March 16, 2016PLYMOUTH—Voters at the 2016 Annual Meeting for Plymouth last Wednesday evening gave resounding approval for a $2 million bond article to fund a series of proposed capital improvements and infrastructure projects in the upcoming year.
The measure, which required a 2/3rds majority ballot vote, passed by a margin of 90 in favor, eight opposed.
All other warrant articles passed easily including the budget for general government expenses, and the estimated increases in a three year collective bargaining agreement for police and fire employees.
Town Moderator Bob Clay opened the Annual Meeting with an announcement of the election results, from the previous day, noting that the 277 total vote count at the polls was "one of the lowest turnouts in decades".
William Bolton and Neil McIver each earned three year seats on the Board of Selectmen. The vote was Bolton, 224, McIver 161, Deb Grotheer, 96. Mike Ahern was elected to the one year term on the board with 219 votes, running unopposed.
In other unopposed races for three-year terms, Karen Freitas was re-elected Town Clerk, Linda Buffington as Tax Collector, A Joan Bowers as Library Trustee and Jenny Thibeault for Cemetery Trustee as a write-in candidate.
At the Deliberative Session, Article 3, the $2 million bond, raised little opposition. Select Board Chair Mike Conklin explained that the measure was designed to address a number of necessary infrastructure improvements that have been deferred for years in the effort to keep the budget level funded.
With bank interest rates at historic lows, Conklin indicated that the board had concluded that it made sense to "bite the bullet" and borrow money to fund a number of projects including road improvements, building maintenance and equipment upgrades.
The proposed projects are listed in a pamphlet that was made available at the meeting and included a potential $925,000 for the highway department, $300,000 for the Fire Department, $300,000 for the Police Department and $125,000 for the Recycling Center, among others.
Conklin also noted that the bond may be needed to cover financial uncertainties associated with an upcoming Water and Sewer Department project and the Northern Pass Project which both entail extensive roadwork in town in the forseeable future.
While the terms of the bond are yet to be negotiated, Conklin indicated that the board anticipated a fixed rate loan in the range of about 3 percent over a ten year period which is expected to minimize the impact on the tax rate.
While supporting the article, several citizens rose to express the view that the Town should make an effort to fund projects on a "pay as you go" basis.
"Going forward, I would ask that our Capital Improvement Plan be funded annually to anticipate our infrastructure needs which have been neglected for the last six years," said Bill Houle.
In other business, an amendment proposed by Houle to reduce Article 4, FY16/17 General Government expenses, by $30,000 from the Salaries and Emergency Management line items was defeated by voice vote after some discussion.
Houle said he objected that certain salaries that were "grossly excessive" relative to the current economic environment, citing the large number of elderly and retired people in the community surviving on fixed income and social security. He also proposed reducing the Emergency Management Line item by $10,000 from $12,000.
Select Board Chair Mike Conklin responded that the budget in general and including the collective bargaining agreement, represented a 3 percent annual wage increase, but that the statistical anomaly of a "53rd payday" in the upcoming fiscal year added $70,000 to the salary item.
Conklin also explained that the board had unanimously approved a five year retention contract for Town Administrator Paul Freitas which had endeavored to bring his salary up to levels found in equivalent surrounding communities.
Former Select Board member Val Scarborough spoke against the proposed reduction in Emergency Management, and in support of Town Administrator Paul Freitas citing the "millions of dollars in grant monies that he brings in to the Town due to his exceptional level of emergency management."
"The Town would be hard-pressed to find a more dedicated public servant," agreed former Select Board member Patrice Scott, who thanked the board for negotiating the five-year deal with Freitas.
Article 6, the three- year Collective Bargaining Agreement with Police and Fire, passed by a vote of 76 in favor, 15 opposed.
All other articles were speedily approved with little or no discussion.