NORTHFIELD — Voters at the annual municipal meeting approved all but two of 31 items on Monday evening’s term, showing their support for the creation of the Grandin watershed, planning board member allowances and the purchase of land for a public security complex.
Held in the auditorium of the Pioneer Valley Regional School, 184 voters spent more than three and a half hours deliberating over the items.
Item 23 was for the purchase of approximately 23 acres on Main Street, just north of the Dickinson Memorial Library, which is the proposed site of a public safety complex.
Fire Chief Floyd “Skip” Dunnell III said about 10% of the property could be used to house a public safety building, and the rest would be used for city recreation. The property’s current owner, Ed Snow, allows residents to use the land for hiking and biking.
“If we don’t buy this property, someone else will,” said Selectboard member Mary Bowen. Voters approved its purchase by the city.
Residents also supported the creation of the Grandin Water District, described in Section 24. East Northfield Water Co., a private company that currently serves the northern part of the city, does not have the capacity to make the necessary improvements. or to comply with state directives. The creation of the Grandin Water District would transfer water services to a non-profit organization, allowing the new district greater access to grants and low-cost loans.
Legislation establishing the new district will be sent to the state legislature “in the hope of passing it by the end of the term,” City Administrator Andrea Llamas previously explained.
After lengthy discussions, residents finally approved Section 11, which will put the idea of changing the position of elected municipal clerk to an appointed position in the May 2023 municipal election ballot.
While some residents expressed support for the verification process that would come with an appointed clerk, others questioned why the city would change a process they consider a success.
“An elected city clerk, I think, is very political,” said resident Joanne McGee. “I really support this change.”
“The purpose of this article is to put that on the ballot for next year,” said selection committee vice-chair Barbara “Bee” Jacque. “What we’re saying is there are pros and cons on both sides, and that’s why it’s a two-step process.”
Article 12, which concerned the establishment of allowances for Planning Board members, also sparked discussion among residents. The board’s request for $6,000 – broken down into $3,000 for the chair, $1,500 for the vice-chair and $500 for the other three members – was based on a review of work conducted over the past four years, said Planning Council Chairman Steve Seredynski. However, the finance committee previously voted to recommend that the board receive $4,000 – $1,500 for the chair, $1,000 for the vice-chair and $500 for the other three members.
Planning Council member Joe Graveline spoke out against the stipends, calling his work on the council a “labor of love”. Others expressed support for the president receiving a larger stipend than other members, given the demands of the position.
In the end, voters approved the total amount at $6,000.
Voters also approved the purchase of a new ambulance using $300,000 of existing funds; allocate $21,000 for a new waste compactor at the transfer station; and transfer free money $200,000 for a new highway department truck and $56,000 for a police car.
EMS Chief Mark Fortier said Monday that when the city paid for a new ambulance in 2016, his department would pay for the next one at no cost to the taxpayer.
“Here I am, keeping that promise tonight,” he said.
Other items approved included funding to repair or replace the flooring at Northfield Elementary School and to renovate the bathrooms. In addition, $60,000 was approved to cover the expenses of the 350th anniversary committee, including a parade, historical displays and fireworks.
Section 22, one of two to fail Monday, would have earmarked $30,000 to add a permanent sign to the front of City Hall with information about city events. The city is currently using temporary sidewalk signs to display messages, according to the mandate, which often fall. Residents, however, expressed disapproval of the potential for an electronic sign, adding that such an addition would take away from the building’s history.
Residents also rejected Section 29 after an amendment to the section was approved. Steve Stoia, owner of Centennial House Bed and Breakfast, called for the proposed 6% tax on short-term rentals to be lowered to 4% and for the profits to be earmarked for ‘tourism improvement projects’, such as signs and bike racks.
Bowen tabled a motion to reduce the tax from 4% to 6%, which was approved by voters, and called for the discussion of setting aside funds to be added to the Selectboard agenda.
The tax itself, however, was not approved.
To close out the evening, voters approved a citizens’ petition asking the city to support the proposed Statewide Equitable Distribution Amendment, which would create a 4% tax on annual earnings over 1 million dollars and would use the funds for public education and infrastructure projects.