A much-later-than-usual Special Town Meeting could be in the offing this coming fall.
The special session, typically held in October, would be held in mid-November.
Town Administrator Anthony E. Schiavi told the board of selectmen during the board’s remote meeting on July 21 that he is eyeing Monday, November 16, for the fall Special Town Meeting. Mr. Schiavi said several factors played into his suggestion to hold off for the later date.
Mr. Schiavi said the pending election season is one of the primary drivers behind his suggestion. He noted that a major state primary takes place in September. Next comes the presidential election on Tuesday, November 3, which will be preceded by several weeks of early voting.
“The town clerk’s office will be a flurry of activity,” he said, “from August through the beginning of November.”
Mr. Schiavi said the reason to even hold a Special Town Meeting in the fall is due to the town’s decision to defer a number of items that might otherwise have been on the Annual Town Meeting warrant last month.
The selectmen reduced the number of articles on the warrant to expedite the meeting out of concerns for potentially exposing residents to COVID-19.
The administrator said the Special Town Meeting warrant would likely include some adjustments to the Fiscal Year 2021 budget that residents passed at Annual Town Meeting last month. He said the adjustments would reflect updated data, released in the fall, about local revenues, as well as certification of free cash and new growth. That will also allow the town to set its tax rates, he said, so tax bills can go out in December.
“We need to get our tax rates set by November,” he said, “and we need a balanced budget in order to put our tax recap sheet together.”
Selectman George G. Slade said he was in favor of holding a Special Town Meeting, which likely will be indoors, as long as coronavirus issues are properly addressed, as they were with June’s outdoor meeting.
Mr. Schiavi assured him that preparations will be made “with an eye towards safety.”
“Once we post a warrant,” Mr. Schiavi said, “it falls to the moderator to decide if we hold it on the date specified or to make extensions.”
He said that he has already spoken with Town Counsel Robert S. Troy and Town Moderator Donald J. Pickard about the November date, and neither had any issues with the proposal. The plan, he said, is to establish a set of milestones relative to Special Town Meeting by next month for presentation to the selectmen.
“Then start to slot in the opening and closing of the warrant,” he said.
Selectman Peter J. Meier mentioned that the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority withdrawal article that was defeated at Annual Town Meeting could be brought back for the fall session. Mr. Meier said it was pointed out that any effort to leave the authority could prove very expensive. He questioned whether an effort should be made to determine just how expensive it could be.
Mr. Schiavi questioned whether that figure could be determined. He said that there has been just one instance of a town withdrawing from the authority, and that took place five years ago or more. He said he was not sure that determining that cost was possible.
“I’m not sure you could come up with a good estimate to say how much it’s going to cost, how long it will take, how much effort you have to put into it,” he said. “We can ask, but I’m not sure it’s something that’s easily estimable.”