GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

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May 9, 2013

Essex revisits, OKs legal funding

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.

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