HomeGovernmentSpecial Town Meeting is tonight: here's what you need to know

Special Town Meeting is tonight: here’s what you need to know

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WESTFORD — Special Town Meeting is tonight, with two new building projects set to appear on the warrant. Here’s everything you need to know about the meeting and the proposed projects.

Where and when does Special Town Meeting take place? 

Special Town Meeting will be held in the Westford Academy gymnasium at 7 p.m. The event will be livestreamed, but residents must be present in person in order to vote.

Floor plan of Special Town Meeting. (Photo/Town of Westford)

Will clickers be used?

At Annual Town Meeting earlier this year, a majority of voters authorized the use of Electronic Vote Tabulators at Town Meeting. According to Town Moderator Angela Harkness, these tabulators will be used on Articles where “a count is required or requested.”

She noted that voters can expect to use a tabulator on Article 5, Article 6 and Article 9.

Not sure how to use a tabulator? Watch our tutorial here.

Can I speak in support or opposition to an Article?

Yes, voters may take to the stage to speak in support or opposition to an Article. However, Harkness requests that voters take no longer than two minutes at the microphone when speaking.

How long will Special Town Meeting take? 

Harkness estimates Special Town Meeting will take between 90 minutes and two hours.

Article 5, 51 Main St.

A proposed building would replace the existing fire station at 51 Main St., which has stood since 1974. This station has been vacant since its replacement in 2018, when the town completed its fire headquarters located on Boston Road.

The proposed building would house a new multi-function space which could serve as a 100-seat meeting room, community room or police training room, as well as office space for the Technology Department, Veterans Services Department and the Facilities Department. The building would also provide office space for the Sustainability Coordinator and Wellness Coordinator.

Officials site “consistently inadequate space” for the public to attend in-person meetings.

The former Fire Station Garage on East Prescott Street currently houses the Technology Department. The building, according to officials, does not meet accessibility requirements, has inadequate parking and workspace, and maintains its servers in “unsafe” garage bays.

Both the Facilities Department and Veterans Services Department are located in the Millennium Building, which officials note has a limited life expectancy and limited space for both departments.

The building will meet town and state sustainability and climate resiliency goals as outlined in Westford’s Roadmap to Net Zero.

If approved, the town expects public bids to begin in early summer of 2023. Officials expect construction to conclude in Dec. 2024. The project is expected to cost $12,010,000. Watch the virtual presentation of the proposed building below:

Article 6, The J.V. Fletcher Library Expansion

A proposed expansion to the J.V. Fletcher Library is up for consideration at Special Town Meeting. The project aims to update sections of the building that are no longer up to code, expand its children’s space and meet sustainability goals outlined by the town’s Roadmap to Net Zero.

“Compared to other libraries, it [the children’s room] is so small and [an upgrade] is so overdue,” said J.V. Fletcher Library Board of Trustees Chair Marianne Fleckner.

Rainville noted that the new, three-story plan is aimed to give the public additional space within the public library.

“There will be more collaborative and community space. We’re looking for a place that’s welcoming, that’s much larger and a much more versatile building to be able to handle whatever library and service trends come up in the future,” Rainville told WestfordCAT.

She continued, “what we see in the future is that personal use is going to be as important as managing and stacking and organizing the books that they want.”

The project is eligible for a $7.85 million grant provided by the Massachusetts Public Library Construction Program if funding is approved at Special Town Meeting.

The total cost of the project is estimated to be $32,546,009 before grant and fundraising offsets. Watch a tour of the current building below:

An Important Note about Article 5 and Article 6

Tonight’s vote will decide whether or not the town will authorize funding for each building project.

Both projects are set to appear on the Nov. 8 Special Town Election where voters will choose to authorize a debt exclusion for each project.

A debt exclusion authorization would exclude the project funding from Proposition 2 1/2, a state-level restraint on how much a community can increase its tax levy year over year.

“We feel the time to take on new debt is when debt is paid because it avoids dips and spikes in the tax rate,” said Town Manager Jodi Ross in an Aug. 8 Select Board meeting.

The estimated tax impact on a median-assessed home of $660,500 for the 51 Main St. building will be approximately $81.59 in 2024 and decline over time. The estimated tax impact on a median-assessed home for the J.V. Fletcher Library Expansion will be approximately $158.61 in 2027 and is expected to decline over time.

Current projections show $401.98 in excluded debt in fiscal year 2027, which is similar to the amount of excluded debt on the average tax bill in fiscal year 2016, according to Tax Collector Christie Collins during a Sept. 27 Select Board meeting.

“We’re not that far off our historical norms for debt even with these new construction costs,” Collins said.

Article 9, Accessory Dwelling Units

Article 9 aims to update the current zoning bylaw regarding accessory dwelling units. The proposal would simplify standards by updating area calculations.

Currently, ADUs may be no larger than 33% of the gross floor area of the existing structure on the property or 800 sq. feet, whichever is greater. The proposal would give property owners a flat square footage allowance.

The proposal would also allow for a transfer of a special permit upon a change in ownership of the property. Currently a special permit would terminate upon a transfer of ownership.

Additional Articles

Article 1 will approve unpaid bills from the previous fiscal year. No unpaid bills are held by the town at this time – this article will be dismissed.

Article 2 would approve fiscal year 2023 budget adjustments.

Article 3 would approve fiscal year 2023 budget transfers.

Article 4 would approve a number of capital appropriations.

Article 7 would reduce the amount raised by taxes in fiscal year 2023.

Article 8 would decrease the membership of the Affordable Housing Trust from 11 members to nine members.

Article 10 would change the name of the Tax Possession Sale Committee to the Tax Possession Disposition Committee.

Article 11 would authorize the Select Board to sell two parcels of land on Pine Tree Trail and Byrne Avenue.

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Ben Domaingue
Ben Domainguehttps://www.clippings.me/bendomaingue
Ben Domaingue has previously worked at newspapers in New Hampshire and is the Managing Editor covering Westford. He’s passionate about community journalism, photography and hiking. Email him at bdomaingue@westfordcat.org.