LANCASTER - There were only seven articles at Lancaster’s Special Town Meeting on Monday, Oct. 21. However, there was at least some discussion - and no votes - with almost every article on the warrant. The exception was one budget question, which was passed over because the budget was balanced.
While all capital expenditures were ultimately approved, residents had a lot to say about the Department of Public Works (DPW)’s request for a new street sweeper, wanting to know if there were alternatives to such a large outlay on a single piece of equipment.
David Carr, of White Tail Lane, said the $8,000-10,000 estimated repair cost “sounds like the better deal” versus the purchase price of $225,545 for the street sweeper.
The sweeper would be paid through Chapter 90 state road aid. Town Administrator Orlando Pacheco said Lancaster received approximately $320,000 in Chapter 90 funds this fiscal year, so the town has the money for the new street sweeper. Pacheco said he was unsure if Lancaster was using all of the Chapter 90 funds allotted to the town.
Pacheco said Chapter 90 funds could only be used for capital expenditures, which means replacement and not repair. Lancaster would need to pay for the repairs itself.
The purchase of a new street sweeper means it would be “maintenance free other than minor wear and simple parts like gutter and main brooms” for “10-plus years,” DPW Superintendent Kevin Bartlett said, rather than than the thousands of dollars it would cost per year to continue to repair the town’s existing street sweeper.
The state's Department of Transportation would need to sign off on the request before the town could buy the sweeper.
According to Pacheco, the DPW could actually ask MassDOT for the new street sweeper even if the request failed at Town Meeting since no town approval is necessary.
It was “put on the warrant because we want people to know” what the town is doing, Pacheco said.
The purchase of the sweeper was approved with only two voters opposed.
Residents were unsure about raising the interest rate to 8 percent from zero on seniors over 65 who defer their property taxes. There are requirements on who can participate and the town receives the taxes, plus interest, upon the sale of the home.
No residents are currently using the program.
Carolyn Stump from Mill Street Extension said that she thought it was a “power and money grab.”
“I wouldn’t construe it that way,” Pacheco said, explaining the state statute allows a municipality to charge interest of either zero percent or 8 percent with “nothing in the middle.” He said it was a “taxpayer equity issue” and they wanted to correct the lack of interest rate before eligible seniors started using the program, so that they wouldn’t be suddenly starting to charge interest. He said the regular interest rate on unpaid property taxes, outside of any program, is 16 percent.
He said he believed people didn’t want the town to be a “lienholder” on their family home, which would have to be paid when the house sold. The majority voted to pass the increase.
Sixty-seven people attended the meeting. Pacheco said “we really appreciate you coming out” and participating in town governance, asking them to “please come back” to the May 2020 Town Meeting.