By GAYLA CAWLEY
MARBLEHEAD — Town Meeting members will be asked to approve an $89.2 million budget and presented with four citizens’ petitions tonight.
Town Meeting will convene at 7 p.m. at Marblehead Veterans Memorial Middle School auditorium, 217 Pleasant St.
The $89.2 million budget up for approval includes the $36.5 million budget for the schools.
To start the process, 300 registered voters are required to attend. Last week, at a candidates forum, Jackie Belf-Becker, chairwoman of the Board of Selectmen, said she was concerned there wouldn’t be a quorum. Town Administrator John McGinn said there’s always some concern about the quorum. Last year, Town Meeting proposed reducing the quorum, but 700 people showed up, and that warrant article didn’t go forward.
There are 33 articles on the warrant tonight.
Voters will also be asked to approve funds to purchase equipment for several departments and for capital improvements for public buildings.
Voters will be asked to appropriate $494,699, so the town can recondition a front end loader and buy a backhoe for the highway department and purchase a mini excavator for the drain department, among other equipment requests.
Members will be asked to appropriate $260,000 for capital improvements, which include roof repairs and replacing five heaters at Tower Way; installing a temporary generator tie-in and upgrading the access control system for the police station; and a drain project, external painting and HVAC repairs for the library, among other requests.
Four citizens petitions have garnered the most attention.
One petition proposes changing the town clerk’s position from elected to appointed. Town Clerk Robin Michaud is opposed to the warrant article, arguing that the position is the chief election official for the town and should stay independent from the elected board of the selectmen, the appointing authority for the town. The sponsor for the petition, Charles Gessner, said he thought the change would improve the efficiency of the town clerk’s office.
If Town Meeting approves the article, the issue would go on the town election ballot as a referendum in May 2018. If it passes on the ballot, it would go into effect in May 2019.
Town Meeting members will be asked to accept Tioga Way as a town or public road. Only public ways are eligible for state Chapter 90 funds to repair and resurface local roads, according to McGinn. He said accepting roads as public ways only occurs when the road meets all the standards set by the town and impacts the amount of Chapter 90 funds for which the town is eligible.
Another petition asks voters to approve allocating $2,600 for the beautification of the town during the holiday season, which would be used to decorate the commercial zones on Washington Street, Pleasant Street and Atlantic Avenue.
The funds may no longer be necessary because the selectmen recently approved creating a donation fund, upon the request of the Chamber of Commerce. With the fund, McGinn said people can make freewill donations payable to the town of Marblehead, which would go into that fund and be available for the purchase of holiday decorations in the commercial area of town.
The fourth citizens’ petition asks the town to support a resolution supporting state and federal legislation that provides greater transparency in political donations and limits the influence of money in politics, and requests state and federal representatives to pass such legislation.
Bonnie Grenier, one of the petition’s sponsors, said essentially, the purpose is to protest or get their voices heard that money in politics is corrupting the political system. She said the resolution, if passed, would be nonbinding and doesn’t become law, but would represent the voice of the people, and would strongly encourage elected officials at the state and local level.
She said the effort is part of a larger movement by Represent.Us., a grassroots campaign based in Florence, that is aimed at stopping political bribery, ending secret money, and fixing broken elections.
“Until we change the system, nothing is going to happen and big money is going to control the situation,” Grenier said.
Gayla Cawley can be reached at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @GaylaCawley.