South Hadley Town Meeting approves budget, debates landfill
South Hadley — Town Meeting members approved a budget of $41,871,969 for fiscal 2014 and debated the future of the South Hadley landfill Saturday in what the town moderator said was the smoothest town meeting of his career.
“I have been attending this meeting since 1968, and for the last 15 years as town moderator,” Ed Ryan said, “and this is the first time we’ve gone through all the appropriation articles without a negative vote.”
Town Meeting members attribute the speed of the meeting to the cooperation and efficiency of town officials, including school Superintendent Nicholas Young and South Hadley’s new town administrator, Michael Sullivan.
“I think it’s because the primary three boards — school, select and appropriations — have worked together very cooperatively to come up with a budget we can afford,” Select Board Chairman John Hine said. “I think that with Young and Sullivan on board we have two outstanding administrators. We’re seeing what an effect that can have.”
The budget is up approximately $1.4 million, or 3.5 percent, from the current budget of $40,450,312 for 2013. It includes $19,850,438 for the schools, an increase of 1 percent from last year’s budget. Young said that this is the lowest budget increase in many years.
Young cut 9.3 positions at the schools this year, including 3.5 teachers’ positions. Selectman Ira Brezinsky noted that the cuts are proportional with declining student enrollment in the school system.
Education spending accounts for 44.4 percent of the total budget for 2014.
The town also approved a budget of $2,560,820 for the police department and $1,829,008 for personal services and expenses of the general government.
Sullivan said the town government is looking for ways to cuts costs in the coming years. This may include reducing the number of employees in town government.
“Going forward, every municipality across the country is going to have to do more with less,” Sullivan said. “It’s not going to happen tomorrow, or even this year. But we need to have an attrition vote to have fewer employees in government.”
The one contentious point of the meeting was the continued debate about the future of the South Hadley landfill, which is scheduled to close March 15, 2014.
A group of petitioners lobbied for the land used by the landfill to be reclassified as part of the Bynan Conservation Area under the control of the Conservation Commission. The petitioners argued that expanding the landfill would be detrimental to the environment and to the health of town residents. Classifying the landfill as conservation land would prevent the landfill from reopening at that location.
Town officials expressed concern, however, that if the land were put under the control of the Conservation Commission, it would close the door to any future options they might have for the landfill.
“Once the landfill is converted to conservation land, it would be very difficult to recover,” Hine said. “While there are no immediate plans to expand the landfill, it seems best to keep our options open.”
Others argued that they wanted more time to work out the details of the petition.
“The concern I have is the way the article’s written,” said DPW Superintendent Jim Reidy. “I’m worried that under this article, the town’s compost area will be turned into conservation land.”
The compost area is in the same area as the landfill and is expected to remain open after the landfill closes.
The article was put to a vote, and the majority voted not to classify the landfill as conservation land at this time. The landfill will remain under the control of the town, specifically the Select Board and DPW, for the foreseeable future.
“I’m not going to say never do this,” Select Board member Marilyn Ishler said. “I’m saying don’t do it now. Let’s look at all the possibilities before we make a hasty decision.”
Officials expect that the issue will be brought up again, possibly at the special Town Meeting in June.
Youth in government
South Hadley youth will now have a greater voice in town government, as the town voted this year to allow five South Hadley residents under the age of 18 to act as “youth liaisons” and represent their town at Town Meeting. These youth liaisons will be nominated by the South Hadley Youth Commission and will seek to represent the five precincts of South Hadley.
The motion was presented by South Hadley high school students Beth Hennessey, Michelle Stefanowicz and Sophia Kebbede.
Hennessey says she and a friend came up with the idea after attending a town meeting in the fall.
“We realized we were the only young people there,” Hennessey said. “We wanted to have the chance to voice our concerns, and have more of a voice in town government.”
Hennessey said one of the issues affecting youth in South Hadley is the state of the town’s athletic fields, something Hennessey thinks older Town Meeting members may not be aware of.
The students were welcomed by the meeting members.
“There is an underrepresentation in town government of people in their 20s, 30s, and 40s,” said member Raymond E. Rondeau. “It’s good to see younger people getting involved.”