Voters approve budget, vote down CPA revocation and historical bylaw
Date: 5/3/2010May 3, 2010
By Courtney Llewellyn
Reminder Assistant Editor
HAMPDEN - The town's budget for fiscal year 2011 - with some last minute adjustments - along with a wide variety of other articles was approved at the Annual Town Meeting which took place April 26 at Thornton W. Burgess Middle School.
Two of the more contentious articles, involving the revocation of the Community Preservation Act (CPA) and the acceptance of the Massachusetts General Bylaw that would delay the demolition of structures of historical or architectural significance, were both voted down.
A budget totaling $9,678,729 was approved by voters after amendments gave the Board of Selectmen's administrative assistant, the Board of Health's clerk and the Board of Assessors' clerk raises that were long overdue, according to the heads of those departments. An amendment for an additional $2,000 was also approved for those working at the public library.
"You can't expect everybody to just volunteer for this town," one supporter of the increases stated during the discussion of the budget.
Also approved were a motion to partially fund the purchase of 35 acres of land surrounding Goat Rock for open space with CPA funds, a motion to establish the DARE program at Burgess Middle School, a motion to allow news cameras into Town Meetings and a motion to establish a senior volunteer tax abatement program.
"As of now, there are no planned jobs [for the tax program]," Selectman Rick Green said during the meeting. "If approved, there could be jobs at Town Hall, at the senior center, in the library ... It's a $750 abatement." He added that Hampden will be using Wilbraham's outline of the program so the town "doesn't have to reinvent the wheel."
"Anything that helps us and helps them [the seniors in town] is a fabulous thing," Vinny Villamaino, chair of the Board of Selectmen, commented after the meeting.
The two articles that were not approved were not voted down unanimously - both had supporters. The motion to revoke the town's acceptance of the CPA, which was adopted in 2001, saw support from residents struggling in the current fiscal climate. The CPA, which uses a 1 percent real estate surtax to fund open space, recreation, historical preservation and affordable housing projects, is something one voter deemed "a luxury" and something another voter said should be revoked for now and picked up again later when the economy improves.
Selectman Green noted that CPA funding recently paid for a study that found more affordable housing for seniors is needed in town, but Community Preservation Committee member Dorothy Kibbe said that in the past nine years no progress has been made on senior housing because only 10 percent of each year's surtax is required to be put toward that issue.
Resident Cliff Bombard said he thought the CPA should stay in place but that its funds should remain untouched for a few years so money could accrue to be used specifically for senior housing.
Sherry Himmelstein, president of the Minnechaug Land Trust, said a yes vote on the motion would be devastating to the town because the CPA not only allows Hampden to preserve some of the most important parts of town - it also helps bring in additional state funding through grants.
Selectman John D. Flynn pointed out to voters that in the past, it was Town Meeting that used CPA funds to purchase land and pay for other projects. "It's your money," he said. "It's your vote." The voters ultimately decided to keep the CPA in place.
Connie Witt of the Historical Commission introduced the bylaw to delay the destruction of significant historic structures but the motion was met with resistance.
"This is another attempt of the Historical Commission to tell you what you can and cannot do in your own house," Kibbe stated.
Green added that he was "nervous about the ambiguity" in the bylaw regarding what would be considered a significant structure; he said the responsibility of demolition should stay with the landowners.
Witt replied that the town sees zero to three demolitions a year so the bylaw would rarely be used. She said she thought adopting the bylaw was "a very, very good thing to do" and noted that about one-third of the municipalities in the state currently have it in place, including Agawam, Easthampton and Longmeadow. Still, the motion was voted down.
Hampden is hosting its town elections on May 3 from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. at Town Hall.