Essex Town Meeting funds public safety building design

Courtesy photo/An artist's rendering of Essex's planned public safety building. Town Meeting approved spending $497,105 to complete the design phase of the project.

ESSEX — The town's planned public safety building, to be built on John Wise Avenue, will be funded until the project is put out to bid.

Town Meeting on Monday night approved Article 15, agreeing to use $497,105 from the approximately $6 million in the town Sale of Real Estate Fund to cover the remainder of the project's design phase. The money will be used to retain services from project manager PM&C and architect Miyakoda Consulting through this period.

Designs are expected to be completed near the end of June, according to Selectman and Building Committee Chairwoman Lisa O'Donnell

Now, residents will be asked to allow an exemption of tax-limiting Proposition 2 1/2 for the project at next Monday's town election.

Some residents expressed concerns about the cost of the project and how much it will raise taxes during the meeting. The latest estimate, as of April 25, for the building clocks in at $17,534,975.

In response, Guy Bradford of the Finance Committee said the project would only grow more expensive if delayed further.

"Timing is of the essence," he said. "If we stop now, it's going to cost a lot more money."

To follow up, Stewart Pratt of the Building Committee stated construction costs would increase $600,000 for every year the project is delayed.

Finance Committee Chairman Benjamin Buttrick also addressed the crowd about the Proposition 2 1/2 vote next week. He argued that although some were worried about rising taxes, the town's budget is so tight that any future project in town would need a debt exclusion.

"We've been threading a needle," he told the Gloucester Daily Times. "Essentially, our budgeted expenditures came in right at our tax levy and we don't have any surplus to borrow. Any additional borrowing for any project, either for infrastructure or the public safety building, would need the Proposition 2 1/2 override irrespective of the cost."

Still, some in the audience were not convinced. One resident proposed a motion to limit the scope of Article 15 to only cover designs for a stand-alone fire station at the John Wise lot. Initially, she requested her motion to include a $9 million budget limit for the fire station and $1 million to renovate the existing Memorial Building station on Martin Street for the Police Department, but Town Moderator Jeff Jones told her her motion could not dictate a budget.

J. Stewart Roberts of Johnson Roberts Associates Inc., the architecture firm hired by the town to plan the project alongside the Building Committee, pushed back on the motion saying there was "no economic advantage" to renovating the Memorial Building. He stated its unreinforced block walls would need to be completely removed in order to pass modern building codes. In addition, multiple features of the building would need to be replaced, such as its mechanics, plumbing, insulation, windows and roof.

Ultimately, when put up to a vote, the motion failed. The article received a majority vote to pass.

Conomo Point

Also approved was Article 16, which sought to reclassify the town-owned parcels 0 Cogswell Road and 0 Sumac Drive in order to sell them.

Before the vote, a resident filed a motion to keep the two lots in the town's ownership and convert them into parking lots. He argued that access to the waterfront has been limited as all the parking in the area is usually taken by Essex River Park visitors. 

Although one other resident agreed with the motion during public comment, two spoke against it. Citing Buttrick's argument for the upcoming Proposition 2 1/2 vote, they said it would be prudent for the town to make any money it could.

The verbal vote for the motion was too close to call and attendees were asked to vote again by raising colored cards. In the end, the motion did not pass.

The warrant

Here is how Town Meeting voted on all 27 articles before it:

1. Allow the election of officers usually chosen at Town Meeting. APPROVED UNANIMOUSLY.

2. Allow reports from town officials, committees and the annual report at the meeting. APPROVED UNANIMOUSLY.

3. Amend or revise the wage salary scale for fiscal year 2020 in accordance with the recommendation of the Personnel Board Report. APPROVED.

4. Fix the salary and compensation of elected town officers for fiscal 2020 in accordance with the recommendation of the Personnel Board Report. APPROVED UNANIMOUSLY.

5. Transfer $38,684 from the Town Septic Betterment Fund to the Massachusetts Clean Water Trust. APPROVED UNANIMOUSLY.

6. Allocate $16,159 to the collective bargaining agreement between the town and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, Local 2905, AFL-CIO ($10,129 in tax funds; $1,939 in sewer user fees; $4,901 in water user fees). APPROVED UNANIMOUSLY.

7. Allocate $11,142 in tax funds to the collective bargaining agreement between the town and the Police Benevolent Association of Essex, Massachusetts Coalition of Police, International Union of Police Associations, AFL-CIO. APPROVED UNANIMOUSLY.

8. Confirm the Finance Committee’s report for fiscal 2020 expenditures at $7,774,612. APPROVED.

9. Appropriate funds for the Sewer Enterprise Fund for the remainder of fiscal 2019. MOTION TO INDEFINITELY POSTPONE APPROVED UNANIMOUSLY.

10. Appropriate $2,141,784 for the Sewer Enterprise Fund for fiscal 2020. APPROVED UNANIMOUSLY.

11. Appropriate funds for the Water Enterprise Fund free cash for the remainder of fiscal 2019. APPROVED UNANIMOUSLY.

12. Appropriate $781,922 funds for the Water Enterprise Fund for fiscal 2020. APPROVED UNANIMOUSLY.

13. Approve $8,073,441 for the gross operating and maintenance budget of the Manchester Essex Regional School District. APPROVED UNANIMOUSLY (A motion passed to present the article after Article 15).

14. Appropriate $282,795 of tax money to pay for the town’s share of the Essex North Shore Agricultural and Technical School District operating and capital budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1. APPROVED UNANIMOUSLY.

15. Appropriate $497,105 from the Sale of Real Estate Fund to construct the shared police and fire department building on John Wise Avenue. APPROVED. 

16. Reclassify town-owned parcels 0 Cogswell Road and 0 Sumac Drive in order to sell. APPROVED by needed two-thirds super-majority.

17. Raise the maximum gross receipt amount to qualify for a senior real estate tax referral from $20,000 to $58,000, which is also the maximum gross receipt amount to quality for a senior circuit breaker tax credit as a non-head-of-household. APPROVED.

18. Add a “Town Clerk Fees” section to the general bylaws. APPROVED UNANIMOUSLY.

19. Implement a 3 percent local sales tax on marijuana or marijuana products. APPROVED UNANIMOUSLY.

20. Approve funds reserved to fix the municipal water system. MOTION TO INDEFINITELY POSTPONE APPROVED UNANIMOUSLY.

21. Appropriate $100,000 of free cash from the Sewer Enterprise debt reserve to fix municipal sewer system mainline breaks. APPROVED UNANIMOUSLY.

22. Appropriate $573,300 from the Sale of Real Estate Fund match-grant funds for improvements to the Conomo Point seawall. APPROVED UNANIMOUSLY.

23. Approve $84,000 for on- and off-street parking and way-finding signage in the downtown area. PASSED.

24. Allow $283,697 from the Community Preservation Fund for FY20 community preservation expenditures ($193,297 for reserves and administration; $90,400 on projects). APPROVED UNANIMOUSLY.

25. Use $20,875 of general free cash to pay for remaining fiscal 2019 operational expenditures ($15,000 for snow and ice deficit; $5,875 for town promotion). APPROVED UNANIMOUSLY.

26. Replenish the Finance Committee’s reserve fund with $65,000 (45,000 from general free cash; $20,000 of free cash from the Sewer Enterprise debt reserve). APPROVED UNANIMOUSLY.

27. Allow the use of available funds to pay any unpaid bills. MOTION TO INDEFINITELY POSTPONE APPROVED UNANIMOUSLY.

Michael Cronin may be contacted at 978-675-2708, or