Andover Townsman, Andover, MA


May 15, 2014

Debate-fueled Town Meeting draws to end; Voters take aim over spending, rising costs

Voters take aim on spending, rising costs

Break out the cliches: Town Meeting members sharpened their pencils this year, going through the Town Meeting warrant with a fine-tooth comb, leaving no stone unturned in their quest to pinch every, possible penny.

Which is probably why it took four nights to finish.

Tuesday night was the final night of Town Meeting 2014, and, like the previous three evenings, it was filled with questions, commentary and even some controversy.

Open space

The big item up for discussion Tuesday was whether to give the town’s Conservation Commission the authority to borrow up to $800,000 to purchase open space.

Technically, Article 56 called for transferring borrowing authority to the commission so that it could enter into negotiations with the owners of some 20 pieces of land around town and make purchase offers if the opportunity arose. The $800,000 would be added to $400,000 the commission already has for land purchases.

The proposal went onto the floor of Town Meeting with mixed reviews, having been rejected by both the selectmen and the Finance Committee while being supported by the Conservation Commission and the Planning Board.

In a year marked by cost-cutting, selectmen felt it would have been better to simply de-authorize the borrowing of the $800,000 so that it would never hit taxpayers’ pocketbooks.

But Town Meeting had a different idea, as many open-space minded people filled the audience and argued that one of the town’s strengths was its commitment to fields, flora and fauna.

Even Selectman Brian Major took to the floor of Town Meeting, arguing that he was in favor of shifting the spending authority to the Conservation Commission because it would give the town the opportunity to buy the old Phillips Academy boathouse on the Merrimack River.

“This allows us to make real-time decisions about properties as they come on the market,” he said, noting that the town recently lost the opportunity to buy a house that could have added to parking behind the Center at Punchard. He said perhaps the best piece of property that would be eligible for purchase would be 7.8 acres owned by Phillips Academy, which is the location of the school’s old boathouse on the Merrimack River.

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