Friday, May 8, 1998

Voters are generous at Annual Town Meeting

by Claudia Miller

After town officials spent months preparing to put the town on a budgetary diet, they were surprised that voters who attended the Annual Town Meeting were not only willing to loosen their belts a notch, they were eyeing a second piece of pie.

Residents voted generously, approving every funding article including an operating budget override. A few voters even proposed increasing budgets, pushing additional funds on unsuspecting town officials.

From the beginning it was obvious this was not going to be the typical Town Meeting. Because of medical problems, Marshall "Pete" Simonds who has moderated the meetings for 32 years was not able to attend. That left town clerk Sarah Andreassen to preside over the meeting until Howard Hensleigh could be sworn into office.

Following the impromptu vote and swearing in,

Michael Fitzgerald, chair for the board of selectmen, took the time to highlight efforts of volunteers describing them as "the glue that holds the town government together."

With a burst of energy, voters quickly dispensed with the first four articles in roughly 15 minutes.

Operating budget override

Progress slowed with Article 5. FinCom chair Nancy Pierce read the motion, which succinctly outlined each proposed budget item and a contingent budget if the override fails at the ballot. The lengthy motion, the longest in recent Town Meeting history, was only exceeded by the lengthy discussion which followed.

Instead of focusing on the reasoning for an override to supplement the operating budget, debate centered on whether or not the budget should be increased above the override. The discussion signaled voters' commitment to the schools and willingness to spend additional funds if necessary. (See related article on page 6.)

Growing weary of lengthy discussions, citizens gave the water quality subcommittee and the Gleason Library trustees the thumbs down when they offered to update the meeting as to the progress on their respective

projects. Both committees received the requested funding without question.

O'Rourke land purchase

After approving the first eight articles, Town Meeting was recessed to take up the business of the Special Town Meeting. Articles 1, 2 and 3 requesting transfers to fund the remainder of the FY98 operating budget, O'Rourke land purchase expenses and Town Hall overruns respectively, drew no discussion from the audience.

Any doubts as to how the O'Rourkes would feel about Article 4, a proposal to take the O'Rourke land by eminent domain, were put to rest when owner Wendy O'Rourke offered to speak for the O'Rourke Carlisle Corporation. O'Rourke noted that she did not object to the article, as long as the taking did not occur until after the purchase and sale for the property was drafted. The

closing date on both portions of the 126-acre Maple Street property is scheduled for May 11. Selectman Vivian Chaput, who presented the article, stressed that the proposal is not to be seen as a hostile act, but simply as a way to insure that the town will receive a clear title to the property.

Once Town Meeting resumed, voters were again eager to dole out additional funds. After reviewing the recreations commission's proposal to build playing fields on the Banta-Davis Land, Ed Sonn of the town building made a suggestion endorsed by Town Meeting to increase funding by $28,000, to $577,000, arguing that the committee had not included contingency funds. While support for the plan was not unanimous, townspeople agreed with the RecCom's assessment that Carlisle is in dire need of additional playing fields and supported the article.

As the evening wore on, residents urged others to push on, in an effort to complete the town's business in one night. Dissenters withdrew their votes if it meant that the meeting would be held up while the tellers hand-counted each vote, understanding that their opinion was in the minority.

Some discussion ensued over the proposed bylaw to preserve barns. Two amendments were considered, but not supported. In the end residents seemed happy to approve the article as presented, knowing that the end of the meeting was in site.

It remains unclear if voters will be as generous at the May 11 election as they were at Town Meeting. Residents will be asked to vote on four ballot questions which will impact the final budget. If any of these fails to muster the majority, the Town Meeting vote is overruled and a lower budget is adopted.