Friday, October 18, 2002
ConCom asks for clarification of conservation fund uses
The Carlisle Conservation Commission this week requested an opinion from town counsel, seeking clarification of the "legal limits or potential restrictions" that may constrain their ability to spend money from the conservation fund. Massachusetts General Law, Chapter 40, Section 8c (Chapter 40), the statute that provided for creation of local conservation commissions and authorized towns to raise or transfer money for use by such bodies into conservation funds, declared the purpose to be, "to acquire, maintain, improve, protect, limit the future use of, or otherwise conserve and properly utilize open spaces in land and water areas within its city or town"
The commission's letter states that it seems clear to them that the language in Chapter 40 imposes a mandate limiting their use of such funds to the purposes stated therein. However, it is also obvious from the text that follows that the board is highly sensitive to the town's financial woes, and having received a number of official requests to use money from the fund for loosely-related purposes, feels the need to obtain legal counsel. Therefore, in addition to a general opinion, the letter asks questions that appear related to specific requests from other town bodies. In none of these cases have funds been disbursed by the commission to date, but more pressure can logically be anticipated.
First question: "Is it appropriate to use this fund to pay charges assessed to the town for such things as Superfund cleanups?" This was a situation that arose when the Northeast Solid Waste Consortium, in which Carlisle is a participant, was hit with a Superfund assessment, and the Carlisle Finance Committee briefly considered paying Carlisle's $90,000 share with money from the fund.
Second: "Is it appropriate to use fund money to pay mortgage payments on property already acquired by the town, for which the town had specifically voted funds to pay for such acquisition?" This query clearly refers to the suggestions made during last spring's budget travail, that money from the fund might be used to pay a portion of the installment coming due on the Robbins/Hutchins (formerly Wang/Coombs) Land off Curve Street.
Third: "Is it appropriate to use fund money to 'study' open space land with the long term goal (if the study is successful) of actually reducing the area of such open space land and removing a portion of said property from open space use?" This question describes the exact situation vis-a-vis a request from the Town Forest study committee, supported by the board of selectmen, that the commission use fund monies to pay for a study that would help determine the availability of a portion of the existing Town Forest for affordable housing or other municipal purposes.
Fourth: "If Town Meeting were to vote a specific restriction on money placed in the fund in a specific override, what effect might that have on future use of the fund?" The most recent example pertained to the 1999 Town Meeting vote that deposited $100,000 into the fund "pursuant to Chapter 40, for studies and other activities involved in the acquisition of real estate, water rights and other related interests in connection therewith."
The letter closes with the following statement: "Many members feel deeply conflicted over their desire to help the town and what they believe to be their [moral] and legal obligation to 'protect and preserve' conservation land and open space." Therefore, they are seeking town counsel's assistance in resolving these and probable future issues involving fund usage.
© 2002 The Carlisle Mosquito