Montgomery residents raise their hands to be counted at the Town Meeting hosted at Gateway Regional High School on June 5. The meeting was moved to Gateway when the crowd at the original May 20 date exceeded the capacity of Montgomery Town Hall.

Reminder Publishing photo by Amy Porter

HUNTINGTON — Montgomery’s Annual Town Meeting, which was rescheduled from May 20 to June 5 and moved to Gateway Regional High School due to a turnout that had exceeded capacity at Town Hall, brought 143 registered voters to Huntington for the meeting.

Moderator Steven Pierce set the rules of the meeting at the start, saying the first vote on each article would be a voice vote. If challenged, the vote would go to a raised hand vote to be counted.

Three articles on the warrant engendered the most discussion: one on the town’s cost of the shared Russell-Montgomery Police Department; and two articles on accessory and prohibited uses on residential properties, which added regulations and prohibitions regarding the keeping of animals. All other warrant articles passed with little or no discussion.

Article 5 asked the town to raise and appropriate $100,000 to cover the public safety budgets, with $40,000 for the Fire Department, $60,000 for the shared Police and $100 for the Emergency Management Department.

A motion was made after the reading to amend the article to exclude the Police Department. The resident making the motion said costs have gone up every year, and the town can’t afford the police.

“Something’s got to change,” he said.

Another resident stood up and said, “I love the police.” She said she lives on Carrington Road, which used to be “Indy 500. Since the cops are there, they stopped it.”

Police Chief Kevin Hennessey spoke about the department’s accomplishments over the past year. He said from April 2023 to March 2024, the department received 1,715 calls for service and responded to 1,652, including 1,200 motor vehicle stops. He said what they are noticing in working with the Fire and Highway departments is that on the “Main Road raceway,” traffic has slowed down.

“We’re doing our best to be proactive,” Hennessey said, including applying for grants. He said since the merger of the two towns’ police departments, they have received $350,000 in grants, and just got word on another $20,000 grant.

“We love the community, and we want to be a part of the community,” Hennessey said.  He said the Police Department has also brought in more than $5,000 in ticket revenue, which has gone back into the town’s general fund.

Highway Superintendent Curtis Bush spoke in support of the police.

“We need protection working on Main Road. It’s been working well with the Police Department. We need them to protect us,” Bush said, adding when they were doing an emergency pothole patch recently, the police chief joined in to help.

Another resident pointed out that the number of accidents in town increases the cost of car insurance for town residents, but with people slowing down, there are fewer accidents. A vote on the motion to amend the article to exclude the police was taken, with the moderator declaring “the nays have it” in a voice vote. A hand vote was requested, with 25 in favor of the amendment, and 92 against the amendment.

The motion to adopt Article 5 as written was then discussed.

On the question of Police Department employees’ personal use of the cruisers, Board of Selectmen Chair Michael Morrissey said the town of Russell is the employer that supervises the hiring and sets the regulations. He said all of the vehicles are registered and insured in Russell, and Montgomery pays one-third of the costs. He said there is an oversight committee.

With no further discussion, Article 5 was adopted as written.

Among the articles that passed with no discussion were two regarding funding of the Hilltown Community Ambulance Association. Article 7 asked the town to raise and appropriate $41,113 to cover the town’s service contract with the association; and Article 8 asked for $2,466 for Montgomery’s share of the Ambulance Replacement Fund.

Also passing with no discussion was Article 9, to raise and appropriate $1,159,915 for Montgomery’s share of the Gateway Regional School District.

Before passage of Article 10, $105,000 for the vocational education expenses, Ellen Shaw of Carrington Road asked how many students in Montgomery attend vocational schools.

Gateway Superintendent Kristen Smidy said this year’s vocational enrollment from Montgomery is three students. Morrissey said the costs are approximately $30,000 per year per student. He said the town is locked in at $92,000, but added in a cushion for unanticipated costs.

For Article 15, asking the town to amend the zoning bylaws by inserting five items regarding the keeping of animals on residential property, and Article 16, which added prohibited accessory uses regarding animals, Pierce read a motion to refer both articles back to the Agriculture Commission and to the Planning Board for public hearings.

One resident said Montgomery is a Right to Farm community, as voted into the bylaws in 2004 to protect farmers and anyone with animals.

“I think this needs to be voted down,” the resident said.

Asked to explain the motion, Pierce said any zoning bylaw change has to go in front of the state attorney general. He said before that, it has to be redrafted by the Agricultural Commission and approved by the Planning Board.  He said at the end of the process, the amendment will come back to be voted on at a Town Meeting.

Asked whether the articles came from the Agricultural Commission, Pierce said they came from the Zoning Board of Appeals, and were in violation of state law, not having gone through the entire process.

“Our vote should be on tabling these two amendments and nothing else,” Pierce said.

Several more comments and questions were voiced, including whether there are currently restrictions on animals that the amendments will alter.

Morrissey said there was an incident two years ago that went to court in Boston about the restriction in the Right to Farm bylaw which the town had passed that prohibited swine.

“This is a Right to Farm community. We already have animals, and shouldn’t be forced to get rid of them. Both of these are un-American,” said resident Taylor Derrig about articles 15 and 16, a comment which drew support from several other residents.

“I agree, if you’re a good neighbor,” said another, adding that there should be some stipulations.

A request to move the motion was followed by a request to add the Zoning Board of Appeals to the list of boards to review the redrafted amendments. A vote to refer both articles back to the Agricultural Commission, the Planning Board and the Zoning Board of Appeals then passed in a hand count with 88 in favor, and 30 opposed.

The final question to transfer from free cash $35,000 for the purchase and installation of a mini-split heating and air conditioning system for the office areas and community room in Town Hall also passed. Morrissey said the town had voted for $18,000 for the air conditioning at a Town Meeting a few years ago, but the amount wasn’t sufficient for the purchase and had been returned to the general fund.