TOWN MEETING ’21: Voters asked to consider balanced budget, fire station design work, land use changes

Abington appears ready to emerge from the worse pandemic in a century with a balanced budget that avoids dipping into the town’s savings fund and actually adds nearly a dozen new positions. 

Town Meeting will be asked Monday night to approve $59.7 million in spending for the fiscal year that starts July 1. The meeting agenda also includes expected votes on $3.5 million on engineering plans for a new centralized fire station, $775,000 to repave Hancock and Lincoln streets,  $303,000 in Community Preservation Act projects,  and $920,000 in other capital spending. 

“Considering where we are as far as the economy and town revenues, to be able to balance the budget, not take any money out of stabilization, and not have to let people go, and even in a couple spots add a couple positions, I didnt really think we’d be able to do that this year,” Finance Committee Chairman Matt Salah said.

Town Meeting starts at 7 p.m., Monday at the Abington Middle/High School Auditorium. A Special Town Meeting is scheduled first to take care of business related the current year’s budget. The Annual Town Meeting will start immediately afterwards.

With the pandemic-related state of emergency still in effect, the quorum for Town Meeting remains 75. Attendees will be required to wear masks and be seated with an empty row in front of them and three empty seats on either side, according to Town Moderator Shawn Reilly. Members of the same family or household will be able to sit next to each other.

The Abington Health Department is scheduling a vaccination clinic in the Middle/High School Gymnasium starting at 5:30 p.m. (Pfizer shots only).

The moderator has prepared a Town Meeting preview video.

The warrants for the Special and Annual Town Meetings can be found here.

Here is some information on each article:

SPECIAL TOWN MEETING

Article 1Snow and ice costs

 Despite the relatively mild winter, Abington still has a $389,210 snow and ice removal bill it has to pay. Money to pay this is going to come from left over health insurance fund money. The town is required to set aside enough money to cover health insurance costs for all employees, but some employees may decide to take their spouse’s health insurance instead. Or a higher number of employees than expected may stick with individual plans versus taking family plans. When this happens, Abington ends up with a surplus in this line item. This year, it will be used to pay off the town’s snow removal contractors.

Cost: $389,210

Funding Source: FY 21 health insurance line item

Article 2 – Payment of prior year’s bill

This article will pay an existing $5,239.59 bill with Bemis Drug. Lambiase said the bill was uncovered while transitioning to the town’s new veterans agent. He said the town likely helped cover some prescription costs for low income veterans. Although Bemis has closed its retail operations, it is still settling up its financials, which is why the town is paying the bill.

Cost: $5,239.59

Funding Source: FY 21 health insurance line item

Article 3 – Improvement to water treatment plant

Water customers this week received another notice detailing the Abington/Rockland Joint Water Works battle to meet new state caps on per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS. Known as “forever chemicals” because they don’t break down, PFAS have been increasingly tied to long-term health issues. The approved level had been 70 parts per trillion, but Massachusetts last year dropped the acceptable level to 20 parts per trillion. The Water Works’ three month average in February, March, and April was 21.3 parts per trillion. This article will pay for two new filtering pressure vessels for the Hannigan Treatment Plant, which Superintendent Joe LaPointe believes will keep the PFAS levels under 20.

Cost: $175,000

Funding Source: Water enterprise fund

Article 4 – Funding to prepare MVP grant application

 Abington currently does not have a place to provide overnight shelter for those in need during an emergency. If a tornado hit the town tomorrow, Abington would have to call on some regional and state agencies to help provide a safe overnight space. But the town feels it should have its own sheltering capabilities. The town will be applying for a Municipal Vulnerability Prepardeness grant to cover the cost of a new generator and other upgrades at the senior center. This article would allocate the town’s $20,000 expected share of the grant.

Cost: $20,000

Funding Source: FY 21 health insurance line item

Article 5 – Funding for MS4 drainage improvements

New federal and state stormwater run-off laws require every city and town to improve the quality of water draining into local waterways. For example, every road now needs to be swept twice a year, every storm basin cleaned once a year, and municipalities must test the quality of water flowing from any outfall pipes (Abington has 220 of them). 

