Sonar scanners, land purchase among articles approved for next month’s Town Meeting
The Select Board has finalized the warrant for June’s Town Meeting at which members will be asked to create new positions for the town and schools, authorize the purchase of water from New Bedford, move ahead on the purchase of land on Russells Mills Road for a community recreation center, and approve a $96.8 million budget.
Following two Covid years during which Town Meetings were conducted remotely, the June 7 meeting is expected to be an in-person gathering.
Town Meeting members, elected by voters of each of Dartmouth’s nine precincts, are eligible to vote on items of this year’s warrant, which includes 22 articles — 18 for Town Meeting and four Special Town Meeting items including spending $721,000 on water from the City of New Bedford due to the temporary shutdowns of the Violetta and Panelli wells.
The Violetta well was shut down due to the construction of replacement wells and the Panelli well, located off Old Westport Road, was taken offline due to water contamination issues.
All articles were unanimously approved by the Select Board at its May 9 meeting.
Here’s a look at some of what’s coming up next month.
Town Meeting members will be tasked with approving a $96,814,219 operating budget for the upcoming fiscal year — a 2.27% increase from last year.
Roughly half of the budget — approximately $49 million — will go toward Dartmouth Public Schools.
The school department’s budget proposal represents a 4.7% increase from FY22.
Assistant Superintendent of Finance and Operations Jim Kiely, said a major factor in the rise in spending is due to the creation of some new positions, including two directors of teaching and learning to replace the assistant superintendent, a new teacher at the Quinn School and a registered behavioral technician.
The three positions would cost $245,636.
Kiely said the inclusion of the behavioral technician is one of many ways the school distinct is “trying to remedy the impacts of the pandemic.”
School Committee Member Dr. Shannon Jenkins echoed those sentiments, adding that positions such as a behavioral technician were needed well before Covid-19.
“The need for those services isn't going to go away,” she said.
Other town departments could also see the creation of new positions, representing a budget increase of $130,173.
New positions include two part-time building inspectors, promoting a clerk position at the Council on Aging to become the center’s assistant director, and having the director of development become the assistant town administrator.
The town’s director of development is currently Cody Haddad. Town Administrator Shawn MacInnes said since Haddad took over in 2020, “his duties have evolved beyond” his current role.
“You’ve all seen Cody in many different roles,” MacInnes said. “He’s provided services not only in his job description, but between other departments. He was very instrumental in helping get the two successful elections when we were without a [town] clerk. He’s been instrumental in working with the Council on Aging and he does a lot with our marijuana host community agreements.”
The new role would come with an $8,620 salary increase.
The town’s payroll department would also see some restructuring. Proposed changes include a finance system analyst who could help implement the town’s MUNIS financial software.
Changes would cost $66,427 for FY23.
“It’s inherent that we have someone in charge of payroll,” Select Board member Shawn McDonald said. “I have absolutely zero questions about this position.”
Purchase of land on Russells Mills Road
Last month, the Select Board unanimously agreed to purchase an approximately 1.06 acre parcel located at 245 Russells Mills Road for $290,000.
If approved, the parcel could be used for “any municipal purpose,” including for part of a proposed community center.
Plans for a community center have been in the works since 2018, when the Parks and Recreation Board expressed interest in having an indoor facility to provide more room for recreational activities.
Currently, town officials and consultants are working on designs for the proposed center on an existing open space near the baseball fields at Crapo Field.
Should Town Meeting reject the purchase of the land, the Select Board’s agreement would be null and void.
Pay raise for town clerk
The town clerk is requesting Town Meeting approve a salary of $91,709 for FY23. Currently, the clerk is paid $79,350.
According to MacInnes, the requested increase is consistent with the clerk’s reclassification/compensation plan which is based on salaries scheduled for department heads.
The town clerk, which is an elected position, is responsible for managing elections, issuing town licenses and permits, and maintaining municipal records.
The town will be asking for members to approve approximately $3.4 million in capital plan spending.
Money will go toward road improvements ($1,809,500), water treatment upgrades ($200,000), and to purchase four Aqua Eye Scanners — a handheld sonar device that can identify bodies underwater up to an area of 85,000 square feet — for the Parks and Recreation Department ($24,000).
Select Board Vice Chair Stanley Mickelson said at an April 25 meeting that the sonar devices would be a great benefit to the Parks and Rec Department as they continue to deal with a shortage of lifeguards heading into the coming beach season.
Purchasing four would allow for one device at each of the town-owned beaches, with one backup.
“I think it’s a great idea,” Mickelson said. “Instead of lining up all the lifeguards and swim out in one row — that scanner would scan a person that would be floundering in the water.”
Copies of the preliminary 2022 Town Meeting warrants are attached to this story online at DartmouthWeekToday.com. A final version will be available on the town website.