Wendell voters to consider tight budget at Town Meeting

Staff Writer
Published: 6/10/2021 3:48:06 PM

WENDELL — The Finance Committee is recommending allotments lower than requested in 29 budget line items heading into Saturday’s Annual Town Meeting.

Town Coordinator Nancy Aldrich said “it’s a tight year in Wendell” because “costs continue to go up” and there is only so much cash that can be generated due to Proposition 2½, which limits the amount of money a municipality can raise through property taxes and how much that amount can be increased every year.

Annual Town Meeting is slated to begin at 10 a.m. on the common outside Town Hall. The meeting warrant — which contains 35 articles in all — as well as copies of the budget and the Finance Committee’s recommendations can be found at bit.ly/3v9QA7B.

The Finance Committee recommends a roughly $3.53 million budget for fiscal year 2022, which would be $23,082 less than the current fiscal year’s budget. That is a 0.65 percent decrease.

The committee has recommended $26,103 lower than the amounts requested in line items ranging from assessor expenses to town properties upkeep. For six line items, the committee recommends more than the amount requested. These line items are Selectboard salaries ($2,400 more than requested), town clerk salary ($1,200 more than requested), assistant town clerk salary ($300 more than requested), dog officer salary ($80 more than requested), animal inspector salary ($50 more than requested), and animal inspector expenses ($233 more than requested).

One article pertains to allocating $12,000 for extra police patrols. Last year, Wendell entered into an inter-municipal agreement with Leverett for that town to provide its policing services. Leverett Police Chief Scott Minckler said his department bills Wendell for one additional shift per week. He explained the $12,000 would be used “kind of as a fail-safe” in case Wendell wants extra patrols.

Another article asks voters to approve transferring $60,000 from the stabilization fund to reduce the tax rate. Six articles pertain to funding annual payments on loans Wendell took out to finance purchases, pay for the town’s broadband project and pay for improvements at Ralph C. Mahar Regional School.

Municipal Light Board

Outside of budget-related items, there are two articles on the warrant regarding the Municipal Light Board (MLB), which oversees the Municipal Light Plant, the fiber-optic broadband network the town built.

One article asks if residents want to have the three members be elected, while the other is about abolishing the elected board. Aldrich explained voters last year opted to establish an appointed board. She said voters this year will take no action on the second related article if the first is rejected.

These articles are on the warrant at the behest of Robert Heller. In September 2020, he penned his advocacy for an elected board. In it, he wrote that the board makes policy decisions relating to the operation of the fiber-optic network and he argued that voters, who own the network, should select the board’s members.

“The election process gives the voters a chance to get to know the people who will be representing them when making decisions about this infrastructure, which is in fact owned by the voters,” he wrote.

Heller wrote that an appointed board carries with it a few pitfalls. These include the board being subject to Selectboard politics as well as the issue of “divided loyalties, where it becomes possible that the board will make decisions that please the Selectboard because the (MLB) is beholden to the Selectboard” for re-appointment to their positions.

“The seats on the board could become political ‘prizes’ handed out by the Selectboard,” Heller wrote.

Reach Domenic Poli at: dpoli@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 262.




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