Ashland voters met on Wednesday, December 9, 2020, at 6 pm for Special Town Meeting at Ashland High School located on 65 East Union Street. We want to thank the 87 voters who came out to vote. Special Town Meeting primarily contained articles deferred from the Annual Town Meeting held this past June. Town meetings are essential to continue municipal operations. Less than 100 Ashland voters attended Special Town Meeting and passed all the presented warrant articles.
Articles 1 and 2 appropriated municipal spending. Article 1 allowed for the free cash transfer, and Article 2 adjusted the Fiscal Year 2021 budget. Article 3, discussed the property tax exemption amount of 11.25%, which equates to approximately $800 for eligible seniors. Articles 4 and 5 discussed the adoption of provisions of the Brave Act, which provides relief in real estate tax exemption and tax work-off programs for surviving parents or guardians of certain soldiers, sailors, members of the National Guard, and Veterans.
Articles 7, 8, and 14 were withdrawn. Articles 9, 10, 11, 12, 13 pertained to special projects in town. Article 9 will allow the Town to complete the sale of 433 Chestnut, which will allow the Town to preserve this historic home in the Warren District that previously served as Henry Warren’s workshop. Article 10 included a friendly easement taking in cooperation with the Independence Lane Home Owners Association and developer, E. A Fish, to build a booster pump which will help increase the water pressure in the neighborhood.
Article 11 proposed by the Stormwater Committee, allows for a lien on unpaid Stormwater fees. Article 12 proposed allocating, $120,000 of CPC to complete the first section of the Ashland Upper Charles Trail, and which was part of the new plan for the Rail Transit District. This will be half mile Trolley Brook section will pass through the Rail Transit District. Town meeting also voted to support Article 13, which requested CPC funds to complete additional improvements for the Town Forest.
Prior to passing Article 6 which requested approval to take 12-16 Union Street by eminent domain for the new public safety building, Michael Herbert, Town Manager, presented the timeline of events that led to the need to request the authority to take the parcel of land that was gifted to the Town in 2018. The landowner’s attorney was present and provided the landowner’s perspective on the status of the gift and the reasons it has not be deeded over to the Town. The Town, prior to exercising its authority to take the parcel will make an attempt to have an amicable transfer of the deed in line with the agreed-upon terms of the gift.
The COVID-19 Pandemic created many obstacles for town meeting setup. Massachusetts law requires public town meetings to continue operations. Despite Governor Baker’s amendments to open meeting law, allowing municipal governments to host weekly department and committee meetings through virtual platforms, like Zoom and Google Meetings, open town meeting must be discussed and held in-person, in an open forum.
The Town of Ashland team created a safe environment with air purifiers and socially distanced seating for voters. Voters were required to wear masks and encouraged to maintain 6 feet separation from others and to stay home and stream the footage from the local cable station if he/she/they felt unwell. The Town Moderator stood at a podium 10 feet from others. All participants, including the Town Manager, wore masks unless speaking. Masks were removed to speak into the microphone, which volunteers then wiped down after each use. Sergeant Ed Burman, the COVID-19 Task lead assisted with the preparations for this meeting and continue to discuss precautions in anticipation of the January meeting.
In January, a second Special Town Meeting and Special Town Election will be held to ask for the funding to complete and construct the two proposed building projects: The Public Safety Building and the Mindess School Building. These projects will require a town meeting vote and a ballot vote. Absentee voting will be available. Please, stay tuned for more information.