For the second time in two years, Marblehead residents have voted to override Proposition 2½, endorsing $3.64 million in proposals to repair Abbot Hall’s iconic town clock and to remove hazardous waste that was left on a privately owned parcel next to the town dump.
The $3.64 million that the town plans to borrow will be paid back by taxpayers over the next 20 years. Owners of a single-family home valued at $653,642, the median price in town, will pay an additional $23.40 annually for the next 20 years, a total of about $468.
Abbot Hall, which functions as Marblehead’s municipal headquarters, has had a bell that has rung on the hour since 1877. While residents stop by to do town business, tourists can be found nearly every day in the selectmen’s meeting room, where the original “Spirit of ’76” painting hangs.
About seven stories above ground level, the tower has been slowly deteriorating for decades. Last December, the town spent $34,200 to hire architectural and engineering consultants to assess and write a report about the tower. The consultants suggested a full renovation that will begin this summer and end by November 2014.
“The clock tower is the town’s icon,” said Cathy Michael, who lives just two blocks from Abbot Hall. “It’s the town’s heart and soul. I love that tower. To me it’s the glue that holds the town together.”
Both questions on last Tuesday’s ballot passed overwhelmingly, with voters approving the Abbot Hall renovation 3,888 to 1,617, and the hazardous waste remediation 3,186 to 2,235.
In 2011, Marblehead voters approved $43 million in borrowing — prompting temporary tax hikes of around $250 annually for owners of median-priced single-family homes.
Those projects included $24.5 million to build a new elementary school; $18.2 million to reconstruct the transfer station; and $656,000 for a study of the town landfill cleanup.
Town Administrator Jeffrey Chelgren said the improved economy and the lack of a request to pay additional taxes in 2012 made the proposals more acceptable to voters. Currently, the average annual real estate tax bill in Marblehead is $7,092, according to the Department of Revenue.
“Last year we didn’t have an override,” said Chelgren. “That was good for these two [referendums] because there was at least one year off.”
According to Andrew Petty, Marblehead’s director of public health, fly ash from an old incinerator affects about half of a 60,000-square-foot wetlands area adjacent to the landfill. The temporary tax hike approved by voters is expected to take care of all costs associated with the cleanup, Petty said.
“It’s cheaper to put the material under the cap of the landfill than to ship it off,” said Petty. “Because it is a hazardous material, it would have cost an additional $800,000 to send it somewhere else.”
Marblehead Selectman Harry Christensen said he visited the site often as a youth, seeking discarded metals, such as copper, that he could resell.
At the time, Christensen said, no one knew whether the land was privately owned and, with time, it grew to become part of the town dump.
“No one worried about it in those days,” said Christensen. “Now we’ve got to clean it up; it’s our problem.”