Fate of Town Hall Hangs on Vote

Tuesday May 02, 2023

Newbury Town Hall

NEWBURY – For close to 20 years, townspeople here have been arguing, often heatedly, if they need to spend money on a new Town Hall.
That debate may be resolved soon. On Tuesday, voters will decide whether to override the state’s spending limits to build a new Town Hall at 25 High Road for an estimated cost of $11.7 million.
The measure, which attracted a much larger attendance than usual — almost 500 residents — was defeated at the Town Meeting last week by a vote of 245 to 218 because it failed to reach the two-thirds majority required.
Next week, a simple majority of voters at the ballot box could resurrect the new Town Hall initiative.
If that happens, the town’s Board of Selectmen is likely to schedule a second Town Meeting to vote again on the spending measure.
The Finance Committee unanimously supports the project. Select Board members Alicia Greco, J.R. Colby and Geoff Walker also back it, although member Gerry Heavey voted no, and Dana Packer abstained.
Currently, the town administrative offices are in rented space at 12 Kent Way, west of Interstate 95. Its lease, which expires in 2024, costs the town $183,337, including utilities, according to reports.
The proposed Town Hall has been highly controversial, with what long-time Town Hall advocate Eric Svahn called “a vocal group of people in town that have an issue with anything and everything” about the new municipal building.
Supporters argue that Newbury has the lowest tax rate of any municipality in Essex County and could absorb the cost of bonds over 30 years. If the town is ever going to build a new Town Hall, now is the time, they argued.
Opponents disagree, saying that the town just spent almost $7 million for a new police station behind the site of the proposed Town Hall. And there are other expensive items on the horizon, particularly a new Triton Regional Middle-High School building.
Some have proposed that the town renovate the old Town Hall building, but supporters of a new building say it would be more costly to renovate than build new.
Resident Jim Moran said at the meeting that the proposed Town Hall “is too big; the cost is too high.”
Bonds for the Town Hall could run for up to 30 years, with an initial estimated annual payment of $475,000 annually.

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