By Jonathan L'Ecuyer
ESSEX — A proposal to fund a feasibility study of municipal building needs, and authorization to ask state lawmakers for legislation exempting the town from competitive bidding process if it attempts to sell any portion of Conomo Point, highlight nearly two dozen actions voters will be asked to consider at tonight's Special Town Meeting.
The meeting is scheduled to begin at 7:30 p.m. in the Essex Elementary School gymnasium.
Though the warrant contains some 23 articles, no action will be taken on at least four of them, including a proposal to purchase a used ladder truck for the Fire Department, Selectman Chairman Ray Randall said Friday.
Fire Chief Daniel Doucette was looking to replace the Fire Department's aging ladder truck with Arlington's Ladder 2 at a cost of $25,000.
The Arlington truck was rehabilitated in 2000, and has a ladder built in 1975. However, after careful review by local mechanics, the town determined the truck was "inadequate" due to a high number of "mechanical difficulties," Randall said.
Articles requesting money for a new police cruiser, a part-time position in the Department of Public Works, and to make a deposit into the town's Other Post Employment Benefits Liability Trust Fund, will also be set aside, Randall said, citing a lack of available funds.
However, officials are still pursuing funds for a drainage system aimed at alleviating perennial flooding in the basement of Police and Fire headquarters, installment of a new Centennial Grove wharf, and a "reverse 911" mass notification system.
Home rule petition
Passage of the home rule petition article would not authorize the sale or lease of any property at Conomo Point.
Rather, the article would authorize the selectmen to seek special legislation to provide the town with a "simplified procedural mechanism" to sell or lease any portion of the Conomo property should Town Meeting authorize any such transaction in the future.
The town has historically leased parcels of land at Conomo Point to private individuals for extended periods of time, but those leases are set to expire on Dec. 31, 2011. If approved by special Town Meeting and the Legislature, the town could sell or lease any portion of Conomo Point at fair market value.
Currently, if a Town Meeting voted to authorize the sale or lease of property at Conomo Point, selectmen would have to adhere to the state's uniform procurement law and sell and lease the property in accordance with a competitive bidding procedure.
Former selectman Edward Neal came out against the special legislation, indicating it was another maneuver by the Board of Selectmen to get around the 1999 annual Town Meeting vote to retain the waterfront for public use.
Randall, however, said that much of what Neal expressed in a letter (The Times, Friday, Nov. 12) amounts to "scare tactics."
"The Board of Selectmen does not have anything up their sleeve; they are not trying to pull something over on the town," Randall said Friday. "Voters know (Neal) is wrong about the fact that the 1999 vote is sacred and can't be changed and that everyone must leave when the leases run out. That's why they funded a study to see what the town's options are moving forward after (the leases) expire."
Neal argued in the letter that the selectmen seem to be ignoring a recent Long Term Planning Committee survey that showed a vast majority of Essex residents are interested in improving and expanding public access at Conomo Point.
Randall countered that the cost to maintain a park and better accessibility while losing possible revenue from selling or re-leasing Conomo Point properties may not be in the town's best interest, especially given that many of its municipal buildings are in disrepair and need prompt attention after decades of neglect.
"We dream about spending money we do not have," Randall said, noting that all of the articles on the warrant would be paid for by free cash or through water and sewer enterprise funds and not higher taxation, as Neal suggested in his letter.
Neal said last November's special Town Meeting was packed by Conomo Point tenants who actually only spend "a few days per year" in Essex.
Randall said a resident of Massachusetts who lives in one town but owns property in another has the right to choose where they register to vote.
Building Feasibility Study
A new public safety building that would house the police and fire stations and a new Town Hall and library building, both in new locations, may become a reality if a feasibility study confirms the Town Building Committee's vision for the future makes sense for Essex.
Officials have put the feasibility study out to bid — subject to garnering voter support for spending $47,500 on the study.
Ultimately, officials hope the study will present options, including how much each would cost to implement, allowing the town to craft a road map of building improvement projects to use as a guide for the next 10 to 15 years.
"Essex has demonstrated an inability to maintain its properties, or have barely maintained them," Randall said. "And that's no offense to the DPW, they do what they can with the resources they have."
The committee has recommended moving the Fire and Police Departments from 24 Martin St. to a to-be-designed and constructed building on town-owned land in Spring Street Cemetery abutting John Wise Avenue.
