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Bellingham Bulletin

104 Residents Attend Bellingham’s Annual Town Meeting

Jun 28, 2019 06:00AM ● By Amy Bartelloni
written by Amy Bartelloni, Contributing Writer

Bellingham held its Annual Town Meeting on Wednesday, May 22, in the Bellingham High School auditorium. Before diving into the budget, new Town Clerk Larry Sposato noted some changes from past town meetings.

Notably, the town clerk’s position shifted from Ann Odabashian, and he thanked her for her years of service. Other changes included a new check-in system, allowing attendees to go to any check-in station regardless of the precinct and scan their licenses. 

“That’s designed to expedite the process so you can move more quickly,” Sposato said, noting that they plan to use the system at regular elections in the future, pending approval from the state.

Other changes include yes/no buttons, which should be ready by the fall town meeting. This will allow the vote to be automated and not rely on hand counting, so results can be seen immediately.

The town’s Chief Financial Officer, Mary MacKinnon, presented a brief overview of the balanced budget for fiscal 2020. Though they worked hard to protect core services, she described the budget as “tight.” 

“This was not an easy budget cycle,” she explained. One of their many challenges was the fact that this year’s budget doesn’t dip into reserves.

“For the last several years, the town has relied on savings accounts to balance the budget, but that practice has severely diminished our reserve levels,” MacKinnon said. “This year, we had to wean ourselves off, and we did.”

The budget also reflects a large cut to Bellingham’s state aid that came late in the process, while at the same time costs for pension, transportation, and debt service increased. 

“This meant that before we even sat down at the table with any of our department heads, we had already used up our proposition 2 1/2 capacity and our new growth,” she said.

The $68.5 million budget represents a 4.3% increase over last year and includes a budget of $3,341,917 for the police department (a decrease of .19%), $3,073,996 for the fire department (an increase of 1.47%), and $26,348,074 for the school department (an increase of 2.31%).

Bellingham’s average single-family tax bill is currently $4,488 on an average home value of $315,836. The 2 1/2 % tax increase will raise that by $112, bringing it to $4,600, which is lower than the tax bills in neighboring communities, MacKinnon noted. She displayed examples of neighboring town’s average tax bills, including Milford at $5,210, Hopedale at $6,097, Franklin at $6,502, and Medway at $7,212. The Massachusetts average is $6,083.

“A lot of hard work and compromise has gone into preparing this budget,” she said, thanking department heads, boards and committees that worked so diligently to prepare the budget. She asked the town to support the budget, and they did. The budget passed with little discussion.

The meeting continued with debate on Article 16, “Amendment of Zoning Bylaws XXVIII.” The amendment would have changed zoning bylaws to allow for the development of a 55+ active adult overlay district off Hartford Avenue near Beaver Pond, totaling approximately 60 units.

However, the amendment was not recommended by the Planning Board or Finance Committee, and arguments were presented on both sides. Attorney Joseph Antonellis of Milford presented arguments for the amendment, including increased town revenue (in the form of new growth) and the benefits of an over-55 community. 

Brian Salisbury of the Planning Board explained their reasons for not recommending the Article.

“The consensus of the Planning Board is that this is a good idea generally, that an over-55 development has many advantages,” he explained, noting that the development would bring more revenue to the town, less activity, and less strain on services than other types of developments. 

“The problem with this particular parcel of land is its location,” Salisbury explained, “and particularly the traffic impact on Hartford Avenue.” Several residents spoke their opposition, mostly regarding traffic in an area that can be heavily congested, especially at rush hour. The town agreed, and the Article was defeated. 

Changes to zoning bylaws were also proposed in Article 17: “Zoning Bylaw and Zoning Map Amendment—Maple Street,” recommended by both the Finance Committee and the Planning Board. The amendment proposed changing the zoning district on a part of Maple Street from industrial to suburban. Brian Salisbury stepped in to explain.

“Currently all of the lots in question are zoned industrial,” he told residents, “and are all part of, or about, much larger tracts of land in Franklin which are also zoned industrial. The problem is that the only access to the industrial land in Franklin is through Bellingham. Therefore, if the industrial-zoned land in Franklin is developed, Franklin will get all the revenue associated with the industrial use, and Bellingham will get all of the impacts,” including increased traffic.

He called the Article a common-sense change, and the town agreed, passing the motion unanimously.
Article 21: “Used Car licenses” generated heated discussion. Resident Bruce Lord for Bellingham Sunoco petitioned to raise the number of used-car licenses in town to 26. 

“Historically, at one point we had 39 used-car licenses,” Selectman Mike Connor explained, noting that the number had been lowered to 20 at a previous town meeting. “Since then many of the nuisance situations have not come before the Board of Selectmen.”

 He reminded the audience that regardless of the outcome of the Article, the Board of Selectmen has the right to determine the proper person and proper place, and vote accordingly, though he noted that he would vote against the Article. 

Lord admitted that the problem with used-car licenses over the years was that they got out of hand.

“All of the problems that were seen in the past relative to used-car licenses can be handled with the requirements of state law and the requirements of the Board of Selectmen,” he argued, mentioning that the drop in licenses has caused problems for people wishing to get into the business. 

“Essentially, we’re cutting off people who want to go into business; we’re cutting off potential tax dealings.” After public comments and spirited discussion, the town voted against the Article and it did not pass. 

One hundred and four people attended the meeting. Bellingham’s Special Town Meeting will be held in the fall. For more information see the town website at www.bellinghamma.org.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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