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Solar array, cash transfers get nod at Special Town Meeting

Date: 11/1/2010

Nov. 1, 2010

By Chris Maza

Reminder Assistant Editor

LONGMEADOW -- Voters elected to pass two warrant articles at the Oct. 26 Special Town Meeting that clear the way for the construction of a large-scale solar array in town.

Article 11 of the warrant, which was an amendment to current zoning bylaws allowing agricultural land to be used for the purpose of a solar array, was passed by a majority vote.

In addition, Article 12 was passed unanimously, transferring $25,000 to properly close the old landfill on Bernie Road and prepare it as the site for a photovoltaic array. The town stopped using the landfill in the late 70s, according the warrant, but it was never properly closed. The funds appropriated will go toward the design and site work of closing it, as well as the engineering and site design for the new use of the land.

The town also passed an amended article, allowing $200,000 to be transferred from available funds in the town's treasury, or "free cash," to fund technology upgrades for the town. The use of the funds includes: $75,000 to replace the telephone system in town buildings, $50,000 to replace teachers' computers in the schools, $50,000 to replace student-used computers in the schools and $25,000 for a building fiber intra-connection for town buildings.

The original warrant item proposed the money be taken from the Capital Stabilization Fund, but residents raised objections, stating that the usage of those monies for technology did not fit the criteria needed to draw from the fund.

Former chair of the Captial Stabilization Committee, Gerald Nolet, stated that the definition of ventures that fit the criteria are major, non-recurring expenditures, new building constructions, major repairs of more than $10,000 or the purchase of equipment of more than $10,000 with a useful life of more than five years.

Nolet also expressed his concern with the fact that none of the specific uses of the money were on the warrant he downloaded from the town's Web site. Those uses were on a supplementary projection on the wall during the presentation of the warrant article. Nolet suggested that in the future, the exact use of the money should be on the warrant.

Because the $200,000 was approved to be taken from free cash, Article 8 also needed amending, changing the original proposed amount of free cash to be transferred to the Operational Stabilization Fund from $575,000 to $375,000. That article was passed unanimously.

Voters also passed by one vote Article 7, which allows the creation of an Employee Benefits Stabilization Fund with $475,000. According to Select Board Chair Robert Aseltine, the fund is designed to "smooth out fluctuations" in the town's employment benefit costs.

From FY 00 to FY 10, the average yearly increase in the cost of retirement benefits was 6.5 percent, while the increase in health insurance costs averaged 8.61 percent. However, the inconsistency in the amount of the increase was the Finance Committee's major concern when recommending the article. The increases over the last 10 years fluctuated greatly from year-to-year, according to Aseltine.

The article required a 2/3 vote in order to pass and that requirement was reached by one vote with a count of 47 in favor and 22 against.

Article 2 also passed, allowing, among other things, the transfer of $85,028 in order to raise the police force from 18 to 20.

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