This article would provide money for a couple other required tasks, specifically, mapping the town’s storm drains and looking for illegal infiltration points, such as washing machines connected to storm drains instead of sewer lines. “The laundry detergents can contain phosphorus and other things not good for sanctuary waterways,” Stone said.

Cost: $175,000

Funding Source: FY 21 health insurance line item

Article 6 – Funding for Green Communities grant

This article would supplement a state Green Communities Act grant that is paying for energy efficiency improvements in town buildings.

Cost: $21,135

Funding Source: FY 21 health insurance line item


ANNUAL TOWN MEETING

Article 1 – FY 22 operating budget

The proposed $59.7 million town budget represents a 4.2 percent increase in spending over the current budget. On the Town Hall side, it adds a new captain position for the fire department, a new lieutenant position for the police department, a new laborer for the department of public works, a new administrative position in the town manager’s office, and additional hours for the planning board staff assistant. According to Lambiase, the fire department needs the additional role to help with inspections, last year’s police department management study recommended adding an additional lieutenant, the public works department has been down multiple positions for several years, the planning board assistant will be taking on a larger role writing state grants, and the new admin position would alleviate work load on the current admin as well as help with benefits administration. “I need adminsitrative help here, it’s just too much for one person,” Lambiase said. 

On the school side, the $26.5 million in requested spending is a 4.43 percent – or $1.12 million – increase over this year. Of that increase, $875,000 will go towards higher personnel costs; $598,000 is for contractually obligated pay hikes, and $258,000 for the new hires. The new positions include an English Language Learner teacher, a STEAM teacher, and a grade 5 teacher at the Middle School/High School; a special education teacher, a special education paraprofessional, a kindergarten teacher, a kindergarten paraprofessional, and a grade 1 teacher at the Beaver Brook Elementary; and an additional IT technician. The kindergarten, grade 1, grade 5, and STEAM teachers are needed to reduce class sizes from 29 students to 24, Superintendent Peter Schafer said. 

The budget was balanced without pulling money from the town’s $3.5 million stabilization fund. Instead, it relies on the annual 2.5 percent property tax increase, about $450,000 in “new growth” from new construction, and “conservative” increases in meals and excise taxes. Oh, and there’s about $215,000 in revenue from cannabis sales included for the first time too. Revenues dropped about $650,000 in the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2020, largely due to the pandemic, and were estimated to fall slightly further this current fiscal year. Lambiase said local revenue estimates for next year assume revenue will return to fiscal 2020 levels. 

“I look around at the towns around us and some have used free cash, some stabilization to balance their budgets,” Lambiase said. “I think we’re in great shape. It’s a testament to the work the [Finance Committee] has done over the past several years and the discipline the town has had.”

The Finance Committee approved the budget unanimously. 

Cost: $59.7 million

Funding Source: General Fund (property taxes, meals taxes, excise taxes, state aid)

Article 2 – Funding of capital plan

In recent years, Abington has used its free cash – essentially its budget surplus from the previous year – to pay for capital needs, such as new police vehicles or fixing bridges. The loss of revenue at the end of fiscal year 2020 meant the town did not have any free cash to use in the upcoming year. However, Abington is scheduled to receive about $800,000 this year from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act passed earlier this year. The Biden Administration still hasn’t finalized the rules governing what the money can be used for, except it can’t be used to replenish savings accounts or reduce taxes. Abington’s tentative plan, which the newly formed Capital Planning Committee agreed with, is to only approve capital projects at the Annual Town Meeting that will be paid for through enterprise funds (water,  sewer, Strawberry Valley Golf Course). All other general government capital needs will wait until a Special Town Meeting this fall, when the federal spending rules are better understood. Expected purchases at that time include a new street sweeper (Stone said one of the town’s two street sweepers is no longer safe for his crew) a new public works bucket truck (another unsafe vehicle, according to Stone) and at least one police vehicle. 

