back Special Town Meetings on Saturday outside the former elementary school. Staff photo/MARY BYRNE

Staff Writer
Published: 7/12/2020 11:03:26 AM

HEATH — A vote taken at a Special Town Meeting on Saturday morning at the former elementary school will allow the town to continue with the development of its community broadband network.

Article 14 on the warrant sought voter approval to establish a broadband drop subsidy account — which would subsidize the cost to residents of the fiber-optic drop construction to their homes, one of the final stages in the broadband buildout — and to transfer $200,000 into that account.

The article ultimately passed by a two-thirds vote, but not before a lengthy discussion, during which time some residents expressed concern with the amount of money being transferred.

Though Finance Committee member Ned Wolf voiced his support of the article, Alice Wozniak, who also serves on the committee, expressed concern with tying up money that could be needed in an emergency down the road.

She commented on the town’s financial situation.

“If we are doing such a stellar job, the tax rate wouldn’t be what it is today,” she said, adding that broadband is “Tier 2,” in terms of necessities.

Some residents brought up the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the implications of tying up money that may be needed in the short-term for unforeseen expenses. One resident said that while she is in favor of broadband, she is also concerned by two Finance Committee members having different opinions on the matter.

There were, however, a number of comments made in support of the article.

Doug Wilkins said the town has never really had emergencies or unplanned projects to the tune of $200,000.

“The money is sitting unmoved. … This is a good use for it,” he said.

He also noted that the town would incur a “fair amount of interest” if the money was, instead, borrowed.

“This is not money that is leaving the town,” Wilkins said. “It’s being used to get this project going.”

Nina Marshall told residents “we are on a deadline” in terms of construction that is lined up to begin.

“I also want to bring up our children, who have a big concern if they don’t have broadband,” she said, addressing the possibility of remote learning in the fall.

Although the vote was not unanimous, it did meet the two-thirds margin.

In other business, residents unanimously approved passing over Articles 1 through 9, as recommended by the Selectboard. These involved transfers from one account to another, with the largest being $17,067 to pay tuition for a Heath student attending Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School.

“At this point, these expenses are going to be covered with separate end-of-the-year transfers with balances leftover in FY20 accounts,” explained Selectboard member Gloria Cronin Fisher.

Article 10, which sought to establish a new school building use revolving fund, passed as amended after a discussion on whether the School Building Use Committee should be included in the column that lists parties authorized to spend the money.

Bill Gran motioned to amend the article to remove the School Building Use Committee from that column, arguing the $30,000 the committee would be authorized to spend (which was approved in Article 11) is a “ridiculously high number” for the committee to be responsible for.

“That just seems like a real stretch to me that that authority would be given to the School Building Use Committee,” Gran said.

Pam Porter, a member of the School Building Use Committee, said it is important to know the committee has the money available.

And finally, Article 12 asked voters whether Heath should become a member of the Pioneer Valley Mosquito Control District, which would allow more frequent testing in Heath and provide the town access to professionals.

Before the vote was taken, Selectboard member Brian DeVriese informed residents that two mosquitoes in Wendell and Orange have already tested positive for Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE) this year.

“It’s something we should be concerned about,” he said.

Another Special Town Meeting was held immediately prior to the 9 a.m. meeting on Saturday. During that meeting, voters swiftly approved the only article on the warrant, which authorized renewing the lease on the Old Town House and allowing a preservation restriction to remain on the building.

According to the warrant article explanation, the preservation restriction will allow the Heath Historical Society to accept an $8,000 grant from the Massachusetts Historical Commission to aid in the expense of rebuilding the building’s windows.

Mary Byrne can be reached at mbyrne@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 263. Twitter: @MaryEByrne


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