Select Board Votes on Town Meeting Articles

April 17, 2024
• In its first meeting since the town election, the newly formed board weighed in on the more than 50 warrant articles ahead of next month’s Town Meeting.

As is customary, the Select Board votes in favor or against articles to be presented at Town Meeting on May 6. The five-person board welcomed new member Josh Levy, who was elected last week and replaced Marcus Nelson. Former Vice Chair Kevin Keane was also reelected and voted as chair.

The vast majority of the Town Meeting articles received unanimous Select Board support, though the board delayed votes on several key issues, including the renovation and construction of tennis courts at Needham High School. That project is still in its public hearing phase before the Planning Board, but the Finance Committee has already voted in support of the proposal.

The board also waited to vote on the $1,275,000 appropriation for a new fire engine, as it seems the funding source may have changed. They expect to have more information later in the week.

On the effort to offer $3,000 stipends to members of the Contributory Retirement Board, the Select Board’s Heidi Frail pointed to a slippery slope, questioning what might happen should volunteers be compensated: “If we do that, it’s going to become very, very expensive,” she said.

Town Manager Kate Fitzpatrick, who served on the retirement board for 17 years, acknowledged the work involved but said she can’t recommend a stipend higher than the Select Board’s. Fitzpatrick added that other communities comparable to Needham do not pay their own retirement boards.

“The members are dedicated, and many of them serve for many years,” Fitzpatrick said. “They do make a lot of difficult choices… but I can’t support it, and I recommend the board doesn’t.”

Sandra Cincotta, chair of the Retirement Board, is expected to discuss the article at the Select Board’s next meeting on April 30. The board did not take a vote.

The citizens’ petitions on the warrant also sparked discussion, leading to no votes on three of the four.

The proposal to rescind debt authorization may be withdrawn by the petitioner, as it resembles another article on the warrant, the board explained. Members also waited to take a position on the proposed dimensional regulation changes — specifically related to floor area ratio — as the Planning Board will likely take a position on the matter at its upcoming meeting. Petitioner Joe Matthews presented on the effort to the Select Board earlier in the evening.

And on the petition to hire a consultant to analyze the impacts of the MBTA Communities Act — for no more than $150,000 — the board will delay its vote until April 30. Deputy Town Manager Katie King said the item is on the Housing Needham Advisory Group’s agenda, and the petitioner plans to discuss it with the group.

Board members diverged on the article to ban single-use plastics. The citizens’ petition proposes the town forbid businesses from issuing plastic stirrers, plastic splash guards and polystyrene packaging material. The article would also limit the use of plastic straws — making them available to customers only upon request — and would, most controversially, ban plastic water bottles that are one liter or smaller, except for use in emergencies.

Both Levy and Marianne Cooley said they support the bulk of the article apart from the water bottle ban. Cooley said she feels removing plastic water bottles would be “making it harder for businesses,” who rely on the bottles for additional income. Board member Cathy Dowd pushed back.

“[If] more towns were to adopt this sort of thing, it will create demand for the aluminum and other types of water bottles, which, ultimately, they will make more, the price will come down,” Dowd said. “And so, if we want to move this forward, it will become cheaper over time, and that could be our part in it.”

Microplastics pose a “major public health hazard,” Frail said, making the expected price increase of the alternative bottles a small concern in comparison.

After the discussion, the board voted 4-1 to support the petition, with Levy voting against it.

The board also unanimously supported all seven articles on the Special Town Meeting warrant, which included an amendment to the FY24 operating budget, an appropriation for auditorium upgrades and improvements at Needham Public Schools and a funding process between the town’s cable television providers and the Needham Community Television Development Corporation, which includes the Needham Channel, which produces Needham Local. The Special Town Meeting is slated for Monday, May 13.

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