Virtual Town Meeting approves $94 million budget

Jun 1, 2021

After four hours of proposals and debates, Dartmouth has its budget for Fiscal Year 2022.

On June 1, more than 180 Town Meeting members approved a $94.6 million town budget — along with a “smart” water meter project, a slight bump to dog license fees, and the rest of the 25-article agenda.

Roughly half of the budget — around $47 million — will go toward Dartmouth Public Schools, up $1.5 million from the schools budget the district requested for Fiscal Year 2021.

Next year’s budget also includes more than $8.8 million for public safety and $15 million for employee benefits.

In addition to the budget, Town Meeting members agreed to negotiate a new lease for the town-owned McBratney parcel on Slocum Road for a term of 30 years. According to Town Administrator Shawn MacInnes, any property on the land would strictly be used for recreational purposes.

“A longer lease would allow the lessee to make more significant capital improvements to the property and thus provide a greater benefit to the community,” he said.

The parcel is currently home to the Burgo Basketball Association, whose lease is up this December.

Steve Burgo, who founded and operates the nonprofit association, told the Select Board in January that a longer-term lease could help him secure funding for an indoor sports facility.

Although the Burgo Basketball Association currently leases the land and is seeking a renewal, the issue before Town Meeting could legally be only to allow a longer lease.

With the passage, the town will seek proposals from Burgo and others.

The nonprofit had previously run into problems trying to build an indoor athletic facility, which Burgo said has been planned for years.

Last year, Fall Town Meeting members rejected a proposal for the town to sell or lease property at the corner of Reed and State roads, a site that Burgo had hoped to use for the $6 million project.

Select Board Member Stan Mickelson voiced concerns over the lease term, saying that it was “far too long” and that it should instead be set at ten years.

“To tie up a parcel like that for that long — at some point down the line, we don’t know what would happen,” he said. 

Precinct 9 member Lorri-Ann Miller said she was in favor of having a potential large recreation center, adding that she would like to see a place for children “to meet students from other areas.”

“Dartmouth is not a little community all of its own with walls around it,” she said. “Our children need to meet and see and interact with other children.”

“Smart” water meter project

Town Meeting members approved an $8,693,193 capital plan, which contains big-ticket purchases by the town — including a plan to borrow $2 million toward a $2.7 million project to switch residents’ water meters to a “smart” cellular system.

Superintendent of the town’s water and sewer division Steven Sullivan said that with the new system, home and business owners will be able to check their water usage online.

“It works very well,” he said, adding that many of the larger meters in town are already using the system.

Sullivan added that the expected lifespan for the meters would be 20 years.

Capital plan: schools

Many town meeting members had questions about the School Department’s plans with the more than $1.5 million appropriated from the capital plan.

Precinct 9 member Susan Guiducci wondered whether the district should spend $225,000 replacing grease traps across a number of the schools.

“I hope nobody will take this the wrong way — but there was little to no cooking done in the cafeteria,” she said.

School Business Administrator Jim Kiely noted that the reason for the replacements is that “our buildings are old” and that many of the traps are “past their use for life.”

“We’re having problems with them,” he said. “It’s something that has been deferred for a long time, but at some point needs to be addressed — and we’re having more and more problems with them.” 

Kiely added that throughout the pandemic, the district has provided meals to students and families.

“We actually do cook in our schools for kids,” he said.

Other Town Meeting business

Town Meeting members voted to appropriate $179,469 toward renovating the playground at Jones Park.

“The equipment at Jones Park has outlived its use,” Community Preservation Committee Chair Howard Baker-Smith said, adding that the new equipment will bring the playground to “current standards of safety and access.” 

Owning a dog in town will also cost a bit more in the coming year, as dog licensing fees will be raised from $12 to $15 for spayed or neutered canines.

Extra funds from the increase will go toward contracting a new licensing program called PetData, which would allow residents to apply and pay for their licenses online.