The 2023 Annual Town Meeting kicked off on Monday, with the return of a lot of the fanfare which was stripped from the proceedings due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Town Meeting members addressed a majority of the warrant, concluding business with the Town Budget and Water Enterprise Budget articles. But not all in attendance were happy that it stopped there. This session is currently available for streaming in the window below:
Needham Annual Town Meeting, Session #1
Following the presentation of the flags by Needham Boy Scouts, and the call for spiritual guidance by Rev. Catie Scudera of the First Parish Unitarian Universalist Church, Town Meeting members got down to the business at hand. As is their custom, Moderator Michael Fee led the town representatives through the warrant, setting aside non-controversial items for passage by unanimous consent. Two articles were withdrawn by the proponents in the weeks leading up to the start of Town Meeting, so the body did not have to consider either Article 17 which would have amended zoning by-laws to allow three-car garages in certain zoning districts by right, or Article 28 which appropriated funds for the reconfiguration of rail crossings, to help create a “Quiet Zone”. Of the remaining articles, the following were deemed by Town Meeting to not need further review before passing:
Passed by Unanimous Consent:
Following the disposal of business on those items, Town Meeting returned to the beginning of the Warrant to begin discussion on the issues that needed more clarification, or which were controversial in nature. The Finance Committee took time dedicated to Article 2 to present an outlook of the Town’s long-term debt obligations, and its implications for homeowners over the next 15 years. Chair John Connelly warned the body that capital expenses were outpacing the town’s ability to retire old debt, and caution must be paid to which projects they pursue, and how they decide to pay for it. As Article 4 was discussed, Town Meeting members questioned the ability of the Property Tax Assistance Program to fulfill its mission, but ultimately passed the article without modifying it, or making plans for a further review. Strong support was shown to Article 10 which would survey several of the Town’s land assets, especially after cost concerns were allayed. However, Town Meeting and Planning Board Member Jeanne McKnight asked that clarifications be made during the process to determine which town board had control over the designated parcels.
The majority of the evening was spent walking through the Town’s FY’2024 budget. in Article 12, but while there were many in attendance with questions, two main topics were discussed by the body. When the Needham Police Department budget came before Town Meeting, Lawrence Cohen asked for an accounting of the changes that have taken place to address the issues that arose out of the settlement of the Marvin Henry court case. Later, the School Committee to time to present on it’s budget, why it had requested an increase in funding, and laying out the logic behind a three-school renovation plan that will stretch over the next 12 years.
To watch the full discussion of these articles, click on the links below:
Passed After Discussion
(click link to go to video in another tab):
The evening’s conclusion itself caused a bit of debate, as Town Meeting moved to table discussion of Article 18, changing the laws regarding Accessory Dwelling Units, until Wednesday. Several residents, who were not Town Meeting members, expressed frustration, having been waiting for the item to come before the Town body. They were fearful that some of the night’s attendees would not be able to come to the May 3rd session. After discussing the procedural rules, however, Town Meeting members did decide to conclude business for the evening, to approach the matter as the first order of business of the second Town Meeting session.