Override, debt exclusions on Royalston Town Meeting warrant

Royalston Town Hall

Royalston Town Hall FILE PHOTO BY GREG VINE

By GREG VINE

For the Athol Daily News

Published: 06-06-2024 4:21 PM

ROYALSTON – Voters will face a 31-article warrant when they gather for the Annual Town Meeting tomorrow at 10 a.m. at Town Hall.

Among the items under consideration is one Proposition 2 ½ override and two debt exclusions. If the override or either of the debt exclusions pass a Town Meeting vote, they will then go before voters in the form of a ballot question.

The town’s Selectboard – who will be at the meeting to answer questions – will be short one member following the abrupt resignation of Rick Martin.

Martin, who had been serving as chair since the board reorganized in April, submitted his resignation on Tuesday, May 28. When asked for comment, Martin wrote via text, “I resigned from the Selectboard…and have no comment on that.”

Board member Shelby Bronnes said a special election to fill the vacancy would be held sometime between the end of July and early September. Bronnes, said she and Bill Chapman are being advised by Town Clerk Barb Richardson on the date for the special election.

Police, vehicle purchases on warrant

The Selectboard and Finance Committee have each recommended passage of Article 24, which seeks an override of more than $75,000 for a new full-time police officer. In addition to salary, the money would cover just over $3,500 in related expenses, such as health insurance and other benefits.

A new officer would allow for increased police coverage for the community in the wake of a steep decline in staff over the past two years. In 2022, Royalston had 19 part-time officers; that figure now stands at just nine.

Royalston Police Chief Curtis Deveneau – and chiefs from numerous central and western Massachusetts communities – have blamed the difficulty in hiring and retaining part-time officers on the Police Reform Act passed in 2020. The chief has submitted an application for a federal grant in the hope of adding a second full-time patrol officer, should the override be successful.

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Article 30, which also has the backing of the Selectboard and FinCom, asks voters for permission to borrow $699,000 to rehabilitate the former Raymond School for use as municipal offices. The offices of the town clerk, treasurer/collector, building inspector, Board of Health and Board of Assessors are currently located in Whitney Hall – built in 1905 – in Royalston’s South Village.

Whitney Hall is also very much in need of structural repairs, a modern HVAC system, and updated electrical and plumbing. In addition, the building is not compliant with the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA).

In an earlier interview, Royalston Building Committee Chair Jim Barclay said, “We simply have to get our employees out of Whitney Hall. When Whitney Hall was a school, even way back then, the basement was wet and the students were walking on two-by-fours laid on the floor. (The basement) was never meant to be inhabited – that’s a basement just to be underneath an old post-and-beam building.”

Barclay said the plan calls for renovation of the main floor of the school, creating six rooms, including a large meeting room. The project includes construction of a break room and ramp at the southern end of the building to bring it into compliance with ADA regulations.

The other debt exclusion, Article 19 A/B, seeks authority to borrow $134,000 – $72,000 for a one-ton pickup for the Department of Public Works and $62,000 for a police cruiser. The cruiser would be an internal combustion vehicle, not hybrid or electric.

Voters will also decide on the fiscal year 2025 budget, which will be approximately $2,918,000. Municipal spending for the current fiscal year totaled $2,664,195. Royalston’s FY25 assessment for the Athol Royalston Regional School District is $750,650, about $27,000 more than FY24. The town’s Monty Tech assessment for the upcoming fiscal year is $85,444, up from the current $76,755.

Greg Vine can be reached at gvineadn@aol.com.