CHELMSFORD -- Town Meeting approved Monday an increase in spending next fiscal year of $280,000 in anticipation of costs for repairing and replacing grinder pumps, along with a capital budget of $3 million and other items.
The fiscal 2015 capital budget includes $1.2 million for a new fire-ladder truck, more than $1 million for school facility, technology and security improvements, and $658,000 for public-works improvements including roads and equipment.
Among other votes Monday, Town Meeting approved $15,000 in community-preservation funds to study the potential replacement or removal of Crooked Spring Dam. A drain for the pond has failed, leading to water leakage.
Another $18,000 was approved to perform a historic inventory of properties across town, and $50,000 to repair playground equipment at McCarthy Middle School and contribute toward a planned dog park on Richardson Road.
Voters also approved new overlay zoning for the town center meant to encourage redevelopment over new development, as well as higher architectural quality and more village-type construction. The new zoning was a recommendation made in the 2010 town master plan.
Also approved was the beginning a process of looking into what is known as electricity aggregation. Under the plan, the town would seek competitive bids from power suppliers for the combined power load of all residents, which is estimated to save residents and business $1.
There would be no cost to the town. Approval given Monday, on the final night of Spring Town Meeting, will allow the town to solicit consultant services to create a plan.
The meeting also approved new floodplain zones, with no major structures and only slivers of land, mainly along the Concord River, affected.
A bylaw was approved last Thursday in which the town now will assume costs for repairing and replacing grinder pumps, specialized underground sewer pumps for more than 500 single-family homes across town.
Even after that vote, some Town Meeting members argued voters should have been given more information about the potential costs. A letter from a town public-works official concerned about town costs was mentioned only minutes before the vote.
The letter gave a far higher cost estimate to the town than what was provided by proponents of the move.
Though Department of Public Works officials had given estimates to the Grinder Pump Study Committee before, and to Town Meeting last fall, the fact that the contents of the letter were not offered to Town Meeting representatives caused an uproar among some voters in the subsequent days.
"I am questioning the deliberate withholding of information that was critical to Town Meeting being able to fully consider the matter," Town Meeting representative Tom Newcomb said in a letter to fellow representatives the following day. "It is a very worrying precedent to set."
The letter, from Michael Vosnakis, superintendent of the sewer division, estimates one-time costs of up to $1.7 million, including inspections and installation of generators. Annual costs after that are estimated at about $439,000, not counting costs for liability and legal fees.
It's a stark contrast to figures presented by the Grinder Pump Study Committee. Costs to residents, as estimated by the committee, would be $289,000 in the first year, and "conservatively" $140,000 in subsequent years.
On Monday, Town Manager Paul Cohen said $280,000 was the best estimate for the coming year.
"There was a wide divergence (in estimates) but it appears $280,000 is our best stake in the ground," he said. "We just don't know (what the costs will be), is the bottom line."
Sewer rates will be raised to pay for the additional costs. A vote of 114-26 expanded the Sewer Enterprise Fund by 8 percent.
"The town chose the ($280,000) number," Grinder Pump Study Committee Chairman Tom Gilroy said. "That's their prerogative."
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