Sutton Massachusetts

Feb 26 2007 Sutton Massachusetts Town Meeting

The Sutton Town Meeting for 2007 was initially set for February 5th. It was then postponed to Monday, February 26th. The meeting was held at the Early Learning Center on Boston Road, Sutton, and began at 7:30pm. About 150 people were in attendance. A packet of information was handed out with:

* the text of the articles
* a double-sided page promoting the Shaw purchase
* a single pro-con page
* a letter of first refusal from the Shaw lawyers
* an offer to purchase from another buyer
* a financial impact page making price estimates with an 8 year bond
* a letter explaining why the School Building Committee should be reformed
* a three page letter indicating how the School Building Committee should be composed
* a letter about Margaret Alger - giving her a deed for Margaret Alger

ARTICLE 1: Sutton wants to buy the Shaw Farm, i.e. the big farm on Central Turnpike near the Purgatory Chasm road. It is 132.5 acres and the price is $4.5 million dollars. They intend to get loans and grants to cover this price. They want the land to build various town buildings on.
This was the key issue and took up over an hour of discussion. I was very concerned that only ~150 people had showed up for such an important issue, out of a town of over 9,000 people. Despite being terrified of public speaking, I even got up to bring this up. I was told this was a "very good" turnout and that it had been publicized. However, I'd been in the town post office that afternoon - no notice. I drove past the central 146 sign - it was completely empty. Even the sign at the entry to the Early Learning Center had no mention of it. There weren't flyers - even though flyers were sent out back when they voted on the town dump.

In any case, predictably, some people stood up and talked for a *long* time about how this was a once-in-a-lifetime, unique, must-do-now opportunity that we all must, must, must act on immediately. Others pointed out that we had current buildings falling down, our Manchaug library was vacant, we had to shut down the town hall occasionally, etc. How could we accept a $4.5 million debt on top of that all, without any knowledge about the tax burden, the loan length, or anything else?

Some people talked at length about how if we didn't buy the land, it would become up to 400 homes (on 132.5 acres). There was discussion about how normal zoning is a house per 2 acres but how builders easily get around that with certain types of housing. Next, they reviewed how every new family brought into Sutton would only "earn" us $5,000 in taxes but would "cost" us over $15,000 in educating their children. They calculate $7,000 a year, per child, with the average family having 2.2 children. So their aim is to lock up all land possible so new homes cannot be built. One selectman said he was concerned about getting this large loan for less than 20 years - but only one other selectman said he'd agree to go with the 20 year length.

One resident wondered why we were being railroaded into this - being pushed to decide now, without any opportunity to get concrete financing information, or seek other options that might include the 'bigger picture' of existing financial problems. Others wondered why we couldn't have amendments - why it was this way or the highway.

Finally we had a vote, by a show of hands. Out of 150 votes, 80 voted no and 70 voted yes. This would have needed a 2/3rds majority to pass. Apparently now the town will try to rewrite the article to offer it again. Maybe this time with some actual publicity as to the meeting date. About 1/3rd of the residents left after this vote took place.

For a HUGE 60mb download of the first hour of discussion, in a MP3 file, click on the Town Meeting MP3 File. It's not super high quality, but you can hear what's being said. I taped as long as I could, until my recorder ran out :)

ARTICLE 2: They want to dissolve the existing school building committee and form a new one with 13 members appointed by the Board of Selectmen.
The issue here is that in 2006, the state of Massachusetts wrote new regulations concerning grants given to School Building Committees. While our 8-member committee was in compliance when it was formed in 2003, it's not in compliance now. So it was more of 'housekeeping' - to disband this one, form a brand new one with 13 members as defined, and have the same 8 members join the new committe.

A member of the existing committee stood and spoke for a long time, saying all members (except one, who did not vote because she's not a Sutton resident) disagreed with this. She said they had enough trouble getting a quorum now with 8 members, never mind with 13. The selectment pointed out that people should be on a committee because they want to do the duties of that committee, and that if Massachusetts now requires 13 committed members, that is what we need to have.

We had to count hands on this vote as well - 76 yes to reform, 30 no.

ARTICLE 3: They want to amend zoning for the "Wireless Communications Service District" so that it refers to a map rather than trying to describe the areas verbally.
They immediately moved to take no action, as they were still not sure if this change would help at all.

ARTICLE 4: They're upping the total height of an antennae from 150 feet to 180 feet.
They immediately moved to take no action, as they were still not sure if this change would help at all.

ARTICLE 5: They're changing the wireless bylaw to specifically say they need to support the needs of the police, fire, ambulance.
This is primarily intended to make sure any company that builds antennaes in town needs to submit as part of their proposal an allowance to let town emergency services also use their tower. Passed unanimously without discussion.

ARTICLE 6: They want to get $9,372 to get a public safety vehicle.
A police car had been demolished in an accident, and they need to get a new one. This is a partial amount for it - the rest coming from insurance. The police chief stood and asked for help with this. The person next to me commented that the highway department just demolished a $35k vehicle today - and funny how nobody was bringing that up. In any case, we passed this one unanimously.

ARTICLE 7: They want to record a deed regarding 4 Mumford Road - something authorized in 1965.
This land had been siezed by the town in the 60s for non payment of taxes and then sold to the people who owned the adjacent land, the Algers. The sale was authorized at a 1965 meeting but the deed was never recorded. The Algers had been paying taxes on it ever since then. This was housekeeping to make sure it was legally settled. This passed unanimously.

ARTICLE 8: They want to alter the rules for voting in meetings so that if someone misses one session of a hearing they can still vote.
It's only one vote - they're not talking about people missing years of meetings. The issue is with negotiations that last years - someone who is sick just once then can't vote at the end. The person who misses one meeting still has to listen to a full audio tape of it or see a video of it in order to vote.

A note here - the female member of the School Building Committee who spoke before, spoke here too. She was very confused about whether this would apply to her group or not. At the end of the discussion when she was straightened out, she commented to explain her confusion, "I'm a product of Sutton." Does this mean she thinks our school system is atrocious? Many audience members near me felt this was not a great attitude for someone representing the school system to have. In any case, this passed unanimously.

ARTICLE 9: They want to alter the general bylaws so that warrants should be provided to the local cable access station but that if they aren't displayed, it doesn't make the warrant invalid.
They commented that this would address my 'nobody knows about meetings' problem. As if people watch local cable access! Just how many people ever watch that station? How many even know it is there? It's certainly a step in the right direction - but a very small step. It passed unanimously.

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