TM voters strongly endorse meals tax optionBy Mike Berger
In contrast to last year’s controversial tie vote, there wasn’t much opposition to the local option meals tax at this year’s Annual Town Meeting, with voters overwhelmingly approving the 0.75 percent tax hike during the first session on Monday, April 30.
The new tax, which takes effect July 1, will cost Canton diners an extra 37 cents for every $50 spent, but is expected to generate between $250,000 and $300,000 in new revenue for the town — although town leaders have not yet determined where the extra money will go.
The difference this year is that many other surrounding communities have since enacted the tax, and the majority of the Finance Committee (6-1) also backed the article. FinCom Chairman Alan Hines said the tax is not onerous and that customers who live in other towns can help fund Canton programs.
The minority report from FinCom, prepared by Diane Wolff, said the economy is still difficult for many in Canton and it was more important to encourage patronization of Canton restaurants and not to increase taxes. “Adding any new tax to anyone who can’t afford them is bad,” she said.
School Committee Chairman John Bonnanzio found himself in a catch-22 situation. While he personally opposes any more taxes, town leaders have hinted that money brought in by this tax would go toward a new special education stabilization account, which would aid the school budget. This stabilization account is a separate article and is likely to be debated in the second session of town meeting on Wednesday, May 2.
“There’s nothing more insidious than these little taxes that don’t make sense,” said Bonnanzio. “The truth is these taxes never go away.”
Selectman Bob Burr said he has voted against the tax for two years and has not changed his mind. “At some point, you say enough is enough. It’s the principle of the thing.”
Another major part of Monday’s first session focused on the stipends paid to town officials. Article 7 every year sets annual salaries, and this year’s version called for $2,400 for each assessor, $600 for each health board member, and $1,400 for each selectman with an additional $200 going to the chairperson. Historically, there have been no stipends paid to members of the School Committee, Planning Board, or Library Board of Trustees.
Resident David Merrigan, in an effort to promote fairness to other boards, proposed to reallocate the salaries to $360 for each assessor; health board member, Planning Board member, School Committee member, and library trustee, while retaining the current salary paid to selectmen.
Merrigan later amended his motion to set all salaries at zero except for selectmen. That motion passed 67-59, but town meeting voters later reversed their decision when information surfaced that some town officials would lose their health insurance next fiscal year. Finally, town meeting voters approved a motion proposed by state representative and Canton assessor Bill Galvin that reset the salaries at $2,400 for each assessor, $599 for each health board member, and $1,400 for each selectman.
Hines said the issue needs to be studied and may resurface at the next town meeting. Many who spoke on the issue brought up the potential economic impact to the town if all town officials who are paid opt to receive health insurance coverage. Under Merrigan’s plan, if all the town officials took the municipal health insurance, it would cost the town an additional $70,000, or $7,777 per person.
In other action Monday night, town meeting approved Fire Chief Charlie Doody’s request for $15,000 for a Fire Department staffing study. They also voted to strengthen the town’s hunting ordinance and set new regulations for the selling of secondhand jewelry and electronics.
In addition, voters agreed with the Planning Board and rejected a new senior assisted-living overlay zoning district off Walpole Street near Knollwood Cemetery — an area that is currently zoned as parkland and open space.
With 12 articles remaining after Monday night’s session, town meeting was likely set to wrap up on Wednesday evening, May 2. Any unfinished business remaining beyond Wednesday’s session would resume at 7 p.m. on Monday, May 7.
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