ATHOL — It would be fair for anyone familiar with New England town meetings to characterize Athol’s annual town meeting, held on June 13, as a siesta. While cries of “objection!” and “point of order!” are commonly heard at such gatherings, Monday’s crowd barely gave a glance.
A total of 126 voters showed up for the meeting and, with one exception, approved without debate the 33 articles of the mandate. The meeting, which included presenting awards to two Athol residents, lasted just over an hour.
A Proposition 2½ debt exclusion requesting $2.5 million to cover the cost of “the design, repair or replacement of the Pinedale Avenue Bridge, Fryeville Road Bridge and Crescent Street” received unanimous support. The proposal previously garnered overwhelming support from voters in the annual municipal election on April 4, passing by a margin of 188-46.
A second debt exclusion seeking voter approval to borrow $825,000 to purchase a new fire engine for the fire department passed 103-2. This question was also approved on April 4 by a vote of 163-71.
In the case of both articles, no questions were raised or comments from the floor.
Action on these items at the annual municipal meeting means that the loan for the bridge work and the fire truck has been officially approved and the related expenses can go ahead. City Manager Shaun Suhoski told the Athol Daily News that the loan for the bridge work will be paid off over 20 years, while the debt for the fire truck will be paid off in five years.
The proposed FY23 municipal budget of just over $22.4 million also passed without debate or inquiry. This figure includes approximately $5.1 million to cover the city’s assessment for the Athol Royalston Regional School District. Voters also approved nearly $374,000 to cover Athol’s share of the Montachusett Regional Technical School District budget.
In another action, voters approved spending $50,000 to purchase and install security cameras at Lake and Silver Lake parks and Lake Ellis Beach.
The issue of park safety arose last December when Rebecca Bialecki, then chair of the Athol Selectboard, said concerns had been raised by neighbors of Lake Park. At the December 21 Selectboard meeting, “We know there are probably only a few bad actors among the youngsters trashing the place. But that makes it unusable… especially (for) the youngest.
At the time, Bialecki said that in addition to the vandalism, some parents had complained of older minors — children in their early to late teens — harassing and threatening younger children in the park. After discussions with police and public works officials, it was decided to place cameras in Lake Park, as well as in Silver Lake Park and Ellis Lake Beach, where vandalism had also occurred.
Meeting attendees also voted to remove all Athol Fire Department employees from the civil service system, which the city agreed to for those workers in 1941. This decision requires passing legislation on self-reliance by Beacon Hill state legislators.
A pair of zoning amendments, one realigning the boundaries of downtown commercial districts and others defining the boundaries of overlapping battery energy storage system districts, were also signed into law.
The only article generating comment was the final mandate article, which asked Athol voters to support changing the Massachusetts state flag and seal.
The motion for approval of the article was presented by Moore Hill Road resident Brooke Coleman.
“Fifty-two cities and towns have already approved this,” Coleman began, “including Orange, New Salem, Royalston and Petersham. This is a resolution in favor of changing the flag and seal of the State of Massachusetts, and it costs the city nothing.
State Rep. Susannah Whipps stood up in support of the article, saying, “Several towns in my district voted the same language. I’m a co-sponsor of a bill that’s been introduced in the Legislative Assembly many times and it’s really just a bill to (show) how much we’ve changed and how much we’ve grown away from this image of a sword wielding the head of a native.
“Massachusetts leads the way in education, research, medicine and everything else; I really think it’s time to fly a flag that shows who the Commonwealth of Massachusetts is.
Dan Eaton noted that on May 17 a state commission voted to change the flag and seal.
“That’s kind of a moot point,” he said. “It’s a very controversial issue. I certainly support the changing elements and vision of the state, as do many other people. But that’s really a moot point right now.
After calling yeses and noes, city moderator Lawrence McLaughlin ruled that the article’s supporters were in the majority.
Greg Vine can be contacted at [email protected]