Town Meeting postpones financial articles

by ahenderson

By Dan Cooper
Turley Correspondent

SOUTH HADLEY- During a time of economic hardships, the biggest debate among voters at May 9’s Annual Town Meeting was whether or not to postpone certain financial articles to a later date.
“A budget can be considered but can’t be voted on,” Interim Town Administrator Barry Del Castilho said. “The state’s budget numbers aren’t finalized.”
Del Castilho said all of the Capital programs could be funded by the federal economic stimulus package, the reason for a delay in those articles.
“Any action today, however, is not final,” Del Castilho added. “Actions can be revisited in June when the meeting reconvenes.”
The first article that was recommended for postponement involved a potential increase to the state’s room and meals tax.
Del Castilho said that the precise motion for the increase isn’t determined yet, so no action could be taken.
Selectboard member Marilyn Ishler said an increase could not be adopted without Town Meeting approval, so the issue would need to be brought back to begin with.
Town Moderator Edward Ryan said that due to the precise motion not being known, the article is not essentially defeated.
One of the most debated articles from the Annual Town Meeting involved Article Eight, which set the salaries for elected officials, including new Clerk/Treasurer Carlene Hamlin. The Selectboard recommended postponing it until a study had been done on the position and a debate over what Hamlin should be paid.
The Selectboard did not make a salary recommendation for the Clerk/Treasure, while the Appropriations Committee recommended a $51,000 a year salary.
“The salary is set by Town Meeting to ensure it can’t change mid-year,” Appropriations Committee member Kevin Taugher explained. “The salary the Clerk/Treasurer makes now was set at last year’s Town Meeting. She’s getting the high end of the scale for this fiscal year. We’re trying to set next fiscal year’s salary.”
A motion to postpone the article failed and a discussion began.
Town Meeting member Bob Robertson said that because Hamlin is new, she should be paid in the range of $46,000 a year.
Many members of Town Meeting said that a low range pay scale would be acceptable, citing Hamlin’s lack of experience, which prompted her to speak on her own behalf.
“I have a Bachelors of Communication and professional experience in the banking business,” she explained. “I have been both a credit analyst and a financial one. In my 18 days in office I have secured a bond for the assistant treasurer, which hasn’t happened for a while.
“I’m working on forming an investment committee and working on a financial statement for the town,” Hamlin continued. “On the clerk side of things, I’m looking at creating a paperless office, hiring an archiving information intern, and hope to get employees better benefits.”
After a lengthy debate the article was tabled until the resumption of the Annual Town Meeting.
Town Meeting members approved an $18.7 million school budget for fiscal year 2010, which Ryan said approximates 50 percent of the town’s fiscal budget.
Superintendent Gus Sayer said cuts were made very carefully so it wouldn’t affect educational values. He also hoped to bring back the recently cut Drug and Alcohol counselor when the funds are available.
Town Meeting also voted to postpone all of the capital projects, albeit after another lengthy debate, mostly concerning Article 34, which called for the creation of drop-off zone and an entry-widening for the parking lot at the Michael E. Smith Middle School.
The Article totaled $100,000 for construction costs.
Many Town Meeting members voiced concern over postponement, saying the parking lot is a major safety concern.
“This project, along with two other school related projects, may be eligible for stimulus money,” Del Castilho explained. “They can still be revisited. While some of the capital programs could be done now, it made sense to postpone them all.”
52 Town Meeting members were in favor of postponing action on the capital projects.
Town Meeting members also passed a Right-to farm by-law, as well as an article forming a committee to look at the effectiveness of the current Town Meeting format.
A new landfill contract will also be voted on when the meeting resumes.
The Annual Town Meeting will resume on June 15 at 7 p.m. in the Town Hall Auditorium.