Town says ‘no’ to new Municipal Light Board, for now

For the Athol Daily News
Monday, March 05, 2018

WENDELL — Residents have decided in a vote not to “staff up” the Municipal Light Board.

At a recent Special Town Meeting they decided not to do it “at this time.” Two articles on the town warrant had proposed the MLB oversee the construction and initial operation of the “last mile” of broadband. One would have allowed three people to be elected during town elections on May 7.

The Selectboard opposed it, saying it was premature and calling it unwise to change supervision when the process is so fluid.

Instead, the board proposed that it happen a year from now, and voters agreed.

The selectboard currently serves as managers of the Municipal Light Plant.

The Finance Committee was in opposition, as well, adding that there is not job description for such a board at this time.

Finance Committee Chairman Doug Tanner said the town would have no oversight, unlike with an Enterprise Fund.

Broadband committee member Alistair MacMartin said that his committee has shown a serious commitment, with healthy discussion and disagreements.

Some voiced their concern that a three-member board would not be enough, especially if the members lacked experience and commitment.

Nan Riebschlaeger also opposed the article, adding that the town needs time to work with Westfield Gas & Electric, the town’s prime contractor. Another resident said MLP would have trouble borrowing, unlike a town enterprise fund. Yet another said, “We still don’t know how much it costs.

Residents said until those questions are answered, decisions about a new board can’t be made.

The law governing a municipal light plants requires it be a business separate from the town. It cannot be run through town meeting, so the warrant articles will have to be rewritten.

Ben Schwartz, a member of the Broadband Committee, said the Selectboard has not shown enough interest to continue to manage the project, though, and another resident said, in support of the article, that , “It is important for the MLB to review costs now and make some major decisions.”

Selectman Dan Keller said he learned from the town auditor that the town does not have to have an MLP, and he favors an enterprise fund, which can be transparent and the town controls it.

Selectmen Jeoff Pooser and Christine Heard are now “against it for the same reason.”

The town voted unanimously to defeat the article, so management of local broadband will be brought up again at a future town meeting.

Other business

Residents voted to transfer the town-owned site of the planned solar farm at 97 Wendell Depot Road from the town treasurer to the Selectboard, which will be responsible for dealing with the solar group. The article passed unanimously, as did Article 9, whichtransferred the old house on the site to the Selectboard, as well.

The plan is to move the house elsewhere in Wendell after it is dismantled. There was concern about removing it — a resident of Diemand Farm who is interested in buying it said he thought moving the house would be easier than cleaning up any debris afterward.

The article that authorized a PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) agreement on the property passed unanimously.

Voters approved an article that authorizes the town to transfer $45,000 to pay Verizon or National Grid to remove and replace three utility poles at Wendell Depot. The work will need to be done by summer.

The town moderator will now be able to appoint a deputy moderator for the annual Town Meeting. That person will step in if the moderator cannot be there.

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