April 24, 2019 By Carol Britton Meyer
There weren't long lines at the High School entrance at 5:15 p.m., buckets of rain weren't pouring down, and the attendance was 437 rather than the nearly 2,000 voters who showed up to vote on the controversial water company acquisition proposal Monday night, but there was plenty of action nonetheless during the second session of Town Meeting Tuesday evening.
Town Moderator Michael Puzo thanked Selectmen Chairman Paul Healey for his long service to the town, acknowledging that this was his last night sitting on the board because he is not running for reelection.
A quorum was reached by the 7 p.m. start time, and the meeting sailed through the remaining 32 warrant articles in 2-1/4 hours. Surprising to some, the only ones that resulted in lengthy discussions were related to the composition of the master planning committee and whether or not the town should take responsibility for the Canterbury Street Cemetery at the intersection of Canterbury and Rockland streets. All the articles passed with flying colors, most on a unanimous vote. The same was true Monday night except that consideration of the acquisition warrant article was lengthy.
At the suggestion of Foster School parent Sara Ader, the wording of the warrant article calling for the formation of a master plan committee to develop an updated comprehensive master plan for the town -- the first since 2001 -- was changed to include a School Committee member in addition to a member of the Planning Board, Selectmen, Board of Health, Historic Districts Commission, Zoning Board of Appeals, Harbor Development Committee, the Development & Industrial Commission, the Hingham Affordable Housing Trust, Recreation Commission, Conservation Commission, and a few other residents. School Committee member Carlos DaSilva also called for that amendment to the original warrant article.
On the subject of the cemetery, while some voters disagreed with the acquisition, following a lengthy discussion the majority of voters agreed to authorize but not require the Selectmen to acquire the 42 by 79-foot cemetery property that was part of the Barnes family estate and is now in rough shape. The cost to restore the property's landscape and to conserve and preserve the historic head and foot stones -- some of which go back to 1827 and possibly earlier -- is in the $30,000 to $40,000 range, with an annual maintenance cost of $900. The startup cost for the restoration expense will be sought from the town's Community Preservation Act funds.
The Barnes and Stoddard families were early settlers in the establishment of Hingham as a town in the 1600s, and some members of these families are buried there, including adults and children. The known heirs don't maintain it and are willing to sign a lease giving up all rights to the property.
Healey urged voters to support the project. As a former Canterbury Street resident he is familiar with the property. "I think it would be a reflection of our values to preserve this modest place," he said.
In other business, voters quickly passed the following articles:
* $350,000 to cover the cost of prospective extraordinary maintenance needs at Foster School while waiting to hear back from the Massachusetts School Building Authority about the town's recent submission of a third Statement of Interest requesting partial state reimbursement for renovation of Foster or a new school.
* A ban on single-use plastic check-out bags that will become effective later this year while encouraging more-widespread adoption of reusable shopping bags. High School Green Team members Lydia Boer, Emily Goldstein, and Maja Nielsen attended as guests of the meeting because they are not old enough to register to vote and therefore were unable to speak without Town Meeting's okay.
That granted, Lydia urged voters to support the ban, citing the high cost of plastic bags and the dangers they pose to the environment and sea life when not disposed of properly and even when they are because they don't break down in the landfill. "This money could be spent on bigger and better things," she said, "like the food pantry."
Most plastic bags, Maja noted, aren't reused. "They're not being used to pick up after people's pets or for trash disposal," she said. While noting that she couldn't vote on this issue, she told voters, "But you can."
* $195,000 for the completion of the design plans for improvements to the Rte. 3A/Rotary/Summer Street corridor to make the waterfront safer and friendly to pedestrians and bicyclists, including implementation of the pilot "road diet" program from last summer involving the elimination of one lane in each direction from Summer Street to the Rotary.
* $725,546-worth of Community Preservation Act projects recommended by the Community Preservation Committee paid for by a tax surcharge approved by Town Meeting in the early 2000s to be used only for open space acquisition, community housing, historic preservation, and certain recreation projects.
These include funding for affordable housing opportunities; stabilization of the historic Old Ordinary Museum and the Annex on Lincoln Street; a comprehensive study of the town's athletic fields and tennis and basketball courts; restoration of the mechanisms of six bells in the Memorial Bell Tower; completion of the Bathing Beach bathhouse/concession stand; rehabilitation/restoration of the Plymouth River School Playground; restoration and conservation of the veterans' markers and monuments in the Liberty Plain Cemetery; and the CPC's administrative fund.
* Establishment of a Municipal Waterways Improvement and Maintenance Fund to receive revenue from boat excise taxes and mooring permit fees and any state and federal grants to help pay for the dredging of Hingham Harbor in 2019 to 2020 and other harbor-related expenses. The estimated price tag is $5 million maximum and will be funded using $1.5 million of existing waterway funds and a borrowing of up to $3.5 million to complete the project. The town is eligible to apply for a state grant of up to 50 percent of the project's cost. Dredging takes place about every 10 years.
* Up to $550,160 to replace the glass-block windows at the Hingham School;
* Property tax exemptions for veterans whose property has been conveyed to a trust and another for Gold Star parents.
Police Chief Glenn Olsson told the Hingham Anchor after the meeting that the town planned well to accommodate up to 4,000 voters on the first night of Town Meeting for the acquisition vote and that the satellite parking at South Shore Baptist and at the Wompatuck Visitors Center went smoothly. "That was due to great planning among town officials, the Hingham police and fire departments, the DPW, School Department, light plant, and others," he said.