GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

May 9, 2013

Essex revisits, OKs legal funding

By James Niedzinski
Staff Writer

---- — ESSEX — A night after Town Meeting voters shot down steering $100,000 into funding for Conomo Point legal costs, a second night’s voters nonetheless put the money in place.

Tuesday night’s continuance meeting drew about 190 voters, about 80 residents fewer than the first night. And while resident Stuart Pratt’s motion to reconsider Article 15 —which covered the legal costs— failed, supporters of the article and its reconsideration said the town needs money to defend itself in court against pending lawsuits, which range from home ownership to bridge lease rates.

Selectmen Lisa O’Donnell said the board does not enjoy spending money on legal bills anymore than other residents.

“We need this help,” she said, while Finance Committee Chairman Jeff Soulard added that the town has already begun to spend reserve funds for fiscal 2013’s Conomo Point legal bills.

After the vote to reconsider Article 15 failed, officials then proposed the $100,000 for fiscal 2013 in Article 38, which deals with appropriations to defray operation expenses.

This was ruled out of scope by Moderator Rolf Madsen. But officials then moved $127,921 be allocated to replenish the reserve fund under Article 39, which initially called for $27,921 to be replenished into the reserve fund, and Town Administrator Brendhan Zubricki said the motion passed with a majority.

He said the process is different, as the money was allocated to the reserve fund, not to replenish legal fees directly. But selectmen anticipate additional legal bills totaling about $100,000, and those bills could be paid with money from the reserve fund, he said.

A total of $150,000 was allocated for fiscal 2013’s Conomo Point legal expenses during town meetings last year.

Voters also decided against a citizen petition article that would have let existing leases expire on northern Conomo Point and set the land aside for a park.

Article 18, which would have put a Conomo Point ballot question up to voters, saw about an hour of deliberation before being shot down. The article, if approved, would have set aside town owned land in the north for a park, with a majority of property sales going towards its construction and maintenance.

Elizabeth Story, one of the petitioners, said at the very least, the ballot question would stimulate conversation.

“Whether or not you agree (with a park), I urge you to put it on the ballot,” she said. “If it (the ballot question) fails, we lose nothing.”

Betsy Gannoms, a Sumac Drive resident, said she was in favor of fostering a serious discussion about public access in the North, but not at this time, without a comprehensive plan in place.

“You do not have to wipe out everyone on the Point to enjoy public access,” she said. “We are not ready yet to put it on a referendum.”

Selectmen Susan Coviello urged residents to vote against the Article, citing an estimated $2 million in legal, eviction and other costs the town would incur if voters decided to retain northern properties.

“It skews the planning process, it tells you to set aside town owned land,” said Rocky Hill Road resident John Bediz.

The article ultimately failed on a standing vote, with 124 voters opposed compared to just 69 in support.

Article 20, which would have covered the cost of lifeguards at Conomo Point, was postponed indefinitely.

Residents also decided to indefinitely postpone article 19, which would have prevented all future sales until a plan for land use and finical gains were voted upon at a future town meeting.

Those against the article said they were concerned with taking up such an important issue at a Town Meeting, where peoples opinions and views differ.

“ ... Swallowing that information in one gulp is going to be pretty difficult,” said Tom Demeo.

Outside of Conomo Point, voters approved a number of articles put forth by the Department of Public Works for to pay sewer and water enterprise funds as well as money to install a new grinding device at the sewer lift station.

While voters approved Article 31, which called for taking easements out along Route 133 for a proposed Riverwalk project, voters did not agree to dredge the river.

Article 32, which would have prompted the town to ask for a grant from the Seaport Advisory Council to dredge and remove encroachments from the Essex River, failed.

Resident and boatbuilder Harold Burnham said dredging the river was an “absolutely idiotic” idea.

Burnham said that dredging it will only widen it, and, a wider river would mean slower water flow and slower travel. Burnham said many boaters already know not to travel on the river during low tide.

“The way to get up and down the Essex River is to wait,” he joked during the meeting.

Voters also chose not to renew membership into the Northeast Massachusetts Mosquito Control and Wetlands Management District. And Tuesday voters approved an article urging Congress to pass an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would affirm corporations do not have the same rights as people.

James Niedzinski can be reached at 978-283-7000, x 3455 or at jniedzinski@gloucestertimes.com.