Town Meeting members approve budget, projects, cannabis taxes

Jun 4, 2019

Town Meeting members said yes to marijuana taxes and fines for loose shopping carts, no to opening up northern Faunce Corner Road to drive-thrus, and approved the town’s 2020 budget with a modification to support the town’s seniors.

Starting at 9 a.m. on June 4, members made quick work of the 26-article agenda and one-article special agenda, approving all but three articles, two of which were pulled from consideration. Here is what passed, and what did not. 

Drive-thrus on Faunce Corner Road

The only Town Meeting item to fail was a resident zoning petition to remove a prohibition on drive-thru restaurants in the town’s office industrial district. The district spans Faunce Corner Road north of the railroad tracks.

It was proposed by a project developer seeking to build a “concept” Dunkin location with multiple drive-thru lanes, including a lane specifically designated for online app order pick-ups.

The intent, explained attorney Mark Bobrowski, was to provide employees of the office buildings with lunch options without having to venture down to Route 6.

“I congratulate you on the success of this district, but where are these people supposed to eat lunch,” Bobrowski said, referencing the build-up of the district over the past 25 years. “There’s no possibility in my world of a sit down lunch five days a week. Right now, employees drive a distance to fast food.”

If approved, a Planning Board special permit would have still been required, which stipulates a number of requirements prospective businesses would have still needed to meet.

The Finance Committee had voted to not recommend the project, because no information had been submitted to the committee when a vote to recommend was to be taken. The Planning Board had a tie vote on whether or not to recommend the proposal. On a tie vote, the result is a vote to not recommend.

“We’re flying blind right now,” said Finance Committee member John Swanson. “We have no information and this would have a permanent financial impact on the town.”

Krysten Savoy lives in the Ledgewood Commons apartment complex within the district, and has to drive to Faunce Corner Road to buy a cup of coffee. She said she supports the project.

Others who work in the area stressed the limited options for food, and the difficulties driving all the way to Route 6 in search of a meal.

Tom Yena said the entire area is building up too quickly, and warned that the bylaw change would “open the floodgates” for more traffic and issues.

After about 20 minutes of debate, meeting members voted to indefinitely postpone the article, effectively killing the proposal.

It is unclear if the proposed Dunkin Donuts will still be able to open. Bobrowski said the project developer already has a variance from the Board of Appeals, but he will need to speak to his client about next steps.

Old Southworth historical restoration 

Two articles were withdrawn from the Town Meeting agend. Both were by the Dartmouth Cultural Center, Inc., which operates a non-profit arts center at the historic Old Southworth Library.

The group was seeking $85,800 in community preservation funding to conduct a study to plan a historic restoration of the building. Community preservation funding is sourced from a 1.5 percent property tax surcharge and can only be used for historic and open space preservation, affordable housing, and recreation projects.

The Finance Committee had voted to not recommend the project, citing concerns with investing in a building which had been proposed for sale in the past, and uncertainty with just how much the full restoration project would cost.

It is unclear why the proposal was withdrawn. Officials from the Dartmouth Cultural Center could not immediately be reached for comment.

Members passed the remaining items on the agenda.

Other community preservation projects

Two other community preservation projects were approved. Dartmouth Natural Resources Trust, the Buzzards Bay Coalition, and the town Conservation Commission secured $600,000 to preserve Dike Creek, which will protect 121 acres spanning two parcels of land in the area of Bakerville Road near the creek.

The town also will also continue its housing assistance program with $350,000 in grants to first-time homebuyers.

Town budget

Members approved an $88.7 million municipal budget and two new full-time employees, with one modification: Providing full town funding to an outreach worker at the Council on Aging.

The position is responsible for reaching out to seniors who struggle to make it to the center to engage in programming. It is currently grant funded, with the town kicking in an extra $1,494. The grant stipulates it can only benefit women over the age of 70.

“We want to be able to reach all community members,” said Council on Aging director Amy DiPietro. “We know there’s a large population of people we’re not reaching. We want everyone to know the amazing things the Council on Aging is offering.”

The Council on Aging had asked the town for more than $16,000 to fully fund the position, but Director of Budget and Finance Greg Barnes said it was not included in the final budget because the town had been addressing the Council on Aging’s needs on a phased basis.

The floor motion to bring that funding to $16,731 using money from the town’s $450,000 reserve fund passed. The remainder of the budget passed with no opposition or changes.

New town employees

Members also approved an article creating two new full-time positions in town government: An energy manager, and a systems analyst.

Town Administrator Shawn MacInnes explained the energy manager was previously a part-time position, but after former manager Shawn Luz stepped down, the town was unable to find a qualified applicant at part-time status. Filling the position with an outside consultant would have been even more expensive than simply making it a full-time position, he said.

The new systems analyst would make online and technical services more efficient, like those used for license and permit applications, facilitate inter-department collaboration on digital systems, and work with the town’s financial management application.

“We want to make sure we’re maximizing the value we’re paying for these systems,” MacInnes said.

Select Board Member John Haran voted against the proposal, citing concerns with the town’s growing unfunded liabilities relating to retiree healthcare, which is $58 million. Town Meeting members expressed similar concerns and questioned why they needed to be full-time positions.

Voters ultimately approved the measure, after Select Board member Shawn McDonald urged members to move the plan forward.

“The energy manager is an extension of what this board voted for several years ago when we voted to become a Green Community,” McDonald said. “This is an extension of that. The systems analyst is part and parcel of a process that we hear from you people, the people who live in this town, to make this government more efficient by having town services online.”

Marijuana excise tax

Dartmouth could be seeing green from marijuana in the future, as Town Meeting voters approved a three percent local excise tax on the sale of recreational marijuana. It is the maximum allowed under state law.

There are currently no recreational shops open in Dartmouth, but there is a zoning overlay district carved out for locations on Faunce Corner Road north of the railroad tracks. The town would be limited to three retail locations under the zoning bylaw, which was passed last year.

It might not be long before Dartmouth’s first recreational dispensary is able to open. MacInnes said three companies responded to a request for qualifications the town had issued last month to formalize the process. The responses will be reviewed, and the town could be ready to sign a host agreement in several months.

Shopping cart abandonment bylaw

Town Meeting members approved a bylaw to penalize retail stores whose shopping carts are found abandoned all over town. It would require all shopping carts to be labeled by its owner, and establish a $100 fine if the shopping carts are confiscated by the DPW. If confiscated shopping carts are not collected in ten days, the town could sell it for scrap.

It will take effect as soon as the state Attorney General certifies it, which usually takes six months. Store owners will be notified well in advance.

“It’s something that’s long overdue, and now it puts the onus on the businesses to make sure they pick up after themselves,” said Select Board member Shawn McDonald, who has long been vocal about the issue.

Capital plan

Members approved the town’s 2020 capital plan, which includes $5.3 million in big-ticket projects funded mostly though self-sustaining enterprise funds and town revenue. The biggest project, at $2.6 million, will replace two of the three wells at the Violetta Wells site. A new parking lot will be built behind Memorial Stadium with $220,000 in funding to provide 65 new parking spaces for stadium events and Town Hall.