Speed limits on Haverhill Street will be reduced to thirty miles per hour as a result of a 5-0 vote of the Select Board on March 12 after a public hearing on the topic. The hearing began with Traffic and Safety Officer Michael Scouten repeating the presentation that he gave at a prior Select Board meeting. The presentation highlighted current issues with the multiple changes in the speed limit on Haverhill Street which have created a dangerous situation for residents and numerous accidents for the over 12,000 cars that use Haverhill Street daily. There are sections of the road where only sixty-five percent of drivers comply with the current speed limits, which is well below state guidelines of eighty-eight percent compliance.
Thirteen different residents spoke to the board at the hearing, all of which supported a reduced and uniform speed limit on the road, though a few suggested lowering the speed limit to thirty-five miles per hour as opposed to the final decision of thirty miles per hour. Deputy Chief David Clark also recommended that a traffic study be done for the intersection of Haverhill and Franklin Streets to determine if a traffic light at the location could improve safety and efficiency for the intersection. Several residents proposed ideas different from a traffic light, including making the intersection a three-way stop. Most were concerned about the level of traffic back-up that could occur if a light were present. Police Lieutenant Christine Amendola assured the residents that the study would take multiple ideas into account. She continued that she expected the study to be accomplished in the fall.
The speed limit change will be announced using electronic signs before the official signs go up once the snow has cleared. Increased police presence through the spring and summer will help enforce the new rule.
After a long public hearing the Select Board, by a vote 3-2, decided on the fiscal year 2020 water rate of $10.37 per 100 cubic feet or a 3.7% increase. The board also set the FY 2020 sewer rate at $11.03 per 100 cubic feet or an 8.5% increase. The total combined increase is 6.1%. Stormwater rates will remain the same. Town Manager Robert LeLacheur shared that the overall water budget is up 2.2% over FY 2019 and the overall sewer budget is up 8.6% over FY 2019. The FY 2019 rates were unchanged from FY 2018 due to the use of reserve funds to mitigate the impact. He shared that the water fund has $5.5 million in reserves and the sewer fund has $5.2 million in reserves with a recommended balance in each fund of $2.4 million. LeLacheur did counsel that upcoming capital projects should be considered before using a large amount of the reserves to reduce rates. He suggested that no more than $1.1 million total be used to lower rates.
Select Board Member Vanessa Alvarado likened the use of reserve funds to lower rates to using free cash to balance the operational budget, it is fine in the short term but is not a long-term solution. Member Barry Berman suggested that $550,000 of water reserves and $350,000 of sewer reserves be used to mitigate the rate increases for residents. Member John Halsey countered that he believed that all of the recommended limit of $1.1 million should be used and that he would not vote for any solution that did otherwise. “In a year where taxpayers have been hit hard, we can offer some small relief,” Halsey argued. Ultimately the board used a total of $1 million in reserves to calculate the rates that were adopted. Halsey and Member Dan Ensminger were the dissenting votes.
After a presentation about revised sections one and two of the Select Board policies by Ensminger, the Select Board voted 5-0 to continue the public hearing to March 26 at 8:00 pm. The original time for the continued hearing, by vote, was 9:00 pm but was adjusted to 8:00 pm at the end of the meeting.
The Select Board opened its meeting with a moment of silence in memory of former member Camille Anthony, with each member sharing a personal story during their report. Anthony, who passed away last week, served as a member of the board for eighteen years after she had served on the Conservation Commission for twelve years. The board voted 5-0 to reappoint Sharon Angstrom as Town Accountant. It also voted 5-0 to accept the change on ownership of Anthony’s Coal-Fired Pizza. This vote was necessary because the restaurant holds a liquor license.
After several letters from local business owners, LeLacheur reported on what the process would need to be to grant beer and wine licenses to convenience stores in town. The move would first require a vote of the Select Board, then Town Meeting would need to approve the measure. After this, the legislature would need to approve a home-rule petition. Once these were accomplished, there would need to be a successful ballot initiative in a local election. The board will take up the matter at a future meeting.
The Select Board adjourned at 11:05 pm.