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Small majority of voters pass all articles at Town Meeting

Date: 5/24/2011

May 23, 2011

By Katelyn Gendron

Assistant Managing Editor

WILBRAHAM — There were relatively few fireworks at Wilbraham's Annual Town Meeting on May 16.

Only 244 voters gathered at Minnechaug Regional High School (MRHS) for the meeting, electing to pass all 40 articles on the warrant, including a few hot button issues such as the municipal and school budgets and the use of Community Preservation Act (CPA) funds.

"We've made some tough decisions on how to meet the [$1.5 million] budget gap," School Superintendent M. Martin O'Shea explained during a brief presentation of the department's $39.73 million budget.

"We've, in past years, picked the low hanging fruit from the budget and it gets harder and harder each year," he added in reference to the cuts.

Faculty and staff reductions for fiscal year 2012 include seventh grade French language teachers; an associate principal, art, English and family and consumer science positions at MRHS; 12 to 13 paraprofessionals; a half-time nurse and an art position at Thornton Burgess Middle School.

O'Shea praised the School Committee's commitment to "apply [approximately $470,000 in] contingency reserves to restore critical positions."

He said, "We're in some tough times but we'll climb out of this. This is a one-, two- or three-year problem."

Finance Committee Chair Susan Bunnell described Wilbraham's municipal financial picture as solid due to higher than projected revenues. She called the committee's use of the $1.2 million surplus "prudent," allowing members to meet their goals to support the school budget, avoid an override of Proposition 2 1/2 and "optimize the value of each dollar."

Bunnell noted the committee was also able to include the replacement of two police vehicles; maintain additional firefighter and EMT personnel; add hours for senior and veterans' services; funding soft costs for Fire Department building renovations; and the designation of monies for fiber optics.

Planning Board Chair Frederic Fuller III lobbied voters to use $431,396 in CPA funds for seven different projects including town records preservation; the cemetery management plan; Rice Nature Preserve landscape preservation; the purchase of Gazebo Park; disc golf mats; the renovation of Fountain Park Barn; and improvements of Spec Pond Recreation Area.

"CPA is worth it," Fuller said of the 1.5 percent surcharge on property taxes collected for the use of CPA initiatives. "We feel good about what we're doing."

Voters approved all the proposed CPA projects, making Gazebo Park the town's third land acquisition. "The park is really an enhancement to the town," Fuller said.

Other articles approved by the majority of voters included compensation for elected town officials; $150,000 from free cash for road repaving and preservation; the sale of Foskit Hall, 4885 Main St.; the establishment of a fund for Wilbraham's 250th anniversary celebration; and the transfer of $100,000 from free cash into the Stabilization Fund.

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