Town Meeting preview

In less than a week’s time, residents will determine the fate of a whopping 54 articles on the warrant for the annual Town Meeting, after months of deliberation that saw the Finance Committee make recommendations on a bevy of articles with financial implications, and others fall away as the town’s financial picture grew clearer.

With the 54-article count, Town Meeting will almost certainly not conclude after just one evening on May 1, with votes likely to continue throughout the first week of May as voters parse the details of a number of complex articles.

Of the 54, roughly 20 appear on the warrant each year, according to Town Administrator Thatcher Kezer. Those articles — numbers 1 through 22, and number 25 — represent essentially the nuts and bolts of municipal government. Among the annual asks are leases of town property, assuming liability for town property, funding capital improvements for town buildings, departmental equipment purchases, and establishing new pay schedules for town personnel.

Some of those articles, including Article 4, which concerns accepting trust property, are likely to be indefinitely postponed after the Finance Committee recommended Town Meeting do so. The recommendation to indefinitely postpones Article 4 came because there is no trust property for the town to accept at this time. Article 12, which concerns “School Capital Needs” will also face indefinite postponement based on the FinCom’s recommendation, as capital needs for the schools are folded in with capital needs for town buildings, on the warrant as Article 11.

The FinCom also recommended indefinite postponement of Article 27 — which asks the town to allocate funds to the Special Education Stabilization Account — because the fund has not been drawn from.

On a most basic level, all the articles between 1 and 29 roll up into the town’s operating budget, on the warrant as Article 30. That article asks voters to allocate $112.1 million for the town’s fiscal year 2024 budget, assuming the $2.47 million proposition 2 1/2 override that appears on the warrant as article 31 does not pass at Town Meeting and during the subsequent town-wide election. The FinCom recommended passage of both the Article 30 budget and the override.

Article 32 — “Supplemental Appropriation and Expenses for the Schools” — will likely also be indefinitely postponed, as the Finance Committee recommended Town Meeting do so with the School Department override as part of the town-wide override on the warrant as Article 31.

The final article to face indefinite postponement is Article 40, which sought to override Proposition 2 1/2 to fund renovations to the Franklin Street fire station. The expected cost of the work was $2.3 million, but officials opted to postpone the ask, perhaps given the additional tax burden they are already asking residents to bear as they seek to pull the town away from its looming financial cliff.

Also included on the warrant is an article permitting the construction of accessory dwelling units (ADUs) on residential properties. The article — 39 — amends the town’s zoning bylaws laying out specific terms for where and how ADUs should be built.

The warrant also features 11 citizen articles, including an article sponsored by resident Jim Zisson that would change the Select Board’s terms from concurrent one-year terms to staggered three-year terms. That move would bring the town’s most powerful board more in line with others, with the School Committee operating on a similar election schedule. Zisson is a former candidate for Select Board.

Article 45 is sponsored by Ronald Grenier and asks Town Meeting to vote to adopt enhancements to the town’s comprehensive annual financial review. The article seeks to incorporate “enhancements and best practices of public sector reporting of the town audit (CAFR) and oversight of the town audit,” including advising the finance director to post the independent auditors’ said management letter(s) and three reports.

Resident Mark Adams sponsored Article 46, which seeks to implement 100 percent carbon-free energy in the Old and Historic Districts by allowing for the installation of heat pumps. That article will likely face indefinite postponement, as Adams told the Weekly News he opted to withdraw the proposal after a series of meetings with the Old and Historic Districts Commission. As a result of those meetings, the commission agreed to make changes to their guidelines that apply to heat pumps and solar panels so that they are no longer strictly barred wherever visible from a public way within the districts, according to Adams.

The next two articles on the warrant — articles 47 and 48 — are a direct response to an article approved by Town Meeting last year concerning the use of gas-powered leaf blowers. Article 47, sponsored by Todd Norman, seeks to repeal the summertime ban on the blowers. Article 48, sponsored by Beatrice Strahl, concerns enforcement of the ban passed last year, giving the Police Department and Health Department authorization to do so. The article also institutes a fine structure for violations — a written warning for one violation, a $100 fine for two, and a $200 fine for three.

Article 49, sponsored by Daniel M. Albert, calls for the creation of a Traffic Advisory Committee to “implement the Marblehead Complete Streets Policy and evaluate public safety issues involving traffic, roads, and other transportation, infrastructure in the town.”

Albert also sponsored Article 50 on the warrant, which seeks to amend town bylaws relative to new subdivisions by inserting specific language in the bylaws.

Article 51 would require a number of town boards and committees, including the Select Board, School Committee, and Planning Board, to record their meetings, with recordings or transcripts, along with official minutes, available on the town website. Rosalind Nadeau sponsored the article.

Nadeau also sponsored Article 52, which requires the same boards and committees to allow for the use of hybrid or remote meeting platforms for all members and members of the public.

Article 53 asks the town to accept provisions of Massachusetts General Law Chapter 53, Section 9A, which dictates that “the final date for obtaining blank nomination papers for nomination to city or town office shall be 48 week day hours prior to the hour on which nomination papers are required to be submitted to the registrars of voters for certification.” The article is sponsored by Jonathan Lederman.

The final article on the warrant, article 54, sponsored by Megan Sweeney, would create a “Standard Operating Procedures Manual” for a number of town boards and committees, including the Select Board. The manual will “include but is not limited to defining each board’s purpose, membership, member qualifications, appointments, power and duties, organizational structure, communication process, recommendations for Town Meeting and SOP quality assurance.”