With over 200 Norton residents present at the annual Town Meeting, voters approved funds for the J. C. Solmonese Elementary School roof, Town Hall repairs, tax increment financing for Waste Management and voted down the purchase of Pheeny’s Island.
Article 22 asked the town to spend $149,900 in free cash to purchase the 9.17-acre property known as Pheeny’s Island. The island is one of two that are not currently owned by the town. Businessman Kenneth Leavitt recently expressed interest in purchasing the island, and to build a ropes course there. Friends of Pheeny’s Island, a group dedicated to the conservation of the land, hoped to obtain the land and stop the business from being built there. The vote to acquire Pheeny’s Island by eminent domain failed to gain a two-thirds vote.
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“The Finance Committee voted against recommending this article, for the simple fact of eminent domain. We do not think this is the proper use of eminent domain under the circumstances that are currently in place for this property,” said Lee Tarantino, vice chairman of the finance committee. “We didn’t think it was proper that if you have a piece of property, and all of a sudden a group decided this was better for the town than what you wanted to do with it, that the town would come in and take it by eminent domain and really not have a use that is any less detrimental to the town than what is going on right now.”
“Using eminent domain to purchase the island will not be exploiting the current owners, the Ribeiro brothers,” said Brandt Henderson. “We will be giving them just exactly the amount that they thought the property was worth.”
Others argued that the money would be better spent elsewhere.
“The $149,000 isn’t just out there for the taking,” said one Norton resident. “We’re going to use that in the spring. We’re going to need it in the spring or we’re going to have serious problems.”
Linda Clark, a member of Friends of Pheeny’s Island, noted there was a chance to get a grant to go toward the reimbursement of the purchase.
After a motion was made to go to the vote, more than two-thirds of residents rejected the article. A request to go to ballot was made and approved, though it wasn’t enough to approve the article. It was rejected 108 to 106. There was later a motion to reconsider the article, which also failed.
Norton voted in favor of borrowing an additional $575k from the capital improvements fund to repair the J. C. Solmonese Elementary School roof. This request came after the May Town Meeting, in which voters approved $925,000 to go towards the repair.
“No one likes to be standing here, doing this, going back for additional money” said interim Superintendent Dr. Christopher Martes.
The district studied the potential roof-replacement project with the project manager and designer and determined that more money would be needed for the feasibility study, contingency fund and engineering costs. Altogether, the project will cost $1.5M, with a reimbursement from the Massachusetts School Building Authority of 56 percent.
“By approving the additional funding, the town will pay less,” said School Committee member Deniz Savas, who explained that the MSBA will only reimburse the town if the full cost is met. “It’s actually $260,000 more not to approve this money.”
The article passed by a two-thirds vote.
A tax increment financing agreement was approved for Waste Management, who looks to move into the facility being built on Hill Street. Despite the $502,000 tax break over an 11-year period, it is estimated that the company will give the town about $90,000 in excise taxes in the first year as well as personal property taxes. Over the life of the 11 years taxes to the town will be over $1,550,000.
“This is a way to attract a company that we know is going to be around for a long time,” Yunits said. “It will bring jobs to this town, and also extra revenue.”
With some debate, voters approved article 7, which called for $358,745 to repair several municipal needs of the town. This included $92,000 to go to the reservoir repair dam project, $25,000 to architectural services in Town Hall, $70,000 for carpet replacement at Town Hall, $16,000 for garage door openers and electronic eyes to the Highway Department, $30,000 for thermal imaging cameras for Norton Fire Department, $22,000 for the Jaws of Life equipment, $30,000 to fireproof the front of Henri A. Yelle Elementary School, $41,745 for a dump truck with plow and $32,000 for carpet replacement at Norton Public Library.
“We’re looking at hiring an architect to try and make that totally dysfunctional building functional,” said Town Manager Michael Yunits. He added that there is limited handicap access to the Board of Selectmen room and as the building stands now, you can hear multiple meetings going on at the same time. The building was originally a gym.
The rest of the articles were also approved, with the exceptions of 24, 26 and 27, which were lost by lack of motion.