Residents vote on two North Pond articles at special town meeting

SOUTHWICK – Two articles pertaining to preservation of property adjacent to North Pond on Congamond Lake were voted on Tuesday at a special town meeting in the gymnasium of Southwick Regional School. Requiring a majority vote, Article 1 passed with 478 yes votes to 88 no votes. Needing a two-thirds vote Article 2 passed with 404 yes votes to 100 no votes.

Town Clerk Michelle Hill is shown counting the remaining ballots for Article 2 as town counsel looks on. (Photo by Greg Fitzpatrick)

Since both warrant articles passed, this now means that the Franklin Land Trust, the sole agreed purchaser of the land, has a confirmed $5 million raised in order to preserve the property. The Franklin Land Trust can now inform the owner of the North Pond land, Denise LeClair-Robbins, that the total amount has been raised. Prior to the special town meeting on Tuesday, there was only $3.3 million raised, but by both warrant articles passing, the $5 million goal has been reached.

Article 1 was to see if voting residents would allow $500,000 to come out of the general unreserved fund from the CPC (Community Preservation Committee). This means that the $500,000 will not affect the tax rate since the money is coming from the CPC. This warrant article came to fruition when the CPC voted this past February to pass the application request from the Franklin Land Trust to have the $500,000 taken out of the CPC fund.

Article 2 asked the voting residents to allow the town to bond $1.2 million over a number of years in order to help preserve the 146-acre property. It was acknowledged by town officials that the bond for $1.2 million will increase the town’s property taxes. It’s estimated by the Finance Committee that the tax increase is roughly eight cents per every $1,000 of assessed property value if the bond was a 20-year note.
The reason for Article 2 is due to the CPC not approving the Franklin Land Trust’s request on Monday night to have the $1.2 million come out of the CPC account. The decision was 5-4, in favor of not approving the request.

Numerous Southwick residents came out to the special town meeting on Tuesday night to vote on the two warrant articles regarding the open space preservation for land adjacent to Congamond’s North Pond. (Photo by Greg Fitzpatrick)

Along with the Finance Committee not recommending the $1.2 million to be bonded by the town, the Select Board also didn’t recommend Article 2.

“Our problem with it is it’s going to affect taxes,” said Select Board Vice-Chairman Russ Fox. “This is just not good financial planning for our community.”

Despite that, a number of Southwick residents voiced their opinion on the matter.
Bruce Mason, who lives within about 200 feet of the water on North Pond, was hopeful both warrant articles would pass.

“This will guarantee me access from the lake,” said Mason.

Resident Molly Jacobs also expresses her support for preserving the property.

“For me, I want this property to stay as is so we can enjoy it for many years,” said Jacobs.

Another resident was worried about the Great Brook Aquifer, which sits over the North Pond land.

“Our aquifer is fragile,” said Neilda Henke. “It will not always be there if we don’t take care of it.”

Moving forward, the Select Board and Finance Committee will now have to decide how many years the bond will be for the $1.2 million.

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