Town Meeting approves $103.6 million budget, denies Town Charter changes

Jun 4, 2024

At the Spring Town Meeting, held Tuesday, June 4, members approved a budget of over $100 million for the first time, but not before a lengthy discussion of the town’s priorities regarding the School Department.

With 154 members in attendance, the legislative body also denied some of the Town Charter changes proposed, “indefinitely postponed” the Select Board’s request for authorization to sell the old police station and approved a number of requests, including a change to the Accessory Dwelling Unit bylaw. 

With rising costs and the end of Covid relief funding, the town has struggled this year to find solutions to its budget deficit. Town Meeting members voiced their concerns for these issues, especially in regard to the School Department. 

Through a combination of cuts — including 11 positions, about $1.8 million in School Choice funds and an approximately 2.8% increase from the town, the department was able to keep itself “afloat” this year, said James Kiely, assistant superintendent of Finance and Operations.

Town Meeting member Nathan Silva, precinct six, shared how he went through the Dartmouth Public School system and he, like many others, moved back here specifically “with the promise of the education Dartmouth has historically provided to its children.”

Silva highlighted how compared to the state average, Dartmouth is spending less per student, ranking 270th out of 322 schools, which among other reasons, has given him the impression the town has not been prioritizing the schools.

“I’m not a big fan of high tax and big government — that’s not my thing — but if we as a community are not willing to bear the burden of the low tax rate that we have all benefited from, how can we ask our kids to?” Silva asked.

He requested the town consider the limited time the Dartmouth school system has with kids as they make decisions for the budget for Fiscal Year 2026.

Select Board member David Tatelbaum said the schools remain a priority for the town, but it also has a number of infrastructure issues that need to be addressed. He added the state has denied requests for additional assistance for the schools due to the town’s low tax rate.

A number of changes to the Charter were also approved to go on the April election ballot for voters to decide on, including corrections to grammatical and clerical errors as well as decreasing the number of historical commissioners from nine to seven.

However, Town Meeting also denied proposed changes, including making positions on the Board of Assessors and Board of Health appointed and changing the Select Board election from lotted, with candidates running for individual seats, to pooled. Town Meeting members argued they needed to protect their voting rights.

A Charter change to switch the responsibility of hiring and negotiating the compensation of the Public Works director from the Board of Public Works to the Select Board was also requested and postponed indefinitely by Town Meeting.

The Select Board’s request for authorization to sell the old police station, located at 247 Russells Mills Road, was also postponed indefinitely, with Town Meeting members arguing there was a lack of information and that the property remains more of a value to the town than it would if owned by a developer.

The property was abandoned in 2014 after legionella bacteria, which can cause a severe type of pneumonia known as Legionnaires’ disease, was discovered in the plumbing. However, Dartmouth Historical Commission member Chris Sewall and other members of the Historical Commission have argued the building can still be rehabilitated and would be a worthy cause for the town. 

The Select Board still has the authority to demolish the building. However, Town Administrator Shawn MacInnes said the amount received at a previous Town Meeting to do that would most likely not be sufficient for the cost of the demolition if done now.

Another story on the old police station discussion at Town Meeting is available now.

The Planning Board’s request to update the bylaw pertaining to the construction of accessory dwelling units, or independent living spaces that homeowners can build on their property in addition to their primary residence, was approved by Town Meeting. While the current bylaw caps accessory dwelling units at around 500 square feet, the updated bylaw now allows these units to be built up to 1,000 square feet, Director of Planning Christine O'Grady said.

The Community Preservation Committee received the full $83,000 from the Community Preservation Act Unrestricted Fund it requested for five projects, including the Dias Landing dinghy storage improvements, harbor dredging design and permitting, the Apponagansett Park and Dias Landing master plan, the Dartmouth housing production plan and Cornell Pond trail development.

Additionally, Farm & Coast’s request for an All Liquor License was approved at Town Meeting. The business currently has one of the town’s Beer and Wine Licenses. Because the town has reached its capacity for All Liquor Licenses, Farm & Coast must now gain the approval of the state legislature.