$92 million budget approved for Shrewsbury
By Bonnie Adams
Shrewsbury – Town Meeting members approved a $92 million operating budget May 16, the first night of Shrewsbury's Annual Town Meeting (ATM).
Many of the articles on the warrant passed with minimal or no discussion but two topics – one related to the school district's budget and another that aimed to strengthen zoning bylaws – were highly debated issues that night.
As in every town, expenses related to schools account for a large portion of a town's overall budget and Shrewsbury, with a projected $47 million school budget for fiscal year (FY) 2012, is no exception. In his report to Town Meeting members, School Committee chair John Samia said that after much hard work and cost-cutting measures, school committee members and administrators were able to present a level funded budget at the ATM. In doing so, he added that the school district was able to maintain their current personnel (no planned layoffs), respond to federal and state mandates, and still make “modest strategic improvements.”
Although the FY 2012 budget was one of “maintenance,” he said, Shrewsbury's students were still “achieving in many areas,” in spite of the district's per pupil expenditures which were less than many other neighboring towns. Samia said that administrators were already working on an FY 2013 budget, as they anticipated that things would be even tighter in the next cycle when there would be teacher contractual obligations that must be met. There would also be no new federal stimulus monies available either, he said.
Article 16 – which addressed a measure to enforce the town's bylaws regarding how a business displays a sign – was the subject of much debate at the meeting. If passed, Town Manager Daniel Morgado said, the bylaw would allow the Building Inspector to issue a penalty to any person or entity not complying with the town's zoning bylaws. Those who were not in compliance would get a 15-day warning but no fee for the first offense. Each day after the first offense would then constitute a new offense. For a second offense, there would be a $50 fine and then a $100 fine for third and subsequent offenses.
Several Town Meeting members questioned why the change in the bylaw was necessary.
“There have been no records of complaints,” member Christopher Kirk of Precinct 1 said. “The main target of this is small businesses. We are using a sledge hammer to squash a mosquito. This measure encumbers small businesses in the worst recession since the Great Depression.”
Resident and former selectman Benjamin Tartaglia agreed, adding that the article gave the town's administrators “new powers” and that it appeared that “the fines could become a revenue source for the town.”
Morgado and Selectman Moira Miller stressed that the change would only help to enforce zoning bylaws that were already in place. Currently the town took violators to court to enforce these regulations, which was timely and cost-consuming for the town, they said.
“The bylaws already exist,” Miller said. “The issues are already enforceable. This [Article 16] just changes the mechanism.”
After further discussion, the article was passed.
Several of the articles on the warrant that pertained to zoning issues addressed the town's “need to plan for the future,” Selectman Chair James Kane told the members. This was important at this time, he noted, to ensure that if the state-owned Irving A. Glavin Regional Center property on Lake Street was to be sold, the town would be protected from unfavorable development that may then go in there. One need only look to Westborough, he added, as that town attempts to come up with a plan regarding the fate of the now closed Westborough State Hospital property.
Town officials wanted to see the Glavin property stay open, Kane said, but at the same time they wanted to be prepared in case the state did decide to close the facility and sell the property.
As of press time, the ATM was scheduled to resume May 18.
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