Select Board Meeting of February 26, 2024: More on Finances and Car Dealerships

March 6, 2024

he February 26, 2024 Select Board meeting opened as usual by hearing Resident Concerns. Those included the following:

  • Ms. Franny Osman announced that as interim editor-in-chief of the Acton Exchange, to avoid the appearance of conflict of interest, she would be resigning her several town committee memberships.
  • Mr. David Lunger apprised the Board of several apparent violations of Massachusetts General Laws (MGL) in connection with a Registrar of Voters appointment.
  • Mr. Scott Smyers noted the provisions of MGL Chapter 23B Section 30, the Emergency Housing Assistance Program, and questioned whether the legal requirements of that program were currently satisfied.

In Town Manager and Board Member updates:

  • Town Manager John Mangiaratti announced the formal opening of Bistro 30 at the Senior Center, 30 Sudbury Road in Acton. Separately, Mr. Mangiaratti encouraged participation in a state survey from the Commission on Energy Infrastructure Siting and Permitting. A link to the survey is at the Commission’s website.
  • Select Board member Alissa Nicol noted that at their January 22 meeting the Acton Water District Commissioners approved a 50% water usage rate increase; that the Water District’s annual meeting was upcoming (March 20, 2024; 6:00 PM at the RJ Gray Junior High on Charter Road in Acton); and that installation of PFAS removal technology is in progress at several district water treatment plants.
  • Select Board member Fran Arsenault announced a March 6th volunteer opportunity to build wood turtle habitat – an outdoor, hands-on job!
  • And finally, Select Board member Dean Charter said the Acton250 speaker program, The Road to Concord, was upcoming on April 2; and that the Department of Public Works building committee will have its kickoff meeting on Friday March 1.

IMAGE: Select Board meeting, February 26, 2024. Photo credit: Franny Osman

With an override vote pending, financial issues were again prominent at this meeting. The town continues to update fees for services. Assistant Town Manager Thom Begin showed a preliminary listing of proposed Fire and Police fee updates, to be voted on at the upcoming March 4, 2024 Select Board meeting. The proposed fee schedule would result in an estimated $60,000 annual revenue increase. Fee changes for open burning and license-to-carry stimulated discussions among the Board and residents.

Town Manager John Mangiaratti made his eighth budget presentation of the current budget round, reviewing and updating details of the alternative budgets – one of which, depending on the outcome of the override election question, will be presented at Town Meeting. After discussion, the Board voted to adopt, and to transmit to the Finance Committee, the A and B budgets (A being if the override passes, B if not). Then, the board approved the following question for the April 30, 2024 town election:

Shall the Town of Acton be allowed to assess an additional 6.6 million dollars in real estate and personal property taxes for the purposes of funding the operating budget of the Public Schools and the Municipal Government for the fiscal year beginning July 1, 2024?

Acton’s principal assessor Mr. C.J. Carroll completed the financial portion of the meeting with a Personal Property Tax Exemption presentation and a proposed motion for the Board’s vote. The personal property tax is described in MGL ch. 59 §2a:

All property, real and personal, situated within the commonwealth, and all personal property of the inhabitants of the commonwealth wherever situated, unless expressly exempt, shall be subject to taxation;…”

However, the state provides for exemptions in MGL ch. 59 §5 cl. 54, allowing a town to set a minimum value subject to taxation; the state also provides a FAQ on that tax. Mr. Carroll proposed a $2500 property value minimum for that tax and reviewed the Board of Assessors’ reasoning in choosing that amount. The Board voted unanimously to approve the motion.

In Select Board hearings on a Nagog Park Redevelopment and subsequently, residents have commented on the density of automobile dealerships on Great Road. The Board had requested public input on the topic, and  Nora Masler and Kaila Sauer of the Acton Planning department now presented the results of a public survey, Evaluation of Zoning for Auto Dealerships on Great Road. The survey attracted a broad and diverse demographic response. Two similar options that differed in detail were presented and illustrated by reference to a map showing auto dealerships on a section of Great Road. After discussion among the Board and residents, a motion was considered requesting the Planning department to construct a Town Meeting Warrant article that would require a special permit for automobile dealerships in the limited business district of Great Road; the motion was approved in a 4 to 1 vote.

IMAGE: Screen shot from the presentation of survey results on car dealerships in Acton. When asked for their perspective on car dealerships in Acton, forty-five percent of respondents selected, “I would like less car dealerships in Acton.”

A proposed ban on gas-powered leaf blowers was again on the Board’s agenda; this meeting’s discussion considered two proposals for a ban–one a Citizen’s Petition, the other a Select Board proposal. Select Board member David Martin noted that a Citizen’s Petition for a ban had been “correctly submitted”, and the ensuing discussion considered how to deal with the Select Board’s ban proposal. In the end, the Board decided, without a vote, to hold off on the Board’s ban proposal pending Town Meeting’s action on the issue.

The remainder of the meeting consisted of updates and reviews of ongoing business. The Board announced the Town Manager review process, inviting comment from Town staff and residents; and the Select Board goals were listed and reviewed. The Request for Proposals for a Sewer Commission was unanimously approved. The charge – roughly, the job description – for the Economic Development Committee was discussed, and the Board agreed to continue the discussion. Similarly, the Board reviewed the Green Advisory Board’s charter, and extended the group’s mandate by changing ‘charter’ to ‘charge’. Finally, the Board reviewed the role of Select Board Members as liaisons to other Town Boards and Committees; the review ended without a vote.

Tom Beals is a volunteer writer for the Acton Exchange.


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