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Belchertown Town Meeting approves money for skate park, teen program

Some voters questioned an article seeking $45,000 to design and construct a new skate park to replace the town’s decade-old one. Paul Silva, a member of the town’s Finance Committee, said that while he is not opposed to the idea, he does think that the amount allocated for it should be lowered.

A number of voters took to the floor to argue in favor of building the new park and to defend the expense, noting its importance among the town’s youth and saying that repairs are long overdue.

“I have a new nephew, and I’m teaching him to ride,” said James Slate, a 21-year-old resident and skateboarding enthusiast. “I want to have a nice, safe place when he can ride the ramps.”

“If the kids don’t have a place to go, we know what happens,” said Dave Ferrington, another resident. “I’m in my 50s, and I still skate and rollerblade and bike, and I love that park, too. $45,000 is a drop in the bucket for a town like this.”

Another resident, Beth Allen, noted that repairing the park presents an opportunity to have a place for kids to ride that’s off the streets and has safe equipment.

Voters also authorized the town to create a “Tween and Up” program, which will allow youth activities to continue after the town’s Teen Center closes in June. In the next article, they also approved the creation of a revolving fund to transfer the remaining balance of the Teen Center to the new program.

A citizen’s petition to repeal the town’s Recreation Commission and re-establish the Parks and Recreation Committee passed by a majority vote.

An annual town budget of $46,511,402, which included $1,676,968 for general government, $3,458,239 for public safety, $27,046,958 for public schools, $1,570,337 for highways and $1,884,863 for sanitation and environment was also approved by voters.

Voters unanimously approved an agreement for a payment in lieu of taxes for the construction of a 1.532-megawatt solar energy facility at Ware Road.

According to Town Administrator Gary L. Brougham, the article authorizes the Select Board to sign an agreement with the facility’s developer, NexAmp, that would mandate payments of $20,500 annually, rising 2 percent each year to adjust for inflation, instead of direct taxation.

Most of those articles were related to the Community Preservation Committee, and included the approval of a money transfer to build Jessica’s Boundless Playground under direction of the School Committee.

Some voters expressed concern that one of the articles, which dealt with the hiring of a consultant to take inventory of buildings in the town that are of historical significance, would prevent some residents from doing what they want with their property.

Members of the Select Board, the Historic District Commission and the Community Preservation Committee addressed the concerns, saying that the article would not have that effect, and that its scope was only to gather information.

“All we’re talking about here is learning something, so that we can spend our money more wisely in the future,” said Select Board member Kenneth Elstein.

Voters also passed an article that will see Belchertown enter into an agreement with Granby to allow for the discharge of wastewater from Granby to the Belchertown Wastewater Treatment Facility.

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