South Hadley TM OKs public water testing, senior center design

  • South Hadley Town Hall. WIKICOMMONS

Staff Writer
Published: 5/10/2018 12:27:47 AM

SOUTH HADLEY— Town Meeting members passed a bylaw governing annual water quality testing in public buildings at the annual Town Meeting Wednesday night, while voting not to restructure the Board of Health and allocating $600,000 towards the design of a new Senior Center.

South Hadley held back-to-back annual and special Town Meetings Wednesday, with over 100 Town Meeting members in attendance.

Of the 22 articles proposed, just one failed to pass by the needed majority. Town Meeting members voted down a motion to restructure the Board of Health from a three- to five-member board, with the health director serving as the fifth appointed member.

Voters rejected the idea because it gave the health director, an appointed official, a voting seat on an elected board.

“It’s a precedent I’m very leery of,” said Marilyn Ishler, a Town Meeting member.

Voters approved a $45,120,999 budget for fiscal 2019, which Town Administrator Michael Sullivan noted was $1 million less than last year’s budget. He attributes the savings to careful planning and compromise among the town’s governing bodies.

However, Town Meeting member Linda Young objected to a position she saw cut from the parks department budget due to a retirement.

“I would say the parks department is understaffed before this retirement, so I’m sure they’re understaffed now,” she said.

South Hadley Superintendent Nicholas Young responded to residents’ concerns that charter schools are bleeding money from public schools, saying the school’s new culinary program has helped to keep students in the district, and graduation rates are up.

“The number of students going to charter schools from South Hadley has decreased,” Young said. “Vocational programming is becoming more and more popular.”

After passionate discussion about the merits of water quality and public health, members passed two articles establishing a bylaw to annually test water in public buildings for pollutants, give oversight responsibility for he testing to the Board of Health, and use $10,000 in free cash to fund initial testing.

The bylaw will permit the Board of Health to test all appliances that could present a reasonable threat to public health, and require all tests be made available on the town website and in the respective buildings.

Initially, the Appropriations Committee did not recommend passing the $10,000 article, but upon further review decided it was a good idea. Other Town Meeting members raised concerns that the bylaw could create redundancy because of testing that already occurs, or end up costing more money than anticipated. Moderator Edward Ryan said there are about 350 water sources in the town’s public buildings that could be subject to testing.

“I am pretty flabbergasted that we can appropriate tens of thousands of dollars for a golf course, but we are literally debating whether or not it is worthwhile to test the water that our children are drinking,” Town Meeting member Robin Wagner said to applause.

Newly elected Select Board member and Water District No. 1 Superintendent Jeffrey Cyr was wary of placing too much emphasis on the water itself, and instead urging the town to pay more attention to the water fixtures. 

Another vote established a revolving Treasury Fund to go toward the care and maintenance of Buttery Brook park. 

Senior center

Voters approved a motion to allocate $600,000 toward the site assessment, design and bid planning for the proposed new Senior Center. After voting to use $200,000 to establish a stabilization account in January, this sum will help better inform price estimates moving forward.

The warrant article, originally asking to borrow $9.8 million for the entirety of the Senior Center, was put off for a later date until further assessments are done at the current site at 45 Dayton St.

Select Board chairman Ira J. Brezinsky said the estimated cost of a new center is between $11 million and $12 million, and $9.8 million is the maximum amount the town can borrow without a tax override.

Zoning districts

All six articles governing the town’s solar, multifamily and smart growth zoning bylaws passed after engaging debate.

Members approved an article redefining rules governing zoning of solar projects, including an amendment by state Rep. John Scibak striking a proposed 25-acre minimum land requirement for solar installations.

“My concern is that we are closing the door on some possible solar sites in South Hadley,” Scibak said.

Town Meeting member Liz Austen also proposed an amendment that limited the size of buildings in the Newton Street smart growth district to four stories and 55 feet. The amendment passed, along with the article.

Ledges golf course

Each of the seven articles proposed at the special Town meeting passed, five of them requests to use free cash to balance budgets for the current fiscal year.

To balance the Ledges Golf Course end-of-the-year accounting, voters approved an additional $25,000 of free cash to be put toward the course during the special Town Meeting.

As Sullivan explained, the golf course is currently in the process of finding a third party to manage the course, and unanticipated expenses in the form of an irrigation system and maintenance costs further strained the budget this year. 

“This will be an incredible investment to find someone to run the golf course and stop burdening the taxpayers as soon as we can,” Sullivan said.

During the annual Town Meeting, voting members also passed a motion to allow the Select Board to enter a contract with an outside party to manage the course for up to 10 years. Two companies have submitted bids to manage the course, and the committee tasked with reviewing the proposals plans to choose one by July.

Sarah Robertson can be reached at

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