Westford’s Annual Town Meeting is on Saturday, and the Finance Committee joined with the Board of Selectmen to provide their recommendations to voters on five final warrant articles.
Among the final five articles, only two gathered a significant amount of attention: an authorization that would allow the Selectmen to lease an office for the Recreation Department and a citizen’s petition to ban polystyrene food containers from town.
The two boards recommended a dismissing the Recreation Department office warrant article after Assistant Town Manager John Mangiaratti revealed that the town had not received any bids for space that would suit the town’s needs for the department.
Four offers were submitted to the town, but only two were seriously considered: a property on Lyberty Way and another on Littleton Road across from the Ninety-Nine Restaurant. While the Lyberty Way property was the best option out of the four, Mangiaratti told the boards that none of the offers were advantageous for the town financially.
Selectmen Andrea Peraner-Sweet recommended that the department potentially split administrative space from program space temporarily and aim to use town-owned buildings, such as the Millennium Building or the Water Department building on Forge Village Road.
Town Manager Jodi Ross told Peraner-Sweet that efforts had been made to find currently owned town facilities for the Recreation Department, to no avail.
Currently, the Recreation Department is operating out of the Rogers Fire Station training room and portions of the Cameron Senior Center, after their prior headquarters at the Town Farm Building was deemed unsafe for habitation.
However, they will also need to move from Rogers Fire Station in the near future as it becomes the last first responder indoor training facility in town once the Police Station Training Room begins its transformation into a new dispatch center.
Ross told the boards that if space within an existing facility cannot be found, or a temporary facility cannot be constructed on existing town land, a new search for short-term office space will begin. If that search does begin, voters would have to likely approve funds during a Special Town Meeting at a future date.
The combined boards decided to delay any recommendation regarding the polystyrene ban after discussion over a likely amendment on the floor of Town Meeting.
Although the wording of the petition couldn’t legally be changed on Thursday night, both petitioner Richard Coleman and members of the boards felt it would be more appropriate to continue after proposing the amendment on Saturday, which would postpone the beginning of the ban until July 1, 2017.
Both boards cited concerns with unbudgeted costs for several town departments in Fiscal Year 2017, which ends on June 30, 2017. If the ban passes with an amendment, the School Department would have to find $35,000 out of its budget, the Health Department would have to shift $17,000 to add extra staff hours and the Council on Aging would need another $1,000.
During Monday’s School Committee meeting, it was indicated that the School Department would almost certainly shift the cost onto students and their parents with a 10-to-15 cent lunch rate increase.
Coleman was initially opposed to the delay, hoping to prevent what he claims is 500,000 pieces of polystyrene used by the School Department each year from being needed. However, he was convinced after several members of the Finance Committee signified that they may oppose the petition if their concerns regarding the unbudgeted costs in FY’ 17 were not met.
Additional funding would also have to be procured to let businesses know about the ban prior to July 2017, although Ross told the boards that it would be a small postage cost which is feasible in the town’s projected budget.
Coleman said he had tried to reach out to area businesses, and that many businesses are already phasing out the use of polystyrene due to customer demand.
“Don’t get so uptight about this,” he told the boards. “If (a business) can’t replace a lid on a cup, it’s not a big deal! Give them some time!”
The boards recommended approval of a new contract agreement with the Westford Superior Officers Union, and supplemental transfers regarding reductions in the snow and ice budget as well as extending the town’s fiberoptic system to Westford CAT as part of an agreement with Comcast.
With a lack of budget transfers required, the boards recommended that Article 4 be dismissed.