| Sarah Heinonen
HAMPDEN – On April 22, the Hampden Advisory Board conducted a public hearing to present a draft of the warrant articles for the May 13 Town Meeting. Nearly 50 residents of the town attended to voice their opinions and even opposition to certain articles.
An unexpected turn of events occurred when Advisory Board member Doug Boyd, who led the proceedings, read article 18, which would define the boundaries of a District Improvement Zone. Defining the zone is the first stage in a District Improvement Financing Plan to develop proposed water and sewer lines in town, a highly controversial project.
When a resident asked who had proposed the addition of the article to the warrant, no one seemed to know. In order for an article to appear on the annual town meeting warrant, it must either be recommended by the Select Board or added via a resident petition. Calls of, “take it off,” and “get rid of it,” were heard from some of the residents in regard to the article. Boyd said that while the Advisory Board can’t remove the article, the town council would be consulted and if the article was not appropriate for the warrant, a notice would be included at the town meeting.
Among the other items discussed were proposed budget changes. Boyd explained that many of the increases to the town’s budget were largely driven by a rise in mandated costs.
A few residents questioned an 11 percent increase in Town Administrator Mary E. McNally’s salary, from $90,000 to $100,000 yearly. Selectman Vinnie Villamaino said that the Select Board requested the raise in order “to keep her,” saying that she was underpaid in comparisons to similar positions in other towns.
Donald Davenport, who is running for a seat on the Board of Selectmen, asked about the increase of over $40,000 in the Selectmen budget.
“This gives [McNally] discretion to fill needs as she sees them,” Boyd said. The increases are mostly under the “expenses” and “temporary help” sections of the Selectmen’s budget.
Another resident asked about the $35,000 increase to the Tree Warden budget. Boyd said that was an example of the way in which mandated costs added to the budget, as tree work would be handled by an outside company and was subject to Occupational Safety and Health Administration regulations.
Resident Mary Ellen Glover said the salary increases didn’t appear to be even across the governmental departments and asked how they were determined. Boyd explained that the general rule was a four percent increase to administration staff, but that some departments required additional hours, resulting in higher budgets for salary.
There were several expensive articles of the warrant draft. Among them, a highway truck replacement for $248,000, and a highway building addition, not to exceed $300,000.
Other articles had been scaled back, significantly. The Board of Selectmen had originally considered articles for an addition to the Fire House, at a cost of $300,000, to hold a proposed second water tanker, which would cost $500,000. The Selectmen changed the proposed articles to ask for $50,000 for a comprehensive assessment study to develop specifications for a future addition and a replacement for the current 28-year-old water tanker, with an updated model at cost of less than $500,000.
Another altered article was for a replacement for the emergency radio system used by the police and fire departments. Police Chief Jeff Farnsworth has communicated that the failure of the current system is imminent. Instead of replacing the system at this time, the Selectmen recommended an article that proposes more study for the best long-term solution.
“These things are too important to rush,” Selectman John Flynn said.
One article would allow for the town to purchase, with the state’s aid, a parcel of land to be designated as conservation land. Jackie Fournier, a homeowner in town, expressed concern that there was too much conservation land in town. She said the town would be better off developing that land to increase tax
“If I had a mortgage I couldn’t afford to live here, because of the tax bill,” Fournier said. Sherry Himmelstein, of the Conservation Commission, explained that the majority of designated conservation lands were undevelopable for various reasons. Instead, she said the lands would be open to the public for various “passive recreation,” including biking, walking, and horseback riding.
Fournier also asked about a feasibility study exploring an addition to the Senior Center. At present, Rebecca Moriarty, executive director of the Senior Center, said it was running out of room for programs and has had to turn people away.