SUNDERLAND – The warrant for the Annual Town Meeting this year features an unusual article that seeks to allow resident teenagers, 16 and 17 years old, to vote in town elections and meetings.

Article 12, a citizens petition, seeks authorization for the Selectboard to petition the General Court of the commonwealth to give local teens voting rights in municipal elections. The article also seeks the right to make changes to the petition before legislators vote on it.

If the article passes, local residents older than 15 years old will have the right to vote in elections for local offices, local ballot questions and Town Meetings.

Wendy Houle, town clerk for Sunderland, said the extra work would involve keeping a separate list of residents of a younger voting age.

“It would just be a matter of tracking,” Houle said. “In two years, when they’re 18, they’re registered to vote … [But] this would allow the Selectboard to petition the state Legislature to register 16- and 17-year-olds for everything local.”

The article stipulates that if a local ballot question appeared on a state ballot, separate ballots will be drawn up for use by newly authorized voters. The petition is not only a Sunderland petition article. Three other area towns, and other towns in the eastern regions of the commonwealth, are also seeking to expand the ages allowed to vote locally.

Another article which may generate discussion is Article 10, submitted by the Planning Board, which asks voters to authorize a change in Chapter 125 of the town’s zoning bylaws for the conversion of single family to multi-family dwellings. The article stipulates a converted structure must be as safe and convenient as existing apartments in the region — or safer — and have more “amenity of the dwelling” than existing units.

The Planning Board also submitted Article 9, which seeks changes in zoning bylaws and how battery storage facilities for solar and other energies are defined. The additions will change the definitions of the two types of battery facilities, accessory and stand alone. Passage of the article will change the bylaws regarding uses and size of battery facilities.

The article will also add a benchmark for assessing the degree a solar storage project impacts public safety costs, municipal services and drinking water areas.

Article 3 covers the operating budget for the town, which will see an overall increase of $356,585, or 3% from fiscal year 2024, if passed by voters. The budget will feature increases of 5% for the Highway Department and 5% for employee benefits costs. The school levy will increase by 3%.

The Fire and Police departments will see increases of 17% and 4%, respectively. Otherwise, health and sanitation costs rose 17%, accounting functions increased 29% and the treasurer’s office expenses went up 7%.

A procedural article, Article 1 grants authority to the various boards and committees to operate on behalf of the town. Article 2 sets the compensation rates for elected officials leading those bodies.

Yearly, Assessors will receive $2,994.21 each. Members of the Board of Health will receive $1,200, with the chair receiving $1,500. The moderator will be paid $200 annually. The chair of the Planning Board will earn compensation of $1,000, with the clerk receiving $1,000 and members paid $550.

Selectboard vice chair and clerk will receive $2,850, while the chair will be paid $3,275. The town clerk will be paid a yearly salary of $58,964.
Article 4 deals with the town’s capital expenses for vehicles, building improvements and the purchase of durable goods. The opening balance of $405,671 will be reduced to $211,514 if the article is favored by voters.

Article 5 authorizes the town to pay bills from FY23 that have not been paid.
The Community Preservation Act allows towns to add a percent to the tax rate, which is then matched by the state and earmarked for different uses.

Article 6, regarding CPA spending, will appropriate $177,000 for improvements and repairs to the Graves Library. The article will tap the historic resources and undesignated funds accounts to pay for the work.

Article 7, also focused on the CPA program, will designate $25,000 of undesignated funds to provide a local match for a MassTrails study of the Nortwottuck North Shared Use Path. The path will connect Sunderland to UMass Amherst and the Whately Park & Ride lot.

Article 8 appropriates monies raised for the CPA program, a total of $289,450, including an adjustment to the state match granting of $94,250. Each type of allocation, historic preservation, community housing and open space, will receive 10% of the funding total.

Revolving funds assist the town in carrying out business, receiving and paying out funds. Article 11 establishes beginning balances for those funds. The wiring and plumbing inspector will start with $9,000 and $3,000 respectively.

The Board of Health will open the year with $16,000 while the Highway Shared Equipment account begins with $23,000. The community room at the library and the fire inspector will open with balances of $5,000 and $7,000 respectively.

The balance of the warrant, Articles 13 through 18, are consent articles that enable the town to carry out normal activities. The Selectboard voted to recommend all the articles discussed, including the budget, which may see minor changes before Town Meeting.

dpruyne@thereminder.com | + posts