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Scituate approves meals tax, looks to turbine discussion Wednesday

Posted by Jessica Bartlett  April 10, 2013 12:37 PM

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Photo by Jessica Bartlett

Scituate Town Meeting workers count votes in favor of a meals tax. The tax won by a count 228 to 138.

Scituate residents approved a local meals tax during the first night of Town Meeting on Tuesday in an evening filled with unexpected controversies.

The meals tax, which would impose a 0.75 percent tax on all restaurant meals in Scituate, generated the most conversation, and closed out the four-hour meeting with a final vote of 228 to 138 in favor of the tax.

Residents spoke on both sides of the issue, but ultimately decided that the tax was worth the estimated $200,000 it would generate annually.

“It’s not just us that buys the meals, it's [people from out of town],” said Michele Dorsey, a resident of Kenneth Road. “I think it makes sense to do this. We may be well-run, but we don’t have enough money to do the things we need to do…if you have $100 to throw at a meal, you have 75 cents you can throw at the town of Scituate.”

Others said yet another tax wouldn’t make sense, especially when the need wasn’t dire.

“I think this is a slap in the face to the taxpayers of Scituate,” said Michael Hayes, who is a member of the School Committee. “Everybody in this room has had their taxes increased this year by the federal government … we’re coming off an override, to the not distant future for a big, big override. The town sends a lot of money into stabilization. We’re not spending he money we’re raising now…

“If we need it in the future, if times get tough, I’d be in favor of raising money. But I don’t think this is the time to do it,” he said.

Two groups petitioned to have the meals tax installed, the Board of Selectmen and the Economic Development Committee.

Though the groups want to spend the money in different ways – selectmen divvying up the money for town needs, the commission spending it on studies and analysis to increase the town’s commercial tax base – the moderator limited discussion solely to the tax’s implementation.

His reasoning was that the money could not be allocated for a specific purpose until the dollars were in hand.

Regardless, Town Meeting members were insistent that the town should determine a direction for the funds once they were received.

Lisa Fenton, who lives on Crescent Avenue, said the money would be a small dent if it were to be spent on sea walls or the town’s master plan, but would pay for itself several times over if invested for a larger purpose.

Yet for David Ball, who owns waterfront property, any bit would help coastal residents.

“There’s a lot of need out there, sea wall repairs, water line repair. I can buy into the selectmen’s article without problem. But for me to say I’m going to vote for [the Economic Development committee] article and put $200,000 in a pot that will end up in studies, I’m not going to vote for that,” he said.

Residents will resume a discussion about the suggested allocation of the money during their meeting Wednesday night.

Several other topics generated much discussion, including the rejection of an article looking to transfer six acres of school property to the town for the purpose of building a public safety facility.

Part of the master plan, the land transfer would allow the town to build a new police and fire station on land off Route 3A.

Though the vote may be indicative of the town’s feelings toward a master plan, which would also build a new school at the existing site of Town Hall and transform Gates Middle School into a town hall building, Paul Barrett, a Michael Avenue resident, suggested that the town wait to transfer the land till more had been decided.

A vote on the Town Administrator budget line, which will increase from $420,000 to $462,000, was also so contentious it went to a counted vote.

Joseph Gibbons, who has criticized the town’s government in the past, faulted the town administrator for spending too much on labor council for union negotiations.

In a vote 266 to 156, the item was passed.

Town meeting has yet to vote on the predicted contentious items, including a moratorium on medical marijuana facilities, as well as a nonbinding petition to turn off the town’s turbine.

Follow @jessmayb3 and @YourScituate on twitter for live updates during the meeting.

Other approved items:

- $245,000 for school security upgrades
- Almost $1 million in storm costs
- $2.1 million in capital projects, including $129,000 for foreshore protection, $50,000 to make the harbor wireless, and $32,000 for surveillance cameras for the town pier
- Approximately $1.8 million in Community Preservation Act projects

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