Town meeting voters say no to buses, yes to new hotel

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It’s back to the drawing board for the Canton School Committee tonight as members try to salvage their plan of extending the start times at the high school and middle school while also cutting class sizes at both schools.

Voters rejected a plan to purchase 6 new buses. (Michelle Stark photo)

Voters rejected a plan to purchase 6 new buses. (Michelle Stark photo)

School officials had hoped to secure additional funding at annual town meeting, either through a $540,000 capital request, which would have enabled them to purchase six new buses, or through a free cash transfer to the operating budget ($179,000) to cover extra leasing costs with the current bus contractor.

However, on the final night of annual town meeting on Monday, May 18, voters first rejected the capital request by a 20-vote margin and then rejected the additional operating costs submitted by School Committee Chairman Bob Golledge Jr.

Instead, voters heeded the advice of the Finance Committee and approved a bottom-line school operating budget of $36,259,994, which Finance Director Jim Murgia said is nearly five percent above last year’s total and one of the highest school budget increases in recent years.

With the budget figure now set, school officials could still decide to implement both the start time changes and the class size reductions, but they would need to cut $179,000 from other line items in to afford the additional bus leasing costs.

At the completion of town meeting Monday night, School Superintendent Jeff Granatino told the Citizen that he is grateful that the town did increase the school budget beyond the initial recommendations, adding $91,000. He said he will look at the new budget with the School Committee to see if their two top priorities can still be accomplished. The committee will meet tonight at 7 p.m. in the CHS distance learning lab.

Murgia said he opposed the free cash transfer because it circumvents the budget process and would set a dangerous precedent for future years while potentially threatening the town’s AAA bond rating.

In discussing the purchase of additional school buses, FinCom members Jim Casamento and Jim Sims argued that besides the $540,000 capital costs, the School Department would need to increase operating costs and pay for driver salaries and benefits estimated at $120,000. Both members supported the second option of increasing the contract with the school bus company.

Golledge countered that owning the school buses would allow the town to use them for other programs, including school and recreation activities.

The School Department did get some good news Monday night as voters offered no opposition to the proposed $4.1-million debt-exclusion override for an eight-room addition at the Hansen School, which will now go before voters in a special town election on June 23. School Committee member John Bonnanzio estimated that the override would cost the average taxpayer an additional $23.61 per year.

Bonnanzio, who headed the School Building Study Committee, said the Hansen addition is one in a series of recommended steps aimed at addressing the school district’s current and future space needs. The other steps he outlined in his report to town meeting on May 13 included moving the school system’s administrative offices to the rolling mill on the Plymouth Rubber site once it is renovated; renovating the Rodman building and using it for grade 8 students; and renovating a portion of the Galvin Middle School lockeroom for additional classroom space.

In other major news from the May 18 town meeting, which adjourned at 11:15 p.m., voters unanimously backed a proposal by Boston Mutual Co. to build a new hotel and restaurant on Royall Street between Reebok and Dunkin Brands.

Howard Neff, senior vice president for Boston Mutual, said the company first thought about building an office building but received suggestions from other corporate neighbors on Royall Street that the area needed a hotel with an upscale restaurant to handle guests.

Neff said the hotel would generate tax revenues — an estimated $590,000 annually — but would have minimal impact on municipal services and no impact to the school system. The hotel and restaurant plan is subject to site plan review by the Planning Board.

See this week’s Canton Citizen for more town meeting highlights. Not a subscriber? Click here to order your subscription today. (Special May discount: $10 off 1 year)

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avatar Posted by on May 21 2015. Filed under News, Schools, Town Government.
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