The capital needs Town Meeting will be asked to approve Monday night range from new vehicles and treatment plant upgrades for the Abington/ Rockland Joint Water Works to relining sewer manholes to new golf carts and other equipment at the golf course. 

Cost: $925,000

Funding Source: Various enterprise funds

Article 3 – Sick leave buy back

The Joint Water Works is asking for $35,121.60 to pay out earned sick leave days accrued by a pair of retiring employees.

Cost: $35,121.60

Funding Source: Water enterprise fund

Article 4 – Annual funding of student transportation

This article will spend $14,000 to cover the cost of transporting Abington kids to out-of-district vocational schools.

Cost: $14,000

Funding Source: General fund

Article 5 – Health imperative funding

The town annually appropriates $5,000 to support violence prevention and intervention programs and services for survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence.

Cost: $5,000

Funding Source: General fund

Article 6 – ARC of the South Shore funding

This article would provide $2,500 to the ARC of the South Shore, which provides support services and programming for those with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Cost: $2,500

Funding Source: General fund

Article 7 – Matching grant for hazard mitigation

Abington is applying for a state flood and storm hazard mitigation grant. This article would provide the 10 percent needed match.

Cost: $5,000

Funding Source: General fund

Article 8 – Matching grant for Mill Street Dam repair

The structure holding back Hunt’s Pond has been on the state’s list of dams needing significant repairs for a few years now.  “It holds back quite a bit of water,” Stone said. “It’s time for a new one.” The state currently inspects the Mill Street plan twice a year and the town’s engineers inspect it four times a year, he said. State grants to fix dams require a 25 percent local match. This article would set aside $50,000 for the town’s share.

Cost: $50,000

Funding Source: General fund

Article 9 – Establishment of new stormwater revolving fund

Another requirement of the new federal and state stormwater runoff rules is that municipalities also have to start regularly cleaning out publicly owned retention and detention basins. These are often the areas within a subdivision where rainstorm runoff will collect before draining off slowly. But few of the basins and outlets receive regular maintenance and can become overgrown with weeds, brush, small trees, and debris. This article will require developers to start paying into a fund to defray these costs.

Cost: $50,000

Funding Source: Developers

Article 10 – Deletion of building department revolving fund

Currently, any money paid for building permits, inspections, and other fees goes into a special building department revenue fund, with all department positions – such as the building commissioner, zoning enforcement officer, and wiring inspector – being paid from that account. However, the fund typically runs a surplus. This article would dissolve that fund and have all fees collected by the department placed into the general fund. “Nobody is going to lose a position, nothing is going to change within the department, the only thing that’s going to change is how we account for the money,” Lambiase said.

Cost: n/a

Funding Source: n/a

Article 11 – Community Preservation budget

This is the annual article to spend Community Preservation Act money on projects around town. This year’s slate of projects includes $125,000 to tear down the wooden Beaver Brook Playground and cut down trees in the area to make way for a possible future new playground, $50,000 for additional improvements to the baseball fields at Plymouth Street, and $25,000 to dig a new well at Griffin’s Dairy Park. About $345,000 will be carried over until next year.

Cost: $303,022

Funding Source: Community Preservation Act taxes

Article 12 – Design of new fire station

This could be the most controversial article of the evening. Town Meeting will be asked to borrow $3.5 million to start the engineering, design, and project management process for a new centralized fire station. A study last year concluded that a new combined station off Gliniewicz Way was the best option for the town. However, the $30+ million pricetag has people hesitating, as well as concerns about the ability of emergency response vehicles to quickly exit the site when Gliniewicz Way is backed up during school dropoff/pickup. The fire department has prepared a series of information videos explaining why the current buildings can’t be renovated. Treasurer/Collector Sonia Hodge has also put together a presentation estimating how much the fire station would increase property taxes (about $275 annually for a $300,000 home). This article would allow the town to prepare all the drafts and drawings needed to put the project out to bid, as well as provide engineering and project management services all the way through construction. Town officials say this piece will allow them to refine the plan and come up with a more official cost estimate. The Finance Committee spent multiple hours debating this article alone, with a number of members worried that if approved, if would essentially commit the town to funding the entire project. Ultimately, only committee member Justin Van Ness voted against recommending the article.

