Friday, May 1, 1998

Special Town Meeting

by Claudia Miller

Article 1: Reserve fund transfer

Regardless of how carefully the finance committee reviews each budget and how carefully officials work to stay in the black, invariably unanticipated expenses arise. If funds are not available elsewhere in the budget, the FinCom can authorize a reserve fund transfer to cover costs. The committee is recommending that residents vote to replenish the reserve fund during the Special Town Meeting, insuring that the funds will be available during this fiscal year, FY98.

Unanticipated expenses related to the O'Rourke land purchase and legal bills have already pushed the general government budget into the red, making it necessary for the FinCom to authorize several reserve fund transfers. The committee is recommending that the town replenish the reserve fund with available money, meaning that no additional funds will need to be raised for this Article.

Article 2: Costs associated with O'Rourke land

Last fall at the Special Town Meeting, residents voted overwhelmingly in favor of exercising the town's right to purchase the 126-acre O'Rourke property off Maple Street. The Warrant article fully funded the $1.8 million asking price, but did not fund any expenses related to the purchase. Mounting legal, engineering and environmental testing bills have thrown the budget into the red. The selectmen are hoping that residents will approve this article, allowing officials to transfer money from available funds to pay for any costs associated with the land purchase.

Article 3: Town Hall funds

The actual costs to construct the new Town Hall building slightly exceeded the amount voters approved for the project. The Town Hall building committee is requesting an estimated $10,000 to pay for the construction costs which were not covered by the bonds issued for the project.

Article 4: Taking O'Rourke by eminent domain

Because the selectmen added this Article at the last minute, voters will not find it printed in the Warrant book. At town counsel's recommendation, the selectmen are asking voters to authorize the board to take the O'Rourke property, 126 acres of farm land off Maple Street, by eminent domain.

The selectmen stressed at an earlier board meeting that this article is not intended as a hostile act, but simply an effort to extract the town from the legal battle surrounding the property and move the sale forward. This article will not affect the $1.8 million purchase price the town approved at the Special Town Meeting last fall. The selectmen have become increasingly concerned because of escalating legal bills and delayed closing dates, largely due to a dispute over ownership between the O'Rourke brothers.

According to chair Michael Fitzgerald, the selectmen are not mandated to take the property if this article passes, but the option would be available if the land purchase is stalled again.