Shutesbury Town Meeting voters OK $6.63M budget, library construction grant application

  • Shutesbury Finance Committee Chairman Jim Walton, right, explains the budget during annual Town Meeting on Saturday. Finance Committee member Bob Groves sits beside him. STAFF PHOTO/SHELBY ASHLINE

  • Shutesbury Town Moderator Paul Lyons speaks during annual Town Meeting on Saturday, which was held outside in the field behind Town Hall. STAFF PHOTO/SHELBY ASHLINE

  • Shutesbury Finance Committee member George Arvanitis, right, explains a budget line item during annual Town Meeting on Saturday. Finance Committee Chairman Jim Walton sits beside him. STAFF PHOTO/SHELBY ASHLINE

  • Shutesbury residents show their support of an article allowing the Select Board and/or library trustees to apply for a grant that would help pay for designing and building a new library during annual Town Meeting on Saturday, which was held in the field behind Town Hall. STAFF PHOTO/SHELBY ASHLINE

  • Shutesbury Administrative Assessor Kevin Rudden explains a proposal to petition the Legislature to enact a law creating a senior property tax exemption for eligible Shutesbury residents during Annual Town Meeting on Saturday. STAFF PHOTO/SHELBY ASHLINE

Staff Writer
Published: 6/13/2021 8:40:26 PM

SHUTESBURY — After back-and -forth discussion at Saturday’s annual Town Meeting regarding using more free cash to reduce property tax bills — a strategy the town used last year — voters ultimately approved a $6.63 million budget.

Voters at the session, held in the field behind Town Hall, also authorized the town applying for a library construction grant and petitioning the Legislature to advance a law creating a property tax exemption for eligible Shutesbury seniors.

Although the budget was amended, reducing it by $300 to remove a “longevity bonus” line item following the retirement of Town Clerk Susie Mosher, the crux of discussion concerned two line items that some voters suggested funding from free cash. One was the “transfer to capital stabilization” line item at $112,695; the other, $50,000 for other post-employment benefits, or OPEB.

But moderator Paul Lyons ruled the proposals “out of scope.” Town Counsel Donna MacNicol said residents need to be given fair warning that such a change in appropriations might happen.

“Once you start getting into $112,000, there’s a fair question of whether citizens felt fairly warned, and that’s totally up to the moderator,” she said.

“The whole reason of doing Town Meeting is you have to be here to make decisions,” resident Mike Vinskey said. “No matter what it is, if you’re not here, you should have been.”

A similar attempt at using free cash was made to cover the cost of replacing a culvert at the intersection of Locks Pond Road and Lake Drive. Voters agreed to borrow up to $201,007, transfer $250,000 from the capital stabilization and pay for the remainder of the project using unused Municipal Small Bridge Program grant funding.

Library grant

Aside from lengthy discussion on the budget, voters passed by majority an article authorizing the Select Board and/or the library trustees to apply for a grant through the Massachusetts Public Library Construction Program’s Small Library Pilot Project to help pay for design and construction of a new library.

M.N. Spear Memorial Library Director Mary Anne Antonellis said this is a project the town has been discussing since 1995 and saving for — over $500,000 now — since 2012, when a Proposition 2½ debt-exclusion for an earlier project was defeated, 522-520.

Although Vinskey expressed concern over the timing of the vote, not knowing what a new library would look like, what it will cost or where it will be located, several residents spoke in support of pursuing a project.

“The library has been such a hub of community for my children, for me,” said resident Suzanne Palmer, citing its various programs like author talks, ice cream socials and fitness classes. “The fact that we manage all that with a library that small with no running water is a testament to how much everyone here cares about the library, and how much we could do with a library with running water and bathrooms.”

Planning Board member Jeff Lacy encouraged acting quickly. “Let’s get going,” Lacy said. “If we’re the first in the door with the (Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners), more power to us for being Johnny-on-the-spot.”

Senior property tax exemption

Following suit of nearly 20 other Massachusetts communities, voters approved petitioning the Legislature to advance a law creating a property tax exemption for eligible Shutesbury seniors.

Administrative Assessor Kevin Rudden explained there are two Massachusetts tax exemptions available to seniors at $400 and $1,000. Should the law pass in the Legislature, the Select Board could offer an additional 50% to 200% of the senior circuit breaker tax credit, adding between $575 and $2,300 to this benefit.

The program likely won’t go into effect until fiscal year 2023. About 29 seniors will qualify, based on figures from 2017.

Other articles

All 29 articles passed, including spending $254,100 to replace the Shutesbury Elementary School roof, along with up for $200,000 for HVAC control system upgrades if grants aren’t available; a proposal to hire a consultant to provide suggestions on connecting the trail systems between the Southbrook Conservation Area and Town Beach Conservation Area; spending $20,000 from the Open Space/Recreation Fund to create a community garden behind Town Hall; and a change to the zoning bylaws that permits access driveways in the landlocked Forest Conservation District.




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