Town meeting concludes with positive budget newsBy Mike Berger
Canton’s 2012 Annual Town Meeting concluded at 9:30 p.m. on Wednesday, May 2, with voters approving a $73.9 million operating budget for fiscal year 2013, which represents a 2.7 percent increase over this year’s budget. The budget will preserve all staff positions while funding some partial staff restorations and program additions to the school department that were cut in the past few years.
The school budget received a 4.9 percent increase over FY12, while the municipal side received an increase of 1.4 percent. Voters also approved the creation of a stabilization account to cover unforeseen special education costs. They subsequently agreed to fund the account with $50,000 from the school budget and approximately $31,000 from supplemental state aid appropriations.
The overall budget was built on several assumptions, most notably an increase in state aid as well as anticipated savings from healthcare plan design changes. Although state legislators and the governor have yet to finalize the state budget, activity at the State House prior to the start of town meeting hinted at a modest increase in local aid with more money allocated to the schools.
Regarding the health care savings, Town Administrator Bill Friel and selectmen announced that school and municipal unions have settled with the town on a new health care agreement that will save the town an estimated $1.3 million over two years.
Town meeting voters also approved articles aimed at strengthening Canton’s AAA bond rating, which continues to produce a low borrowing rate. In addition to the special education stabilization account, voters agreed to allocate $100,000 in state aid toward a new trust fund for Other Post-Employment Benefits and transferred $600,000 from free cash to the town’s stabilization fund.
As for the zoning articles, most of the proposals put forth by the Planning Board were postponed for further study and may be brought up again at a future town meeting. One such proposal would have amended the zoning bylaws to eliminate the residential component from the Canton Center Economic Opportunity District (CCEOD). Some Planning Board members were concerned that the CCOD had become less about developing businesses and more about building new apartments.
Meanwhile, through the urging of attorney Paul Schneiders, a separate proposal to expand the CCEOD to include the entire Plymouth Rubber property was withdrawn by the proponents “without consideration, without prejudice, and without unfavorable action.”
Voters did approve amendments to the zoning bylaw that governs carriage houses. The amendments clarify the bylaw for conversion of a barn/carriage house into a separate dwelling unit and close loopholes surrounding the occupancy density of the units.
In other news, tortilla manufacturer Harbar received a 10-year special tax assessment for its newly purchased property at 10 Pequot Way and its current location at 320 Turnpike Street. Harbar will pay over $1 million in taxes over the 10-year period for the two properties and save approximately $312,000. In return, Harbar will create 30 full-time jobs, with a long-term potential of 100 new jobs, and will spend heavily on the community with charitable donations and scholarships. The agreement will enable the company, which has grown substantially in recent years, to remain and expand in Canton.
Harbar’s new property on Pequot Way had been one of the Chapter 43D Priority Development sites approved at a prior town meeting for expedited permitting and state economic incentives. This year, voters approved the same designation for 500 Turnpike Street, the former site of Merkert Enterprises. Since 2007, 13 properties have been designated as Chapter 43D sites, with most of them now occupied and generating new tax revenue. Gene Manning, chairman of the town’s Economic Development Committee, said the EDC will work with state economic officials to promote the Turnpike Street site along with vacant properties at 777 Dedham Street (previously Cumberland Farms) and 10 Energy Drive.
In other action on April 30 and May 2, town meeting voters:
* Allocated approximately $754,000 for window replacements at the Hansen and Galvin schools, contingent upon the schools receiving a 40 percent reimbursement from the Mass. School Building Authority.
* Approved an article allowing retailers to acquire a special permit from the ZBA to store and sell items they have in their showroom. The current zoning bylaw for showrooms restricts storage to floor samples only. FinCom members believe the restriction has prevented several businesses from locating in Canton.
* Approved an article to regulate and register vacant and foreclosed properties. According to FinCom members, the new regulations will help to prevent these properties from falling into disrepair and becoming a safety hazard.
* Amended a conservation easement for Maresfield Farm, now owned by Meditech, to expand the buildable percentage of their property from 20 to 25 percent. Meditech intends to add nearly 280 additional parking spaces adjacent to routes 95 and 128 to meet the needs of employees and accommodate civic events. FinCom anticipates an increase in tax revenue without an additional cost in services.
In other ATM news:
* Kevin Feeney, chairman of the town’s ADA Committee, said there remains $4,174 from a $4.2 million appropriation at the 1999 town meeting for disability improvements to municipal and school properties. The funds were recently used to install a new ramp and improve access at the Council on Aging/Housing Authority building.
* Prior to the start of the May 3 session, Friel informed selectmen that the state Office of Dam Safety had approved the Napleton Company’s engineering plans to fix the Reservoir Pond dam. Repairs can commence following a 21-day waiting period from the approval date (April 27). Friel said traffic detour and delay plans on Pleasant Street will be coordinated with the contractor, DPW, fire and police departments.
* Town meeting gave a loud ovation to outgoing FinCom Chairman Alan Hines for his service to the town, especially his preparations for town meeting.
* Next year’s town meeting will be held on the second Monday in May instead of the last Monday in April, and all sessions will begin at 7 p.m. The delay will give the Finance Committee more time to collect and analyze budget information.
* Several town officials hinted that a special town meeting may be called in the fall to settle labor contracts, take action on Historical Way as an accepted town way, and possibly vote on a new proposal for the Plymouth Rubber property.
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