Next month, Marblehead voters will go to the polls to decide whether to borrow about $8 million to fix town sewers, buy a fire truck, renovate Old Town Hall, and purchase an old mill site.
At last week’s Town Meeting, where residents approved the four proposals, there was little dissent about the proposed borrowing, and a plan to purchase the former Chadwick Lead Mills site to use as open space passed unanimously.
In the June referendum, all questions will be on separate ballots. The most expensive proposal calls for the town to borrow $4.94 million to reconstruct its downtown storm sewers, and replace underground pipe that is more than 100 years old. If approved, homeowners with median single-family properties assessed at $488,000 would pay $34.79 more annually for 20 years.
Property taxes would also go up for 20 years if voters approve the 3.46-acre lead mills purchase. That project would cost the town $1.5 million, and the annual cost to the average taxpayer would be $10.57. Other proposed tax increases call for spending $1.15 million to purchase a ladder truck for the Fire Department, and $610,168 to make the Old Town House handicapped-accessible. If the measure is approved, the average taxpayer would pay $13.42 more in taxes annually for 10 years for the truck, and $12.90 annually for five years for the Old Town House renovations.
The proposal to fix the downtown drainage system rose to the top of the spending list after last October’s flash flood dumped more than 5 inches of rain on the town during a high tide. That storm caused millions in flooding damage downtown, where some businesses and homeowners had to wade through several feet of water on their properties.
While the Board of Selectmen supported the major spending proposals, Barbara Anderson
“This was a lack of prioritization and planning, which is typical in this town,” said Anderson, a former Finance Committee member who serves as executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation. Anderson believes the town should have replaced its downtown drainage system years ago and did not plan for the future. She was one of 10 town residents who opposed the plan. “It should have been an ongoing project. There’s nothing more important than keeping the town above water,” she said.
Selectman Harry Christensen said the town needs to fix the sewers to prevent further problems. “We’ve got to fix them,’’ said Christensen. “If we don’t the streets are going to fall in on us.”
Anthony Viglietti said he was relieved after hearing about last week’s vote to rebuild the sewers. Viglietti owns Studio V in downtown Marblehead, and estimates that last fall’s storm caused more than $100,000 in business loss and damage to his property.
The storm occurred just days after he finished remodeling his ground-level spa, when more than 3 feet of water quickly filled all of the spa’s rooms — ruining his walls, furnaces, and other appliances.
“I think it’s great that they want to do something. It’s 2012; it’s not 1940. The system is old. They need to fix it; it’s affected the businesses here,” said Viglietti, who checks the weather each night and worries about bad rainstorms. These days, if there’s rain in the forecast he stays close to his business in order to prevent another flood.
Also at the Town Meeting, a proposal to instill a seasonal ban on gas-powered leaf blowers was rejected 285 to 211. Proponents had called for a May through September ban. Proponents had asserted that the leaf blowers cause too much noise, and also create dust that could harm people’s health.