LOCAL MEETING ROUNDUP.
Selectmen back chief's deployment of staff
BOYLSTON - Selectmen have thrown their support behind Fire Chief Joseph Flanagan's decision on after-hours emergency responses and staffing levels at the Fire Department.
Chief Flanagan outlined his procedures for the board last night, saying the town had received an anonymous complaint about staffing levels and responses to calls after 6 p.m.
From 6 p.m. to 7 a.m., four rotating on-call groups respond to emergency calls. Each group is assigned a full-time officer who must respond to all calls for one week per month. During the on-call week, that officer takes home the Fire Department's pickup truck, Flanagan said. That way, every call has one vehicle with a siren and lights and a communication system.
"The use of the department vehicle also ensures that the fire officer is able to maintain radio communication with the dispatcher and other responding apparatus," Mr. Flanagan said.
Board members called the use of the vehicle reasonable, especially given that the full-time officers are not paid for the on-call duty.
- Michael Kane
Committee recognizes two top students
FITCHBURG - Fitchburg School Committee members last night recognized two of Fitchburg High School's top students, who will be honored on the state level later this month.
Superintendent Andre R. Ravenelle said the success of high school students Kevin Chavez and Alex Hanno goes beyond academics and cannot be measured by standardized tests.
Mr. Chavez is the No. 1 ranked student at the high school, is president of the class of 2010 and plays soccer. He is interested in computer programming and created a program to map projectiles.
Mr. Hanno, salutatorian and in the National Honor Society, is Student Council president and is involved in the theater program and has written a 400-page fantasy novel.
- Paula J. Owen
Looser sign restrictions await planners' response
GARDNER - The election is over, a public hearing has been held, but don't go putting your political signs out on your lawn just yet.
Before the City Council can vote to allow political signs on private property, it will have to wait up to 20 days for the Planning Board to meet on the issue and vote on its recommendation.
The ordinance change would ease restrictions on the placing of political signs on private property.
Under current city regulations, signs are not allowed on private property earlier than 30 days before an election. That regulation was deemed unenforceable and possibly unconstitutional by City Solicitor John Flick, who reviewed it after complaints were made two years in a row about signs placed by candidates in storefronts in the city.
The council held a public hearing last night and, although there were no objections to the ordinance change, the council will have to wait for the Planning Board to make its recommendation.
The law change would not affect regulations that prohibit signs of any type from being placed on city property except with permission from the mayor's office.
- George Barnes
High school expansion could cost city $10M
LEOMINSTER - The Leominster High School expansion project could cost $29.6 million, School Superintendent Nadine Binkley told the School Committee last night.
She stressed the figures were "very, very rough" and would continue to evolve.
The state is expected to reimburse the city for about 70 percent of the project cost, bringing the cost to Leominster to about $10 million, she said.
Mayor Dean J. Mazzarella stressed the importance of meeting all deadlines and following a timeline to ensure the process goes smoothly. Ms. Binkley said she expects to discuss this with the City Council in December or January.
- Sandy Quadros Bowles
Tax burden shifts further onto homeowners
AUBURN - Continuing a trend that began last year, selectmen voted last night to shift more of the tax burden away from businesses and onto residential taxpayers.
Selectmen voted 3-2 for a 1.40 tax factor. That means a tax rate of $14.39 per $1,000 valuation for residential property and an approximate rate of $24.02 for commercial, industrial and personal property. The latter will change slightly because of a small-business exemption also approved by selectmen, according to Cynthia A. Cosgrove, chief assessor.
She said the tax factor was 1.54 last year, which resulted in a tax rate of $11.77 per $1,000 for residential property, $23.02 for commercial and industrial property, and $22.92 for personal property.
The new shift will add approximately $111 to the tax bill for a residential property valued at $225,200, the town median, for estimated taxes of $3,241.
The shift will reduce the average commercial or industrial tax bill on a property valued at $1.1 million to about $27,200 to $27,900, for a decline of approximately $1,370 to $1,400 from this year's taxes.