“My major concerns revolve around there not being other options available to choose from,” he told Abington News. “I find it hard to believe we couldn’t resolve the issues the fire department has if we spent, say, $15 or $20 million. If we approve spending $3.5 million on these plans, it basically traps us into doing the full $30 million project because we will have already invested so much money.”   

Cost: $3,500,000

Funding Source: Borrowing

Article 13 – Purchase of vacant land off Bedford Street

This article is directly related to Article 12. If approved, it will provide money for the town to buy the 6-acre parcel of land the fire station would be built on. The parcel is currently landlocked, with no direct access to a roadway. The town currently has a verbal agreement with the owner, Irving Butler, to buy the land for $130,000. That pricetag is based on the property’s assessed value, plus a little extra, Lambiase said. 

Members of the newly formed Abington Friends of Conservation are raising objections saying because there are wetlands on the site it should be preserved, not developed.

Cost: $130,000

Funding Source: Borrowing

Article 14 – Funding of roadway pavement projects

This article would allow the town to borrow $775,000 in order to repave Hancock and Lincoln streets. The town generally only spends what it receives in annual Chapter 90 money ($387,759) on fixing town roads. But Stone has spent time this spring convincing the Board of Selectmen, Capital Planning Committee, and Finance Committee that the town will never catch up on its road improvement needs if it continues to only spend its Chapter 90 allotment – that extra investment is needed. Because the two roads are next to each other, they could actually get a lower rate when it comes time to bid the project, Stone said.

Cost: $775,000

Funding Source: Borrowing

Article 15 – Planning for building updates at town offices & public library

Some longtime residents may be surprised to learn it’s already been 25 years since the new town hall and town library were built. That age means the buildings are starting to need some repairs. This article would allocate money to hire engineering services to figure out what roofs, windows, doors, and other items may need to be replaced. Lambiase said he will have a final number at Town Meeting.

Cost: TBD

Funding Source: TBD

Article 16 – Revision to Affordable Housing Trust Fund bylaw

Last year, Town Meeting established a new Affordable Housing Trust Fund to manage money for future affordable housing projects. The bylaw created three year terms for members. The state Attorney General, which reviews all bylaw changes, declined to approve it, saying committee member terms should be two years. This article will make that change to the bylaw.

Cost: n/a

Funding Source: n/a

Article 17 – Funding of union contracts

This article would fund new employee contracts for the police and fire department. Both of those bargaining unions have agreed on one-year contract extensions that contain a 2 percent pay hike, plus makes Juneteenth – which is a new state holiday commemorating the emancipation of American slaves – a municipal holiday for those unions. The collective bargaining unit representing library workers may be finalized before Town Meeting – or it may not.

Cost: TBD

Funding Source: General fund

Article 18 – Funding for South Shore Technical High School renovations

South Shore Technical High School is looking to undertake a $10.5 million renovation project that will upgrade the nearly 60-year-old school’s roof, HVAC system, doors and windows. The town’s annual assessment to support the regional school typically includes a capital improvement charge. Finance Committee Chairman Matt Salah said the first couple years will actually be cost neutral for Abington, as the town’s share of the assessment will equal what it typically pays for annual capital improvements. School Superintendent Thomas Hickey is expected to be on hand Monday night to discuss the project.

Cost: $1.8 million over 20 years

Funding Source: General fund

Article 19 – Property tax exemption for Gold Star parents

Under state law, municipalities can choose to adopt a provision giving Gold Star families – families of military personnel killed in action – a full exemption for property taxes. This article does just that. Abington had previously adopted a similar provision giving property tax breaks for Gold Star spouses. “This provides some relief to a family that gave it all,” said Lambiase, who believes it would affect only one family in town.

