Town meeting members spar over Lincoln Avenue reconstruction funding

By Matthew Robare

 

The biggest clash at the Saugus Special Town Meeting Monday night came over Article 12, an authorization for the town to borrow money to pay for the Lincoln Avenue Reconstruction Project from Cliftondale Square to the Revere city line.

While everyone was agreed that the project was needed—Town Manager Scott Crabtree made a presentation detailing the deteriorated state of the road—the disagreements stemmed from how to pay for it. Crabtree’s proposal was to borrow the money and issue bonds over a 15 year period, while the finance committee recommended referring the Article back to the board of selectmen, because of the increase in the town’s debt that would result. Finance Committee Vice Chairman Ken DePatto said that a project like this should be done using debt exclusion.

Board of Selectmen Chairman Michael Serino disagreed that the debt would be problem, pointing out that Saugus’ debt is only $4 million out of a $70 million budget.

Crabtree also rejected debt exclusion: “We haven’t spent a lot of capital investing in Saugus,” he said. “Most communities do this sort of project through debt exclusion, but we’re not ready for that discussion.” Crabtree also noted that the debt would be better for property owners.

However, Rep. Donald Wong was very heated regarding the project, because he could have obtained state funds to pay for a large chunk of it, if not all of it. “I saw we had more money than expected. I gave a call to the town and asked what roads needed to be paved,” Wong said. “I was told that ‘We do not need it because we have a ten year plan.’ To this day I have not gotten a priority list from the town.”

At this point Moderator Bob Long interrupted to ask for calm and refocused the meeting. An amendment to make an upper limit to the authorization of $1.2 million was offered and passed— which Crabtree said was a “conservative estimate.” The Article passed, 35–6.

Article 2, a request for additional liquor licenses, also met with contention. As written on the warrant, the licenses were to be limited to the Route 1 corridor and restaurants with at least 200 people. Attorney Nelson Chang, representing the Pushcart Restaurant, said that the restrictions were unfair. “There is a need in this town both on and off Route 1,” he said.

Town Meeting Member Peter Rossetti offered an amendment to remove those restrictions. Town Meeting Member Janet Leuci repeated her concerns about nightclubs, which she had made to the board of selectmen during their discussions. “Liquor licenses are not the way to help this town,” Leuci opined.  Instead she made a motion that the Article be referred to the Economic Development Committee. Rosetti’s amendment passed, 25 to 15; Leuci’s referral failed, 16 to 25; and the Article itself passed, 27 to 14.

Article 9, which would provide for the overtime and salaries of two new firefighters and allow the Essex Street Station to stay open until about January 1, incurred some confusion over the budget. An amendment was proposed to segregate the money into salary and overtime accounts. There was some confusion over what that meant. Town Counsel John Vasapoli said that the Department of Revenue doesn’t recognize segregated accounts and appropriations are either for salary or expenses.

“There were no segregated accounts in their FY13 budget,” Town Treasurer Wendy Hatch said.

“I’m not sure we want to tie the hands of the fire chief,” Town Meeting Member Peter Manoogian said. “I am not willing, as a town meeting member, to make a value judgment to tell them how to do that.”

“That station being open helped us save a house,” said Bill Cross, president of the Saugus firefighters’ union. “If Essex Street had closed we would have only shown up with a ladder truck. Put yourself, your family, in that situation. This is a great thing, what you’re voting tonight, but it doesn’t go far enough.”

The amendment failed, 18 to 20, with one abstention and the article passed unanimously, save for the abstention. Fire Chief Don McQuaid said he’d like to see the trend of hiring more firefighters continue.

The folllowing articles passed unanimously: Article 3, to appropriate for the salary of the finance committee’s clerk; Article 4, to establish and fund a community economic development coordinator job; Article 5, to appropriate some money to fund landfill post-closure costs; Article 6, to pay for the various audits that have been conducted over the past nine months or so; Article 7, to hire additional police officers; Article 8, to fund a reverse 9-1-1 system; Article 10, to fund veterans’ services salaries; and Article 13, to close out the sewer enterprise infiltration and inflow account.

Article 11 also passed unanimously. It was to pay unpaid bills from the previous fiscal year, but required a 9/10 vote to pass. Article 18, an appropriation to fund transportation for homeless students to Saugus public schools (under the McKinney Vento Act), was indefinitely postponed because it was determined that a separate account was unnecessary for it.

Article 14, Manoogian’s proposal to adopt the Hallin Principle—“May our actions within this town hall lead to greater wisdom and justice rather than sorrow and regret”—passed. That principle was named by Manoogian after Isabelle Louise Hallin, a popular teacher at Saugus High School in the middle of the 1930s. She was fired without any investigation or chance to make her case after she was accused of serving alcohol to her students. She became something of a celebrity—Manoogian had a slide show with a front page of The New York Times showing Hallin getting as much attention as the disappearance of Amelia Earhart!

“No other story got the town of Saugus in so many other newspapers,” Manoogian said.

Articles 15, 16 and 17 were proposed by the police department and all of them passed. Article 15 amended the town’s bylaws to make the hours of operation for parks and playgrounds be sunrise-to-sunset instead of 8:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. The bylaw was also amended to include the new bike path. Article 16 extended the open container bylaw to the bike path, and Article 17 extended the bylaw prohibiting motor vehicles driving in parks to the bike path.

At the beginning of the session, after the Pledge of Allegiance, Long asked for a moment of silence for Russell Cutter, who died November 4 at the age of 67.

“The one thing most of us can attest to with Russell is that [he] had a buoyant personality,” Long said. “His passing is going to leave a void for a lot of us.”

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