The public safety building on Martin Street — where the basement routinely floods — would be demolished. A new combined Town Hall and library building would be constructed on the site and existing town offices and the library would move from the historic building at 30 Martin St.
"The buildings are in deplorable condition and, in many ways do not meet current code requirements for accessibility and/or safety features, including fireproofing," said Bob Coviello, a well known merchant and member of the Town Building Committee. "The longer we delay, the more the existing facilities continue to deteriorate and further expose the town to the liability of neglecting to upgrade structures that are insufficient and inadequate."
Coviello added that the price tag for the study of $47,500 is roughly half of what the feasibility study would cost in a more competitive economy.
Jonathan L'Ecuyer can be reached at 978-283-7000 x 3451 or email@example.com.
ESSEX SPECIAL TOWN MEETING WARRANT
TONIGHT, 7:30 P.M.
ESSEX ELEMENTARY SCHOOL
Article 1 — Appropriate money for a feasibility study for the construction of new town buildings and/or renovations to existing town buildings (Town Hall/Library, Fire/Police Headquarters, and a vacant parcel of land in Spring Street Cemetery).
Article 2 — Appropriate money to replace and upgrade existing computer and network hardware and software for town-owned facilities.
Article 3 — Appropriate funds for a contract with a "reverse 911" communications vendor.
Article 4 — Appropriate money to add to the Water Department fiscal year 2011 operating budget.
Article 5 — Amend the vote taken under Article 7 of the May 3 annual Town Meeting by reducing the fiscal year 2011 Sewer Enterprise Budget.
Article 6 — Appropriate funds for the Board of Assessors' fiscal 2011 budget.
Article 7 — Appropriate money for a collective bargaining agreement between the town and the AFL-CIO Local 2905.
Article 8 — Appropriate funds to implement a collective bargaining agreement between the town and the Teamsters Local 42.
Article 9 — Appropriate money to fund a collective bargaining agreement between the town and the police union.
Article 10 — Appropriate funds to be deposited in the Other Post Employment Benefits Liability Trust Fund for future cost of post employment benefits, such as health insurance. (No action)
Article 11 — Appropriate money for a new police cruiser, and authorize Selectmen to dispose of the old vehicle by sale, trade or some other means. (No action planned)
Article 12 — Appropriate funds to purchase, repair, and re-letter a used ladder truck for the Fire Department to replace its existing ladder truck and to authorize selectmen to dispose of the old vehicle by sale, trade or some other means. (No action planned)
Article 13 — Appropriate money for the town's share of the relocation of an emergency generator for the Manchester Essex Regional School District to the Essex Elementary School.
Article 14 — Appropriate funds for a drainage system to alleviate flooding in the basement of the Police and Fire Department headquarters.
Article 15 — Appropriate additional funds for the legal expense budget for fiscal 2011, amending Article 5 of the May 3 annual Town Meeting.
Article 16 — Authorize the selectmen to petition the state to exempt the town from Chapter 30B when it attempts to sell or lease any town-owned property at Conomo Point.
Article 17 — Appropriations or transfers to be added for the Department of Public Works' Grounds Maintenance expense budget for fiscal 2011, amending a vote taken at the May 3 annual Town Meeting. (No action planned)
Article 18 — Amend the fiscal 2011 wage and salary scale for the animal control officer and animal health inspector, thereby amending a vote taken May 3 annual Town Meeting; appropriating funds to increase each of the annual stipends for those positions for fiscal year 2011, with money to be added to the Animal Control officer expense budget for fiscal 2011.
Article 19 — Amend another vote taken at the May 3 annual Town Meeting by adding a new budget line item known as "training expenses" in the Town Clerk's budget; appropriate or transfer money to fund the budget line.
Article 20 — Amend a vote taken under Article 10 of the May 3 Town Meeting by reducing the fiscal 2011 Youth Enterprise budget.
Article 21 — Accept the provisions of state law Chapter 200A, section 9A, as amended by Chapter 188, section 65 of the Acts of 2010, regarding the disposition of abandoned funds.
Article 22 — Appropriate money for replacement of the fishing wharf at Centennial Grove.
Article 23 — Appropriate money to pay unpaid bills from past fiscal years.