FOXBORO — Exhibiting a limited appetite for debate — or even much discussion — a core of committed voters attending Monday’s annual town meeting made quick work of a 27-item agenda highlighted by an $86.5 million operating budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1.
The budget, which reflects a 3.2 percent increase over current spending levels, was adopted virtually without dissent by the 137 registered voters who arrived for the start of Monday’s annual session, surpassing the 100 needed for a quorum under town bylaws.
According to Town Clerk Robert Cutler, turnout subsequently peaked at 152 as a handful of latecomers trickled into the auditorium at Foxboro High School, before falling off later in the evening.
With two notable exceptions, requests to adopt energy-efficient building codes and alter the makeup of the Capital Improvement Planning Committee, voters overwhelming approved all 25 remaining warrant articles, many without opposition.
That tone was evident early on as advisory committee member Bernard Dumont’s lengthy budget presentation failed to elicit even a single floor challenge from voters, a rare departure from custom.
Voters also agreed to transfer to the Conservation Commission two separate town-owned parcels — one consisting of 30 acres under control of the board of selectmen and the second a four-acre parcel overseen by the board of water and sewer commissioners — in order to establish permanent protections for an existing butterfly habitat.
The land is situated off Oak Street, near Gavins Pond and four town wells clustered on Lamson Road.
Long-time resident Brian Cassie of Cocasset Street, a former science teacher and butterfly enthusiast who has been instrumental in preserving the area for more than three decades, said the measure would help protect several rare species – including the Frosted Elfin. “Every good butterfly habitat in Foxboro has disappeared in recent years except [this] one,” Cassie said.
Only questioning by DaIn addition to the $86.5 million operational budget, voters gave the nod to a $1.5 million capital package which will fund the purchase of two ambulances and a fire engine, three school buses and a street sweeper, new IT software and school copiers, as well as funding $624,00 worth of street improvements.
Also enacted was a broad menu of permanent revolving funds — financial accounts typically underwritten by user fees, program charges or other reimbursement payments — in order to pay for certain activities and/or town services outside of taxation. A related article established short-term spending limits on the new funds.
The evening’s most passionate debate focused on a citizens’ petition to overhaul the town’s Capital Improvement Planning Committee whose role is to outline a long-range framework for big-ticket spending.
At present, the committee consists of department heads and other high-ranking officials who make recommendations for future purchases, complimented by liaisons from both the board of selectmen and advisory committee.
The proposed change would have allowed department heads, most notably the school superintendent and town manager, to continue in an advisory capacity, but reserve actual decision-making roles to registered voters.
Susan Dring of Kendall Drive, who previously served on the advisory committee, strongly supported the measure, saying that several area towns, including Sharon and Franklin, use a similar approach.
“These decisions should be made by town residents,” Dring said of prospective spending recommendations.
Her remarks were echoed by Joan Gallivan of Cannon Forge Drive, who argued the change would encourage more citizens to become active in town government.
But school committee member Tina Belanger and school Business Manager William Yukna, both former advisory board members, questioned the need to change a system which few viewed as problematic.
“This seems to me a little bit redundant,” Belanger said.
Although voters agreed to an amendment that rectified a procedural glitch, the petition itself narrowly failed, with 59 votes in favor and 77 opposed.
Also unsuccessful was an article that would have required builders and other tradesmen to meet stepped-up energy ratings in either new construction or renovation projects.
Although the advisory committee in a split vote had endorsed the proposal, voters agreed with board Chairman Larry Ooi, who said he backed measures to increase energy conservation and self-sufficiency while suggesting that changes of this magnitude warranted further study.
Foxboro Housing Authority Chairman Greg Spier, whose construction business specializes in energy-efficient building designs, agreed, suggesting the codes changes could raise new home prices by as much as $8,000.
“The timing is all wrong,” Spier said, noting the cost of building materials has skyrocketed in recent months due to supply-chain issues stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Sean McCarthy, an electrical contractor who lives on Abbie Lane, said building renovations, system upgrades and major repairs also would have to comply with new energy ratings, which would have enabled the town to apply for state energy grants.
Public works director Chris Gallagher, who lives on Mechanic Street (and currently sits on the CIP committee), and Edward Ferguson of Forest Road both spoke in favor of the proposal, which ultimately was defeated by an 88-21 margin.
In other action, voters appropriated $356,000 to fund five union contracts covering police, public works and library personnel as well as department heads, clerical and technical workers. In addition to funding 2-percent cost-of-living increases for fiscal 2022, three of the contracts provide retroactive payments for the current fiscal year.
According to advisory committee member Larry Martin, the negotiated settlements reflected a fair outcome for both management and the affected bargaining units.
Lastly, voters adopted several housekeeping measures proposed by the planning board — including updates to the town’s floodplain bylaw and Baker Street historic district — and consented to a 20-year lease with AT&T to locate an antenna on the existing cell tower behind the Public Safety Building at a monthly rate of $3,000.