Public safety complex, marijuana bylaws focus of Westhampton Town Meeting

  • Westhampton Town Hall

Staff Writer
Published: 5/12/2019 11:39:46 PM

WESTHAMPTON — Residents voted to fund the town’s nearly $6 million budget at Saturday’s annual Town Meeting, which includes $3.6 million for schools and $240,643 for town official salaries.

Richard Tracy served as town moderator at the meeting at Town Hall, where nearly 120 residents voted on a total of 33 articles. Residents decided to hold off on allowing marijuana businesses to open shop in town for the foreseeable future and also took the first step toward funding an engineering study for a new public safety complex at 48 Stage Road.

The town’s moratorium on marijuana establishments, such as cultivators, testing facilities, manufacturers or retailers, is set to expire at the end of June. At the recommendation of the town’s Bylaw Review Committee, four articles were included in the meeting’s warrant to address the expiration of the moratorium.

Residents voted in favor of Articles 3 through 7, which created new zoning and general bylaws for marijuana establishments in town. Article 3 removed the moratorium; Articles 4 prohibits all types of recreational marijuana establishments; Article 5 updated the zoning bylaws so that there are no districts for marijuana establishments; Article 6 and 7 defines marijuana establishments in the town’s zoning and general bylaws.

For the general and zoning bylaws to be adopted, residents will have to approve them in a special Town Election on June 1, from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Elected public officials will also be on the ballot for several boards and committees.

Steve Gagne, a member of the town’s Zoning Bylaw Review Committee, said the board recommended a “cautious approach” to setting up bylaws for marijuana businesses in Westhampton.

“It’s a ‘no’ for now,” Gagne said. “We are suggesting that the town adopt a zoning bylaw, which would prohibit marijuana establishments from coming to Westhampton, and in the meantime, we set up a specific subcommittee of the Zoning Bylaw Review Committee to work specifically on what types of establishments and bylaws this town may be open to in the coming months or years. And that we tailor something that we think fits this town and limits the amount of litigation we might face if we rush into this.”

The concern, Gagne said, is that if the town were to adopt a bylaw similar to other towns that have approved marijuana establishments, those bylaws could contain “loopholes” that could open the town up to costly liabilities.

Article 8, approved by voters, set the restrictions on public use of marijuana, such as no consumption of any marijuana products on public ways, streets, sidewalks, recreation areas and virtually anywhere that is not private property. The article also established a $50 fine for each failure to follow the bylaw.

Voters approved $1.3 million for the Hampshire Regional School District, which Principal Kristen Smidy said will keep the school level-funded for next year.

Due to reduced funding from the state, that will mean cuts to maintenance, administrative assistants, and supply lines, according to Smidy. No programming is expected to be cut should the rest of the towns in the school district approve the requested amount, Smidy said.

In the Hampshire Regional School District, only Southampton and Westhampton have approved their school budgets to date, with Chesterfield, Goshen, Williamsburg, and Worthington yet to vote.

Public safety complex

A large portion of the town meeting was spent deliberating the fate of the public safety complex at 48 Stage Road. In the fall of 2018, residents at a special Town Meeting approved borrowing to fund a $4.4 million complex. Following the approval of bonding for the project, a majority was required in a special election for a Proposition 2½ debt exclusion override that ultimately failed in October.

On Saturday, residents and town officials made the case that not only is a new public safety complex necessary, the timing is right considering the debt from other capital projects is nearly paid off.

Article 22, which eventually passed, authorizes the town to bond $236,000 for engineering designs that would also provide bid documents to get a more accurate cost for a public safety complex. Previous cost estimates were based on an architect’s conceptual drawing.

“It’s never been truer that if we are not moving forward, we are moving backward,” said Select Board Chairman Phillip Dowling during Saturday’s meeting. He said the current public safety complex is not meeting the needs of the fire or police department, and with debts for renovations to Hampshire Regional and for Highway Department equipment being paid off, the town’s tax rate would remain about the same.

Assistant Fire Chief Stephen Holt, also a member of the Public Safety Complex Review Committee, gave a presentation that detailed all the inadequacies of the building. The building lacks a decontamination room for the department’s 30 firefighters to wash themselves of contaminants after dousing a fire; a lack of space to safely perform operations; a lack of appropriately sized bays for fire apparatus; and a lack of a fire protection system.

Resident Bernard Fleury said the service from first responders has always been “unsurpassable” and that residents have to “be willing to sacrifice” to help fund a new public safety complex.

Several residents spoke in favor of building a new public safety complex, and none spoke against the project, but a paper ballot vote was called. Article 13 passed after the votes were tallied, with 87 in favor and 19 against.

The June election will require a majority to authorize a Proposition 2½ debt exclusion override to fund the engineering design.

Residents voted in favor of Article 30, which will permit the Select Board to finalize an agreement for a payment in lieu of taxes program (PILOT) with solar-energy company CVE. Last year, the Planning Board granted a special permit for the solar company to built an $8 million, 5-megawatt solar energy system on Montague Road.

As part of the PILOT agreement, the town will receive yearly payments of $80,000 for the next 20 years. There will be a 1 percent increase each year and the town will receive quarterly payments of $20,000.

The Town Meeting will reconvene on June 24 at 7:30 p.m. at Town Hall to finish some outstanding budgetary items, such as public safety funding and debt and interest payments.

Luis Fieldman can be reached at lfieldman@gazettenet.com




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