Hatfield TM unable to vote on budget, board expansion

  • Hatfield Town Hall, 2019

Staff Writer
Published: 5/15/2019 12:07:36 AM

HATFIELD — Municipal and school budgets in Hatfield will not be ready for voters’ consideration until next month, after town officials at annual Town Meeting Tuesday argued against taking up most spending articles.

Along with passing over 13 money-related items, including the $10.5 million spending plan for the town and schools, residents were also informed they wouldn’t be able to vote on an article calling for the Select Board to be increased from three to five members.

Finance Committee Chairman Darryl Williams told voters that the budget, a series of capital items and free cash transfers couldn’t be acted on because $404,000 in free cash had not yet been certified by the state’s Department of Revenue.

“We are confident in our numbers. The state hasn’t told us anything wrong,” Williams said.

But even though town officials said they waited as long as possible Tuesday to get word from the state on the certification, they took what they described as the only action they could. “We feel it’s the prudent thing to do,” Williams said.

That means a special Town Meeting, likely in mid to late June, will be called to take votes on the budget for fiscal year 2020, which begins July 1.

Meantime, an article seeking to increase the Select Board from three to five members was dismissed.

The only explanation voters got came from Moderator Joseph Lavallee. “We’re taking no action at this time. This is with legal advice,” Lavallee said.

Alan Seewald, acting as the interim town attorney, informed town officials prior to the meeting that the text of the article didn’t comply with state law on how to make such a change in government structure.

After the meeting, Seewald said Hatfield has two options for expanding the board. One would be to form a Charter Commission that would study town government and bring a proposal forward, and the second would be to make an appeal to the Legislature to approve such a change.

The Town Government Committee, appointed after last year’s annual Town Meeting agreed to look into enlarging the board, reported on the pros and cons of having five elected members.

Committee Chairman E. Lary Grossman said he had hoped that the wording of the article could be changed to be nonbinding, so that residents could give an indication about how they feel, but this was not allowed.

Whether the article will come back in some form is unknown, as the committee expires June 1. Grossman said it may be up to the Select Board to determine how to proceed.

Among the business that voters were able to conduct, Town Meeting unanimously approved an accessory apartments bylaw developed by the Planning Board in response to a housing production plan.

“It’s an opportunity to diversify the housing options in town,” said Planning Board Chairman Robert Wagner.

The accessory, or “in-law” apartments, would give homeowners the opportunity to add these apartments within or attached to an existing home. Wagner said occupants could be a caretaker for an elderly resident, a “bounce-back” child or a renter.

A revised open space development bylaw that would have put new controls in place for subdivisions was tabled. Wagner said the content of the bylaw is being revisited, with input from zoning experts.

Town Meeting also approved a revised expedited permitting program on so-called priority development sites. Select Board member Brian Moriarty said the town became aware of defects in the existing expedited permitting program when Hatfield failed to land a $1.5 million state grant to extend sewer lines on Route 5.

The only spending came through the Community Preservation Act account, with $60,000 transferred to build a pavilion in Smith Academy Park and $16,000 used to improve the roadway and pathways in Main Street Cemetery on Billings Way. Town Meeting also agreed to seek a $96,438 Parkland Acquisitions and Renovations for Communities state grant to pay for the pavilion. The plan is to break ground on it by summer 2020 and have it complete by that fall.

Town Meeting is allowing the Select Board to enter into an agreement with Solect Energy Development LLC for a solar project at Smith Academy. Those solar arrays, over 20 years, will save the town about $500,000, Moriarty said. In addition, residents authorized the Select Board to enter a new 10-year deal for municipal recycling services and created a town​​​​​​ Commission on Disability.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.


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