DRACUT — Town Meeting Monday night approved the appropriation of $1.1 million from Dracut’s free cash account to fund technology improvements in the school district.
After a year in which the town rejected a tax override that would have funded similar improvements, residents at Town Meeting overwhelmingly supported the appropriation and cheered after it passed.
The money will go toward installing fiber-optic internet cables, a new phone system, and new computers and servers in the schools. The school district has applied for a competitive grant and loan that could offset some of the costs.
Town Meeting also approved the creation of a technology stabilization fund for the town as a whole, $150,000 to buy new equipment for the police and public-works departments, and $300,000 to cover schematics and design of a new Collinsville fire station.
The appropriations were made possible in large part by an unexpected revenue surplus, Town Manager Jim Duggan said.
The most contentious issue of the meeting was a proposal from Building Inspector Dan McLaughlin to replace an outdated bylaw that essentially banned residents from operating small businesses out of their homes.
“We’re trying to reduce regulations,” McLaughlin said, adding that the language he was proposing to replace the bylaw with was adopted from bylaws in surrounding towns.
Most speakers seemed to agree that the bylaw — which is frequently flouted — was harmful to business owners, but they took issue with provisions in the replacement language that would have limited the size and number of commercial vehicles, particularly large pickup trucks, that could be parked at a residential home.
“We’re just trying to make a living here,” said resident Allan Decker. “This is a hard-working, blue-collar town and i don’t want to be pushed out of it.”
By a healthy margin, residents voted down the proposal to replace the existing bylaw.
One of the articles that seemed to generate the most enthusiasm from those in attendance was a request from the Community Preservation Committee that the town approve $750,000 in Community Preservation Act funds to buy the development rights for nearly 28 acres of farmland at 52 Avis Ave.
The town will now purchase the rights — ensuring that the parcel remains farmland and is never built upon — with the help of an additional $500,000 from the state.
Other measures approved at Town Meeting included:
n A change to town bylaws that will allow businesses to put up electronic signs
n A slight increase in the reimbursement town employees receive for out-of-state travel
n A variety of zoning changes.
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