Andover residents who want to weigh in on a tax hike to close a budget shortfall at the West Elementary School and Shawsheen Preschool construction project will have to do so at the Dec. 1 special town meeting.
The select board on Monday voted 4-1 to only hold a special election only if required by the Massachusetts Department of Revenue. Under state law, the town does not have to ask voters for approval in an election if DOR determines the budget overruns are entirely attributable to economic conditions. Town officials expect to receive that determination, meaning the borrowing only needs approval from a two-thirds majority of special town meeting.
Chair Alex Vispoli cast the lone vote against skipping the special election, which would have been held 13 days after the special town meeting.
“The overage alone is bigger than any municipal project we have ever done outside of schools,” Vispoli said.
Andover will ask special town meeting to approve up to $17.1 million in new borrowing and to transfer $463,731 left over from the $1.2 million town meeting approved in 2018 to fund the West Elementary School Feasibility Study to fill the budget shortfall, which is attributed to higher inflation and global supply chain issues. If approved, the measure would add about $74 to the average Andover taxpayer’s bill of $11,088, according to preliminary estimates.
“If DOR says you do not need a vote, I would support not spending tax dollars for an election on something the state has determined is the result of economic conditions,” Clerk Annie Gilbert said. Vice Chair Laura Gregory added voters had already approved the original, $151.6 million project at town meeting and with a ballot measure.
Separately, the select board unanimously recommended special town meeting approve both articles. The school committee and finance committee are expected to make their recommendations this week, and the West Elementary School Building Committee has already recommended approval of the measures.
Andover and Andover Public Schools’ officials are hosting a series of virtual and in-person sessions to preview the two article that will be decided on Dec. 1.
Third Time A Charm For Verizon
Monday’s meeting was held at Memorial Hall Library and scheduled last week so the board could finish its public hearing on Verizon’s application to install five small cell wireless facilities at different locations in Ballardvale and near Bancroft Elementary School before a Nov. 3 deadline. Several neighbors spoke in opposition of the proposed equipment last week and at the select board’s Oct. 3 meeting, raising concerns about health, aesthetics and impact on property values.
The permit was approved by a 3-2 vote. Gregory and select board member Christian Huntress, who raised concerns about one of the units being installed in the Ballardvale Historic District, voted against the special permit.
During the continued public hearing, which begins at 8:32 in the meeting video below, the select board heard from outside attorneys with expertise on rules and regulations surrounding cellular transmission equipment. Both echoed the guidance Town Counsel Tom Urbelis gave the board last week, when he said the board had limited options for denying the permit under federal regulations and the town’s own policy for such permits.
“I really do applaud the shared purpose amongst neighbors [who oppose the permit] — it goes a long way. But our job is to balance concerns of neighbors with the community as a whole….it’s not a perfect process,” select board member Melissa Danisch said. “This is the policy we have, and it was created to guide our decision-making.”
Alan Mandl, an attorney for Pennsylvania, said the select board could revise the town’s policy for such special permits. For example, Mandl said, the policy could be changed to include setbacks from residential homes. But, he cautioned, “the board has to be careful about what it elects to do and have a basis for” any policy it adopts.
Agenda and packet for Oct. 24 select board meeting:
Video of Oct. 24 select board meeting from Andover TV:
- 0:00:00: Call to order, announcements and public petitions.
- 0:08:32: Continued public hearing on Verizon application to install cellular equipment.
- 2:45:31: Board discusses, makes recommendation on special town meeting warrant articles.
- 2:59:10: Discussion on whether to hold a special election following the Dec. 1 special town meeting.
- 3:09:51: Delay an agenda item on a town governance item until its next meeting.