HAMILTON — Hamilton residents at a special town meeting Saturday said yes to nearly every item on the warrant, including a planned $8.9 million renovation and restoration of Town Hall.
The vote on Saturday now allows the question of whether to borrow $4.68 million of that money through a debt exclusion to go to voters in a special town election on Dec. 3.
All but one of the warrant articles were enacted during the 90-minute session at Hamilton-Wenham Regional High School, the town manager's office said. The article that failed was a citizens' petition seeking to limit the town's health department to issuing orders that are only as strict as the ones issued by the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and state Department of Public Health.
Approximate 120 residents took part in the meeting.
The Town Hall project came up for two votes. One authorized the use of $3 million in Community Preservation Act funds, which will be borrowed and repaid through proceeds from the 2% surcharge on taxes that is already being assessed. The other authorized the town to borrow $4.6 million through a debt exclusion.
Project architect Drayton Fair presented a series of slides showing the planned work, which includes an addition with an elevator to make the building accessible. The project also moves many of the town offices to the first floor, so that the second floor can again be used as a meeting space.
"It's pretty packed up there," Fair told the participants.
The project also addresses some structural needs and adds restrooms to the second floor.
The question of whether to allow funds from the Community Preservation Act to be used by the First Congregational Church to repair the clock tower drew some controversy, but ultimately passed.
Both the Finance and Advisory Committee and the Board of Selectmen, in a 4-1 vote, recommended against the request.
During the meeting, representatives of both panels explained that they had several concerns, including the legality of providing taxpayer funds to a church due to the First Amendment's separation of church and state.
The town's legal counsel told the participants that while there's no "real bright line" law on the issue there have been a number of court decisions upholding the use of CPA funds for private projects, and that limiting the use of the CPA funds for the clock tower, and not for the area of the church where services take place, should address those concerns.
The one warrant article that was voted down on Saturday was the citizen's petition restricting town health officials to following the guidance of the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.
William Heney, who organized the petition, said he believed the school district acted too quickly in September to switch to remote learning, calling it a "very quick, poorly thought out pivot."
He said he has since met with the superintendent and with health officials and said he believes the schools are now "heading in the right direction," but still argued for support for the petition, which would have been advisory.
Town meeting participants also voted to support the use of funds to support two Habitat for Humanity projects in Hamilton, and a range of smaller expenditures for maintenance, new equipment and costs related to a retirement.
The entire meeting can be viewed on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y6vU__wWpPQ
Courts reporter Julie Manganis can be reached at 978-338-2521, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @SNJulieManganis.