Leverett tackles climate change, town business and Trump at annual Town Meeting

  • Climate protesters gather outside Leverett Elementary School at lunchtime during the annual Leverett Town Meeting Saturday, April 29, 2017. Stephanie Murray

  • Residents fill Leverett Elementary School for the annual Town Meeting Saturday, April 29, 2017. Stephanie Murray

  • Amherst lawyer John Bonifaz encourages Leverett Town Meeting to approve a resolution demanding Congress open an investigation into the impeachment of President Donald Trump.  Stephanie Murray

Published: 4/29/2017 7:59:36 PM

LEVERETT — From regional school funding to an investigation into the feasibility of impeaching President Donald Trump to a climate protest at lunchtime, Leverett residents had their hands full at the annual Town Meeting on Saturday.

Some 120 people flocked to Leverett Elementary School for the 9 a.m. meeting, which lasted until 2 p.m. Town Meeting tackled 35 articles, from routine transfers of funding to a petition that said the town should commit to achieving 100 percent renewable energy as soon as possible.

Town Moderator Larry Farber led the meeting, in which all 35 articles on the warrant were approved. The meeting was largely driven by conversations around clean energy and income inequality as well as town business like capital spending and school funding.

Town Meeting quickly got to crunching the numbers for the 2018 fiscal year. The town unanimously approved the $5.97 million budget, up 1.7 percent from the current year’s budget of 5.87 million.

Additionally, the town approved a motion to modify the regional school agreement. The funding formula for fiscal year 2018 will be based 10 percent on the town’s ability to pay the regional assessment. The other 90 percent will be determined by the per-pupil method, or the number of Leverett students attending the regional schools. 

“This is a pretty decent compromise, it is better than some we’ve seen in the past,” said Finance Committee Chairman Tom Powers. “This is very reasonable for Leverett and it doesn’t damage any of the other towns.”

Amherst Regional Schools Interim Superintendent Michael Morris attended the meeting and added the modified funding method will “get us through another year.” The Gazette previously reported Leverett’s assessment will drop by 2 percent by $29,745 to $1.49 million due to the formula. Town spending on elementary schools will increase by nearly 3 percent to $2.4 million in fiscal year 2018.

Trump, climate change and Medicare

The town approved three citizen petitions on Saturday, including a resolution to support Congress in an investigation into the impeachment of Trump. Amherst Lawyer John Bonifaz said Trump’s investments, both foreign and domestic, create what he says are troubling conflicts of interest. 

Several communities across the country have adopted or moved to adopt similar resolutions, Bonifaz added, noting Los Angeles and Cambridge. 

“This president needs to be held accountable via impeachment,” Bonfiaz said. “From Leverett to LA I hope this town will also vote in support of this resolution”

After an unsuccessful motion to postpone discussion around the Trump resolution indefinitely, a resident motioned to check the quorum, or how many members of the town were present. A resolution of this sort requires a two-thirds vote to pass. 

The crowd shrank by the time the citizen petitions were reached on the budget around 1 p.m. The crowd hummed as several residents counted those in attendance.

Some 80 people were counted -- enough to meet the required 75-member quorum. The resolution was passed, though not unanimously, and followed with applause.

Town Meeting passed a resolution to support single-payer healthcare, another resolution that encourages the town to achieve 100 percent renewable energy. Supporters argued the resolution would set the tone for future town decisions and send a message to state legislators. 

Nevin Murray, of Long Hill Road, said the resolution was important for future generations of Leverett residents. 

“I have to come forward and be at the forefront of pushing ideas and spreading knowledge and this is one of the ways we can do it,” Murray said. “We all have the responsibility to commit to a sustainable future.” The resolution was unanimously approved. 

Climate change and clean energy were a hot topic throughout the meeting. Police Chief Scott Minckler said he would explore the possibility of a hybrid vehicle when purchasing a new police vehicle with the $37,000 in capital funding the town approved Saturday. 

The town moved to shift $14,000 for capital purchases including a that police vehicle, a new 1-ton truck for the highway department and a brush truck for the fire department. The $14,000 in funding was approved for a fire tanker truck at last year’s Town Meeting, but it was not spent because the town was denied a grant to complete that purchase. 

Continuing the discourse around renewable energy and climate, residents held a climate vigil outside the school during the 45-minute lunch break in solidarity with the People’s Climate March happening in Washington, D.C. and across the country.

Portia Weiskel, of Leverett, was one of several residents who spearheaded the “satellite” climate march protest. Twenty protesters stood outside the school holding pro-climate signs and posed for photos. 

“We felt because there are so many People’s Climate Marches, we want to be here in solidarity. Some of us did go to the march in other places but this group decided we would be here for Town Meeting but we are also here for the climate,” Weiskel said. 

Fred Grossberg, who lives on Ryans Hill Road, came to Town Meeting on the heels of the People’s Climate March in Greenfield. He said the turnout in that city was remarkable.

Town Meeting also approved funding for 11 signs to recognize historic districts in town, similar to the signage that appears. Additional funding was granted to fixing up town trails by adding 15 benches and more formal signage. 

Additionally, Town Meeting addressed concerns about Leverett becoming a “gold-plated” town due to the rising price of real estate and the now-removed hurdle of internet access. The town allocated $250,000 in Community Preservation funding to two affordable housing programs. 

Andrew Young, who lives on Hemingway Road with his wife and three children, is a long-term renter who dreams of owning a home in town. He expressed his appreciation for the funding the town moved to put into programs that would assist potential homeowners to make down payments or purchase a home. Young said he is working on an application for one of the programs.

“I just wanted to put a face on this for everyone,” Young said. “Thanks for trying to help.”

Uncontested elections

Ten residents, all incumbents, were elected to town office on Saturday. Though Leverett is the only town in Massachusetts that still nominates residents on the floor of Town Meeting, the town did not exercise that right Saturday. 

Cat Ford was elected to a three-year term on the Board of Assessors. Fay Zipkowitz will serve a three-year term on the Board of Health and John Swartz will serve a three-year term as constable. Anne Delano will continue to serve a three-year term on the Finance Committee and John Godsey and Chris Condit were elected to three-year terms on as library trustees. 

Larry Farber will continue in his post as moderator for another three years, Craig Cohen will serve a three-year term on the School Committee and Tom Hankinson will serve a three-year term on the Select Board. Additionally, Jean Bergstrom was elected to continue serving on the Planning Board for five years. 

Stephanie Murray can be reached at stephaniemur@umass.edu.

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