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Residents approve Hampden solar array

Date: 4/29/2015

HAMPDEN – Residents approved authorization for a solar energy firm to lease at least 12 acres of town owned land for a ground mounted solar installation at the Annual Town Meeting on April 27. The lease could yield $100,000 to $300,000 in tax revenue for the town.

“We’re using town land to bring revenue back to the revenue stream and decrease the burden on the taxes,” Board of Selectmen Chair John Flynn said.

Article 23 called for the execution of a lease near the “capped landfill and other land areas at the transfer station at Cross Road.” A commercial solar developer would operate of solar photovoltaic facilities for electricity for a period up to 20 years. The article required a 2/3 majority vote to pass.

Flynn said a total of 27 vendors came to a pre-bid conference in the town and nine respond to the bid.

“We have to evaluate the different proposals,” he added. “What we’re looking for here is we have a gold mine. This is a hot area. We need to be able to not call a Special Town Meeting and have the vendor standing there waiting for 200 people to show up to approve the agreement.”

The town owns 30 to 40 acres of the proposed 12 that would be used for a solar energy installation, he noted.

“We’re not looking to cover that entire parcel of land,” Flynn added.

Two articles out of 32 on the warrant also failed to pass before voters, including a zoning bylaw that would have deleted language regarding illumination standards of signs.

Article 19 called for the town to amend a section of its illumination of signs zoning bylaw by removing a bracketed section from the bylaw that reads, “and shall be indirect illumination only.”

The entire sentence reads, “Any illumination provided for signs shall be white light only and shall be indirect illumination only.” The bylaw also prohibits flashing or blinking lights designed to attract attention.

Planning Board Chair John Matthews said the intent of the article was to “move ahead with some of the newer technologies with signs” because people have come before the board asking for different signs from what is allowed in the bylaw.

Residents chose to split Article 7, which is for Community Preservation Act projects, into six separate votes. Although the entire article was approved, one project, a  $20,000 expenditure for surveying property lines as well as installing and replacing fencing on the south side of the Old Hampden Cemetery, failed to pass before residents.

The town’s  $12.2 million fiscal year 2016 (FY16) budget was also approved without amendments. The town’s revenue consists of approximately $12.4 million and its expenses total in at $12.2 million. Additional costs from warrant article expenditures are $249,764.

The Fire Department makes up $91,662 of the budget, the Police Department budget is $1.47 million, an increase from the current fiscal year’s budget of $1.32 million, and the Hampden-Wilbraham Regional School District assessment also increased from $6.71 million to $7.1 million.

“We’re about $1.3 million below our ability to provide a level service budget,” Superintendent of Schools M. Martin O’Shea said.  

O’Shea said the shortfall originated from decreased reimbursement rates from the state for regional transportation, unfunded state mandates, and a decline in Chapter 70 funds.