Hopkinton residents keep pay per bag, add veterans tax credits at town meeting

  • ABOVE: Residents check in at the Hopkinton High School gymnasium Saturday prior to the start of town meeting. Photos by GEOFF FORESTER

  • The crowd check in at the Hopkinton town meeting Saturday, March 18, 2017 at the high school gym. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Longtime Hopkinton official and retiring selectman Sue Strickford accepts flowers and congratulations from Hopkinton police chief Stephen Pecora at the beginning of the town meeting Saturday, March 18, 2017. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Saturday, March 18, 2017

Veterans living in Hopkinton who did not see active combat will now be eligible for a $500 town tax credit after voters approved the measure at Saturday’s town meeting.

Previously, the credit was available only to veterans who saw direct combat. The change extends eligibility to any veteran – and their spouse or surviving spouse – who served some form of active duty for at least 90 days.

Those in support of the article, which ultimately passed by a voice vote, felt it was imperative to support veterans as much as possible, regardless of how much time they served or whether they saw active combat.

“It doesn’t matter if they were in harm’s way – a veteran is a veteran,” resident Katie Boissy said. “We owe them everything.”

But the select board, which did not support the article, felt it was unfair that the funding of the tax credit falls upon taxpayers and does not come from the state. Select board member Bob Gerseny said the town currently spends $163,000 on the tax credits and the passage of the article adds another $83,000 to that amount for a total of $246,000 worth of credits.

“The funding for this comes from our non-veterans, and we weren’t comfortable with that,” he said.

Hopkinton voters again considered whether to rescind the town’s pay-by-bag trash program, an article Hopkinton select board Chairman Jim O’Brien said has come up almost every year since the program was enacted in 2010.

Article 7, which approved $102,710 worth of funding for the town’s pay-per-bag trash program through the Pay Per Bag Special Revenue Fund, passed without discussion. But Article 8, which would have gotten rid of the program altogether, had to be decided by a ballot vote after several residents spoke for and against the program. Residents rejected the article, 167-104, meaning the program will continue to operate.

Rob Nadeau, a resident and math teacher at Hopkinton High School, was opposed to the program because he said it serves as a form of regressive taxation because buying the mandatory green bags affects lower-income households at a higher rate. He also said the program is meant to encourage residents to recycle and use the transfer station – both of which provide revenue for the town – but results in residents dodging the program altogether.

This results in people either dumping their trash without a bag, paying a private hauler to take trash out of town, or dumping trash illegally, which he said happens in the woods near his home on Drew Lake.

“It’s a program that is meant to encourage one behavior but ends up creating others,” he said.

But supporters of the program said the town should focus on fixing its flaws, not replacing it altogether. Becky Whitley, secretary for the Hopkinton Recycling Committee, said the program has decreased the amount of trash and encourages recycling, albeit slowly.

“There is more that can be done to address the enforcement issue and to promote recycling,” she said.

In 2016, 22 percent of residents recycled compared to about 17 percent in 2009, Gerseny said. He also said the town addresses those who do not comply with the pay-per-bag ordinance by having transfer station employees record the license plate numbers and registration sticker numbers of offenders.

Most other articles, including a $6.9 million operating budget, passed with little discussion. The budget, which increased 8.94 percent from last year’s approved budget, will not result in an increased amount of money needed to be raised by taxes, select board member Ken Traum said. This is because the town offset several of the budget increases with approximately $418,091 from the town’s unreserved fund balance. The town’s portion of the tax rate is projected to remain the same at $7.09 per $1,000 of assessed property value.