The time for the highly anticipated Special Town Meeting is near. A jam-pack audience of Bedford registered voters is expected to fill the seats at this 10-article session that begins at 7 p.m. on Monday, Nov. 14.
Usually, Town Meetings are held in the Bedford High School auditorium, but with such a large crowd expected, it will be held in the gymnasium instead. Registration opens at 6 p.m. In order to vote on any of the articles, residents must have been registered to vote by Nov. 4.
The most anticipated articles on the warrant are two involving the plans for the new fire station and another involving the expansion of the Minuteman Bike Trail.
Articles 4 and 5 were submitted by citizen petition. Article 4 would stop expenditures for design work for the new fire station, which was approved for 139 The Great Road by voters during the Annual Town Meeting in March.
Article 5 seeks to create a fire station site location committee made up of five Bedford registered voters who would be appointed by the Town Moderator. None of those five can be anyone serving on any other town board or committee or in any of the town offices or positions. This committee would be required to hold at least two public hearings and to publish a report on the town’s website no less than 30 days before next spring’s Annual Town Meeting and to distribute that report no less than seven days before Town Meeting.
The report is to provide suggested sites for the location of the new fire station. The current site plan for the new fire station was approved by the Annual Town Meeting in the spring and was purchased by the Town during the summer.
The final article on the warrant is expected to be the one that dominates this fall’s Special Town Meeting. Article 10 involves expanding the Minuteman Bikeway onto what is now the Reformatory Branch Trail. Construction of the bikeway would include paving and cutting down some trees to widen the pathway where needed. This article also authorizes the Select Board to acquire easements from owners of property that are needed for construction of the bikeway. Eminent domain is one of the options the Select Board would be considering to obtain that property.
This article is a replica of a proposal from the Annual Town Meeting this past spring. Although it received a positive vote from around 60 percent of the residents at that Town Meeting, the article failed to reach the two-thirds vote needed since eminent domain is a possibility to carry on with this project. As during the spring session, a two-thirds vote at the Special Town Meeting would be needed to approve the project.
The other articles on this fall’s warrant include:
- Article 2 reaffirms the annual 3 percent surcharge on real estate taxes to sustain the community preservation fund for the next fiscal year. This has been a Special Town Meeting staple for more than two decades.
- Article 3 is a supplemental community preservation allocation, listed in the warrant for $164,595. Most of the amount ($150,000) will finance installation of lighting the tennis courts near John Glenn Middle School. Plans are to convert the surface striping to accommodate pickleball as the primary use. Most community preservation proposals are on the Annual Town Meeting warrant.
- Articles 6 and 7 are allocations from a reserve account to cover retroactive pay increases for two collective bargaining agreements. The town and unions of the firefighters and Department of Public Works employees have signed separate contracts, effective last July 1.
- Article 8 amends the fiscal 2023 vocational education budget by $33,143 to cover one student’s tuition at Minuteman Technical High School in Lexington. Bedford students attend Minuteman only when they want to specialize in a program that is not available at Shawsheen Valley Technical High.
- Article 9, if passed, will authorize the Select Board to seek approval from the Legislature allowing the town to post required public notices online or on a physical bulletin board. The law now requires publication of so-called “legal notices” in printed newspapers of general community circulation. There are no print newspapers in Bedford. Notices are now advertised in a regional daily that has very little readership in Bedford at a cost significantly more than charged by a former weekly newspaper.
For those who are new to Town Meeting or who need a refresher course on the rules and regulations, Town Moderator Mark Siegenthaler has written two helpful articles. The first one deals with masking, seating, and resident presentations. The second article focuses on conduct and procedural topics. Both are well worth reading ahead of Monday night’s session.