Selectman Robert D. Grossman, the board's chairman, said, "We need to show some effort to bring the business community back. If it continues to slide, the residents would have to pay more."
- Ellie Oleson
Residents now can pay water-sewer bills online
DUDLEY - Starting today, residents have the option of paying their water-sewer bills online.
Town Treasurer Richard Carmignani received selectmen's endorsement last night to begin a program in which the town will accept online payments for bills such as water-sewer and property taxes.
A link will be added to the town Web site today to process water-sewer bills, while work continues to expand the service to include other payments. There will be no transaction charge to the resident or town for online checks. Residents paying by credit card, however, will be charged a fee based on the transaction amount.
In other business last night, selectmen set one tax rate for all property classes - commercial, industrial, personal and residential. The vote to continue with a uniform rate of taxation means the total tax levy will be borne equally by each property class.
- Debbie LaPlaca
Wachusett school board chairman looking for money
HOLDEN - Town officials may have found a solution to the budget demands heaped on the town by the recent school transportation cuts announced by Gov. Deval L. Patrick.
Margaret Watson, chairwoman of the Wachusett Regional School Committee, told the Board of Selectmen last night the school district has a $384,898 shortfall because of the governor's midyear cuts to regional school transportation. Holden's contribution to cover the shortfall would be $162,935. She said school committee members were making similar requests to officials in Paxton, Princeton, Rutland and Sterling.
However, Mrs. Watson reminded selectmen that town assessments were recently reduced and, in Holden's case, the reduced amount would more than fund the amount now needed. She said assessment letters were sent to the towns in June after each approved the district's budget. In October, the district's business office determined that Wachusett's debt service would be less than originally planned and also that the charges for oil remediation were lower, and on Oct. 28 the district sent new assessment letters, showing a total reduction of $397,570. For Holden the original assessment in June was $19,761,011, Mrs. Watson said.
"In late October, it was reduced to $19,592,160, a difference of $168,851," she said. "We will be requesting of Holden an increase of $162,935, which would bring the total assessment to $19,755,095. This is 42 percent of the amount that we need, still $5,916 less than the original assessment sent in June."
- Lisa D. Welsh
Election for selectman's seat will be Jan. 19
PAXTON - A special election to replace Selectman Michael T. Quinlivan will be held in conjunction with the special statewide election Jan. 19 to replace U.S. Sen. Edward M. Kennedy.
Mr. Quinlivan, who is leaving town, is resigning, effective at the end of the month. The deadline for filing to run for his seat is Dec. 1
Town Clerk Susan Stone told the Board of Selectmen last night that voters will be given two ballots, one for selectman, the other for senator.
Contenders for the Democratic nomination for senator are U.S. Rep. Michael Capuano, state Attorney General Martha Coakley, City Year co-founder Alan Khazei and Boston Celtics co-owner Stephen Pagliuca. Republican candidates are state Sen. Scott Brown and Duxbury businessman Jack E. Robinson.
In other business, the board delayed action on Paxton's increased assessment of $36,835 for Wachusett Regional School District. The amount would make up part of the $1,087,575 that Gov. Deval L. Patrick cut from the school district's transportation budget. Former Selectman John F. Malone asked the board to seek a ruling from town counsel on the assessment.
- Richard J. Hafey
Board sets Dec. 2 for special town meeting
RUTLAND - The Board of Selectmen chose Dec. 2 as the date for the special town meeting to address the Wachusett Regional School District budget.
The purpose of the meeting, which will take place at Glenwood Elementary School, is to find $84,443 to cover transportation costs slashed in the governor's latest round of budget cuts.
Voters will be asked to adjust the general operating budget, use free cash and take money from the stabilization fund to pay for the revised assessment.
The school district's funding was cut by $1,087,575; the Wachusett Regional School Committee is seeking $384,898 from the member towns and is covering the balance of the shortfall through budget cuts.
School Committee member Julianne Kelley said that while the district's $1 million rainy day fund was not reduced for this round of cuts, it is likely to be wiped out if another round of cuts occurs.
"Everything will be on the table," she said.
- Sandy Meindersma