Hatfield residents give blessing to all warrant articles at Town Meeting

Hatfield Town Hall

Hatfield Town Hall KEVIN GUTTING

By SCOTT MERZBACH

Staff Writer

Published: 05-18-2024 4:27 PM

HATFIELD — A $14.52 million fiscal year 2025 operating budget for town and school services and an additional $1.4 million to cover the costs of wastewater treatment plant upgrades were approved by voters at this week’s annual Town Meeting, along with zoning amendments aimed at preserving open space through more compact development and allowing detached accessory dwellings.

In a packed Smith Academy gymnasium, all 28 articles passed during a session that ran just over 2½ hours, according to minutes provided by Town Clerk Alaina Wilcox, including seeking special legislation to allow golf carts on the town’s public ways and a special funding request for the fire and ambulance department that triggers a $66,000 Proposition 2½ tax-cap override. That spending is subject to a ballot vote at town elections on Tuesday.

Next year’s operating budget is rising from $14.05 million, a $470,731, or 3.4% increase. It includes 2.6% cost of living adjustments for all employees; a $11,800 increase, to $25,000, for street lights; and a $9,761 increase, to $67,346, so the town can contract with Central Hampshire Veterans Services. The public schools are getting an $149,089 increase, up to $6.12 million, from $5.97 million.

The override, which adds to the $474,578 for fire and ambulance service, will allow the department to remain competitive in its pay for paramedics and cover other staffing expenses, proponents said. The Finance Committee didn’t take a position on the override because this spending has no unidentified costs or future liabilities for the town and it would be left “up to residents to determine the level of service they desire.”

Bill Belden of Pantry Road said he has concerns that the override will only mean 16-hours a day of coverage. “We really need this to pass, but we really need to go to 24-7,” Belden said.

Voters added money for the wastewater treatment plant upgrades, through borrowing that will be paid back via sewer fees, and supplements $12.03 million in borrowing approved two years ago. This comes after the Select Board accepted a lone bid for $9.39 million from W.M. Schultz Construction Inc. of Ballston Spa, New York. The project includes upgrades to old secondary clarifier mechanisms and conversion from gas chlorine to liquor chlorine for operator safety.

One of the initial debates came over using $100,000 in free cash to cover unforeseen snow and ice budget expenses.

“$100,000 for a winter that didn’t happen? Come on,” Belden said, describing roads as being “plastered with salt” even when there was little to no precipitation.

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After applause, voters defeated the spending, 111-37, but then reconsidered after Select Board Chairwoman Diana Szynal spoke. “Are we actually going to sit in this room and say we don’t want our roads taken care of during the winter? I just don’t understand,” Szynal said. Finance Committee members also warned that to cover the spending, other budgets would suffer.

Jacob Dibrindisi of Elm Street, a snowplow contractor for the state highway department, said when he leaves his home he sees Hatfield roads with lots of salt on them. “We have beaches of salt down on Elm Street,” Dibrindisi said.

But Amy Hahn of Elm Street said she appreciates the condition of Hatfield roads based on her commute through neighboring communities.

“I really appreciate that Hatfield clears and salts its roads properly and keeps us all safe,” Hahn said.

The article eventually passed by a 107-57 count.

Voters also approved a series of spending from the Community Preservation Act account. The largest are the $196,980 for rehabilitating Day Pond, the body of water next to Smith Academy, so it can be used for recreation, education and open space, and $185,989 for documenting, assessing and digitizing the Cutter Farm Museum contents.

Department of Environmental Protection grants and in-kind work will support various projects, including $226,405 for the sewer asset management planning project, $227,765 for the stormwater asset management planning project and $171,288 for the drinking water asset management planning project.

Combat development, golf carts

The amendment to to the open space development bylaw allows more compact development, with the Planning Board endorsing it as a way to support future small farms that might operate on the dedicated open space.

Accessory dwelling units, which are already allowed, are being expanded to permit detached units, giving more flexibility for homeowners to supplement their income or age in place.

The legislation for the golf carts would make sure people can keep using them and stay safe, especially near the center of town.

The meeting was the first for moderator Robert Betsold, elected last year to succeed Joseph A. Lavallee, who opted against reelection after serving since 2002. After Betsold made introductory remarks, he recognized Town Administrator Marlene Michonski, who is retiring at the end of 2024 and has spent almost 20 of her 35 years in municipal government in town, returning in 2015.

“The hours you’ve put in are greatly appreciated,” Betsold said.

Syznal was on the board when Michonski was first hired in 2002. “This being her last Town Meeting, I really want to thank her for her dedication ” Szynal said

Szynal also presented the annual town report, in memory of former building inspector Stanley “Syke” Sadowski, who died last year, and observed that the town report is dedicated to the Hatfield Book Club on the 120th anniversary of its founding.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smrzbach@gazettenet.com.