Cost: TBD

Funding Source: General fund

Article 20 – Zoning amendment to update Section 175-35 (Flood Plain and Wetlands Protection District)

This article would rewrite the town’s Flood Plain and Wetlands Protection District bylaw, which helps protect environmentally sensitive areas from potentially harmful development and commercial uses. (Editor’s note: it’s really hard to summarize what’s changing in this bylaw. But Abington is required to adopt it by the federal government.)

Cost: N/A

Funding Source: N/A

Article 21 – Zoning amendment to add street address on commercial signs

This bylaw update would require commercial businesses to clearly post their street address on any free standing signs on the site. This was drafted in response to concerns from the fire department that not all addresses are clearly visible.

Cost: N/A

Funding Source: N/A

Article 22 – Zoning amendment to add “accessory apartments” to list of definitions

The term “accessory apartment” is currently not included in the town’s zoning bylaws. Accessory apartments are separate living quarters contained in a larger house.  They must have their own bathroom and kitchen spaces, for example. In Abington, only immediate family members can live in accessory apartments.

Cost: N/A

Funding Source: N/A

Article 23 – Zoning amendment to insert reference to annual in-law affidavit

The reason why Article 22 is needed. This would specify that owners of accessory apartments need to file annually a notarized statement attesting who is living in the apartment and the family relationship.

Cost: N/A

Funding Source: N/A

Article 24 – Zoning amendment to address lots transacted by zoning districts

Some lots sit on zoning boundary lines and may be partially zoned for residential use or partially zoned for commercial/ highway use, for example. Currently, developers can choose to apply the larger zoning designation an additional 50 feet over the existing zoning boundary line. This article would expand that buffer to 100 feet.

Cost: N/A

Funding Source: N/A

Article 25 – Zoning amendment to delete outdated/irrelevant note in use chart

A couple years ago Town Meeting changed the zoning of the northern end of town along Routes 18 and 58 from Technology Business District to Business Development District. When that was done, a footnote that referenced the old district was erroneously left in. This article would make that deletion.

The footnote references solid waste facilities, which was the focus of a prolonged and heated battle between residents and the town earlier this century when a land owner proposed locating a transfer station off Route 18. Some of those same residents have sought assurances that deleting this reference won’t reopen the door. Town attorneys have insisted that solid waste facilities are currently prohibited under the new zoning, and this article just deletes a stray sentence.

Cost: N/A

Funding Source: N/A

Article 26 – Zoning amendment to increase site plan supervision during construction

This article would give the Planning Board powers to levy penalties on developers who ignore their approved plans and make unapproved changes during construction. Currently, the board does not have any recourse except to make the property owner come in and seek approval after the fact. However, this article is expected to be passed over as town attorneys have since decided it conflicts with other bylaws on the books.

Cost: N/A

Funding Source: N/A

Article 27 – Zoning amendment to clarify 50-foot building separation requirement

Currently, in residential complexes consisting of 12 units or more, every building has to be at least 50 feet apart. This article would exempt non-residential buildings — such as garages or maintenance sheds — from that 50-foot rule.

Cost:N/A

Funding Source: N/A

Article 28 – Zoning amendment to reduce minimum lot area in MUPDD zone

This article would reduce the minimum lot size required for a project in the town’s Multiple Use Planned Development District from 10 acres to 3 acres. This zoning district is mostly located along Chestnut Street and the town-owned section of the former air station. The intent was to place larger commercial and institutional uses along those corridors, such as nursing homes or commercial parks. Only a couple projects have been proposed for the Chestnut Street corridor over the years, and the Planning Board thinks reducing the minimum lot size may attract more interest.

Abington Friends of Conservation has highlighted this article as a way to block future development of a parcel of land at 940 Hancock Street that sits in a core habitat area and next to wetlands. That parcel is 28 acres, though, and wouldn’t be impacted by this article. 

Cost: N/A

Funding Source: N/A

Article 29 – Zoning amendment to require multi-family variance in HC zone

This article would make it tougher to build certain types of multifamily housing on highway commercial zoned land, which is mostly located off Routes 18 and 123. Currently, multi-family housing can be built in that zone with a special permit from the zoning board of appeals. This article would require multifamily housing projects consisting of fewer than 12 units to instead seek a use variance, which is a higher standard to meet. The argument is that the highway commercial district should be preserved for commercial development, not smaller residential projects. Larger multifamily projects of 12 units or more would still be allowed by special permit. Although the Planning Board initially requested this be included on the warrant, it has since voted not to support it.

