WEBSTER — A $44,206,670 municipal operating budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1 was approved by town meeting voters this week. It's a 2.8 percent increase from this year.
Voters also authorized selectmen to negotiate and enter an agreement of up to 20 years for payments in lieu of taxes for a proposed 10.5-acre solar field on School Street that will be owned and operated by Nexamp Inc.
But citing a desire for more information, voters passed over a request by Town Administrator Douglas C. Willardson regarding a preliminary plan for a 100-slip dock system at Veteran's Memorial Beach.
Mr. Willardson said a vendor had been chosen by the town under a proposed three-year agreement. The initial plan was for the company to front the estimated $60,000 cost of the dock system over three years.
However, three years would yield an estimated return on investment of $40,000 to the company. Therefore, the town would need an initial investment to cover the remaining $20,000, the administrator said.
The article in question asked for permission for selectmen to enter a five-year contract, as that time frame would allow more flexibility and negate the need for an initial investment by the town, Mr. Willardson said. He added that the town wouldn't receive revenue from the venture during the first three years, but after that it could receive about $20,000 per year.
Planning Board Chairman Paul LaFramboise was one of seven people who spoke against the article. He said he didn't understand proceeding to this point before the public had a chance to weigh in. He said other components, such as parking and monitoring by the police, needed to be worked out. He said it was a bad idea to rush into something without a master plan for full development of the beach.
In other noteworthy matters, voters created an economic development fund and infused it with $135,000 from free cash. This is an effort, according to the town, to stimulate private sector investment to create jobs and retain existing jobs for local residents. The program is intended to eventually provide funds to businesses or organizations that are looking to improve the economic climate.
An article proposing to amend town bylaws to prohibit public consumption of marijuana was ruled out of order because it had not been vetted by the bylaw review committee, moderator Thomas V. Ralph Sr. said.
Voters, at Mr. Willardson's request, also passed over an article seeking $600,000 to buy a new fire engine through a Proposition 2½ override in fiscal 2019.
Mr. Willardson said the town would like to return with a plan to pay for the engine through free cash.