Potential Planning Board Recall Stirs Up Residents and Selectmen
Planning Board also hears and voices opinion about recall, upcoming ballot questions.
Even though discussion about the Nov. 2 ballot questions was scheduled for later in the evening, several residents voiced their concerns about the initiatives during open session of the Board of Selectmen meeting.
Salim Talbit, an Andover resident, spoke in support of question three, a measure to lower the state sales tax from 6.25 percent to 3 percent. The state had recently raised sales tax from 5 percent to 6.25 percent in order to increase state revenues, specifically when faced with budget shortfalls during the recession.
Talbit's concerns were that border towns, or Massachusetts cities near sales tax-free New Hampshire, are seeing a drop in business as residents travel across the border for purchases. Studies have shown that as much as 25 percent of NH's liquor sales are from MA residents, who use alcohol purchases as an excuse to buy from NH, and then proceed to buy big ticket items and other goods that are taxed in Massachusetts.
Mr. Talbit felt that the loss in revenue from a tax cut could be easily replaced by local spending that remained in the state.
"6.25% from 5% is anti-business, it's anti-consumer, and it's anti-taxpayer," he said.
Mike Combs, a resident of Chelmsford's sixth precinct, was worried about the loss of revenue if the alcohol tax was repealed.
"That's a hundred million dollars that's currently earmarked for public health programs," he said.
Toby McGrath, the campaign manager for the Coalition for our Communities, argued that a cut on taxes would halt discretionary spending.
"We're not saying it's not hard on businesses, we're not saying it's not hard on towns, but question three will just make things that much harder," he said.
As evidence, McGrath stated that Massachusetts' budget gap is expected to be two billion dollars, and that local aid would be cut by some 18 percent if taxes were lowered or repealed. One of Lawrence's gang units has recently been cut, a sign that the slow economy is affecting potentially important resources.
The Board of Selectmen made their positions known at the meeting about how they would vote on the ballot questions. Chelmsford's selectmen are mostly against the questions to repeal taxes.
Selectman Eric Dahlberg was for repealing the state liquor tax, while the rest of the selectmen were against the measure. Dahlberg felt that the state could find another way to make up the hundred million that would be lost if the tax were repealed.
"I think it would jumpstart the local economy," he said of the repeal.
The selectmen where unanimous in their positions in support of question two, a repeal of the Chapter 40B law, which is a state-run affordable housing program. The selectmen made it clear that they were not against affordable housing; they simply believed Chapter 40B was flawed and ineffective, and that the local housing authority was more in tune with the needs of Chelmsford.
"We've done a very good job in Chelmsford of acquiring affordable housing through means other than 40B," Selectman Jon Kurland said at the meeting.
The selectmen also agreed that the reduction in the state's sales tax from 6.25% to 3% was not a good idea presently, considering the condition of the economy. Several of the selectmen believed it would be a good idea if there were a means to supplement the loss of revenue, or if the local economy were not facing potential budget cuts.
The potential recall of several planning board members fired up residents and selectmen when the issue was discussed during the town manager's report. Susan Carter, Ann McGuigan, and S. George Zaharoolis are facing a recall, a local procedure to oust elected officials from their positions. Carter, McGuigan, and Zaharoolis voted in support of the controversial decision to allow the Epsilon project at 9 North Road.
"It's the first time that we're aware in the town's over-20-year charter that there's been a recall initiative," Town Manager Paul E. Cohen said at the meeting.
The law was intended for the community to be able to remove elected officials who have committed crimes or gross misconduct while members of local government, and who refuse to resign. The recall requires at least 25 signatures from residents of each of Chelmsford's nine precincts in order to be successful.
The Planning Board members are under attack solely for their positions on the 9 North Road development, and not for any impropriety.
Richard McClure, a Chelmsford resident and local lawyer, spoke in support of the recall, and why he believed the process should be allowed to continue.
"You have a decision by the Planning Board that thousands of people in town believe was the wrong decision, made for the wrong reasons," he said to the selectmen.
Selectman Jon Kurland read a statement at the meeting in support of the Planning Board members and asked that the audience accept his statement as his opinion as a private citizen.
"Should this recall proceed…it will discourage otherwise capable and dedicated individuals from serving in town," he said.
S. George Zaharoolis and Susan Carter were both present at the meeting and spoke in their defense. They thanked the community for its support during the recall, and spoke to their roles as public servants. Carter has worked for the town for 19 years and was reelected this spring after voting for the 9 North Road development.
"If we recall our elected officials on the basis of one single controversial decision, that could tie everyone's hands," Carter said. "No one is going to make the tough decisions."
S. George Zaharoolis also assured the audience that the Planning Board members had done nothing wrong, they had simply cast votes with which some members of the community didn't agree. Zaharoolis asserted that the votes allowing the construction at 9 North Road were consistent with the town's Preservation Restriction bylaw.
"If you have a problem with the bylaws, change the bylaws, don't change the people," he said.
Each selectmen then spoke in support of the hard work and service by the members of the Planning Board affected by the recall proceedings. The selectmen agreed that they could find no fault in the Planning Board members, and that the board members had always worked hard as conscientious members of the community for the good of the town.
Chairman George R. Dixon cautioned the audience about the effects of such a petition on the town.
"Let's hope that this recent difficulty makes a stronger and more cohesive town," he said in closing.
In other News
The Board of Selectmen voted to change RSRS Foods, LLC's liquor license to an All Alcohol License. The establishment, Madras Grill at 7 Summer Street, had been previously granted a Beer & Wine License.
The board voted for the sale of alcoholic beverages by local liquor store owners on Sundays starting at 10:00 a.m.
The board also voted to grant SB & EE Auto Sales a Class II Auto Dealers License, which will let the Tyngsboro Rd. property have up to 41 used vehicles for sale on their lot.