Cost: N/A

Funding Source: N/A

Article 30 – Zoning amendment to require enhanced streetscape design

There are a number of old lots around town that are deep but not wide, meaning they may only have 100 feet of frontage but go 300 feet back off the road. Sometimes when these parcels are developed the buildings are turned sideways to fit on the lot. As a result, the more attractive fronts face parking areas, and the side of the structure – which often includes utility conduits, smaller windows, and less architectural features  – faces the street. This article would require builders to design these types of structures with more architectural features facing the street in order to enhance curb appeal.

Cost:N/A

Funding Source: N/A

Article 31 – Zoning amendment to update regulation of medical marijuana dispensaries

The state’s treatment of medical marijuana facilities has changed since the town originally adopted its own medical marijuana facility bylaw a few years ago. This article updates the language in the town’s bylaw to align it with the new state rules.

Cost: N/A

Funding Source: N/A

Article 32 – Zoning amendment to update marijuana overlay district bylaw per state regulations

This article is similar to Article 31. It updates the town’s adult-use marijuana bylaw to reflect new state regulations, specifically around marijuana delivery and courier services.

Cost: N/A

Funding Source: N/A

Article 33 – Citizens’ petition to dedicate and rename town buildings

A citizen’s petition article, this would name the Abington police station, highway barn, basketball courts, and street hockey rinks – all located on Central Avenue – after former police sergeant Alex Kokoros, who took his own life in 2018. Lambiase said the power to name municipal property after someone lies exclusively with the board that oversees it, in this case, the Board of Selectmen. Because of this, the Moderator is expected to ask Town Meeting to ask voters to take no action.

Cost: N/A

Funding Source: N/A

Article 34 – Citizens’ petition to dedicate and rename middle/high school

A citizen’s petition article, this would name the Abington Middle/High School as “The Sergeant Alex Kokoros Municipal Complex” after former Sergeant Kokoros. As with the previous article, Lambiase said the power to name municipal property after someone lies exclusively with the board that oversees it, in this case the School Committee. The School Committee has previously said it does not support naming schools after people. Because of this, the Moderator is expected to ask Town Meeting to take no action.

Cost: N/A

Funding Source: N/A

Article 35 – Citizens’ petition to remove fire chief position from civil service

A citizen’s petition article, this article would make the position of Fire Chief exempt from the civil service, similar to the Police Chief position. Lambiase said doing this would require changing the Town Charter, which this article does not do. Because of this, the Moderator is expected to ask Town Meeting to pass over this article.

Cost: N/A

Funding Source: N/A

Article 36 – Citizens’ petition to require withdrawal from regional police dispatch agreement

The Board of Selectmen in April voted to transfer all police dispatch operations to a regional dispatch center. The fire department already runs its dispatch operations through the center. This citizen’s petition would renege that agreement. However, Lambiase says the state law authorizing regional dispatch centers specifically states that the power to join these types of agreements lies with the Board of Selectmen, not Town Meeting. Because of this, the Moderator is expected to ask Town Meeting to pass over this article.

Cost: N/A

Funding Source: N/A

Article 37 – Citizens’ petition to adopt military leave statute

Currently, when Abington employees are activated by their National Guard  or military reserve units, the town has to hold their job but does not have to pay them over the length of their deployment. The employees do have the option of using their vacation and personal days while deployed to keep receiving paychecks. This citizens’ petition article would change that, granting these employees full pay while deployed. “This will help preserve their personal time to spend with their children, spouses, friends or use when needed,” the Abington Police Union MassCop Local 476 wrote in a Facebook post supporting the article. Lambiase said he’s hoping Town Meeting will pass over the article for now as it’s not clear what type of activation will trigger the pay requirement and how many employees it will impact.

Cost: TBD

Funding Source: General Fund

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