The Valley Dispatch

DRACUT -- Ordinarily, after such a controversy-filled Town Meeting featuring split-voice votes on several key warrant articles, as barely a quorum of 250 registered voters experienced Tuesday night, one could say Town Moderator Leo Gaudette earned his money.

That could not be said of Gaudette after this feisty biannual gathering, however, as Town Meeting earlier had voted to take away the town moderator's annual $550 stipend, and to strip each member of the Board of Selectmen and School Committee of their annual $2,000 stipends as well.

The successful motion to put an end to the payment of stipends to the town's elected officials -- an amendment to Article 4 on the warrant -- was made by Finance Committee Chairman George Dristiliaris, acting on the recommendation of his board. His wife, newly elected Selectman Tami Dristiliaris, stood alone among her colleagues on both boards in siding with a narrow, five-vote, 126-121, Town Meeting majority to discontinue the stipends.

The stipends debate and vote, which Gaudette was forced to send to a paper ballot after the voice and standing vote-counts proved indecisive, represented a total budget impact of $20,550 and took an hour to complete.

Seconding Dristiliaris' motion and joining him at the microphone to advocate for stopping the stipends was former nine-year Selectman John Zimini. Greater Lowell Tech School Committee member Joe Espinola, who receives no stipends for his elective service, also spoke for not paying selectmen and School Committee members anything.

Selectman Joe DiRocco and School Committee Chairman Michael McNamara spoke in favor of keeping the stipends as is.

By contrast, the subsequent warrant Article 5, asking Town Meeting for approval of the $71 million operating budget, took less than 30 seconds by voice vote after the budget was quickly summarized by Chief Financial Officer Ann Vandal.

Also attracting its share of debate and a too-close-to-call voice vote that forced a standing vote count was Article 28, a multiple false-alarm penalty bylaw, put forth by Deputy Police Chief David Chartrand. The proposed bylaw, which Chartrand said was modeled on similar existing bylaws in surrounding communities that have proven effective in reducing the numbers of false alarms, took up seven pages of the Town Meeting warrant.

Chartrand and Selectmen Chairwoman Cathy Richardson pointed out that for the first year the specified schedule of fines and possible tax liens against uncooperative false-alarm owners would be waived during an "educational" period. But the bylaw's leading critic, Selectman Tony Archinski, a retired 25-year police officer, persuaded Town Meeting to defeat the article, arguing that it needed to be better explained, simplified, reworded and rewritten. Article 28 was rejected by Town Meeting, with 134 to 126.

In other action, Town Meeting unanimously approved the Board of Selectmen's request to forward 16 proposed changes to the Town Charter to the state Attorney General's Office for a legality check. Town Attorney Jim Hall explained that once the town receives the OK from the state on each charter proposal, voters in the annual town election next May will have an opportunity to vote individually on each. The proposed charter changes include rewording the charter's given number of members of the Board of Library Trustees from three to five, and amending the town manager's job requirements to include management professionals other than strictly those with prior town manager or assistant town manager experience, Hall said.

Several articles proposed by the Community Preservation Committee to expend funds to better the town's recreational facilities all received Town Meeting approval.

Among these articles was a $260,000 plan introduced by Dracut Girls Softball President Steven Gomes to construct a permanent restroom facilities building at Monahan Park. To date, Gomes noted the town's champion ballplayers have had to make do with only portable bathroom stalls at the park, located across the street from the Central Fire Station.

By the scheduled start of Town Meeting at 7:30 p.m., only 188 registered voters were listed as in attendance, Gaudette announced. Following a 20-minute recess, Town Meeting barely achieved its quorum of 250, Gaudette said before gaveling the meeting to order.