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After COVID-delayed Town Meeting, Hopkinton considers the year ahead

  • Ballot counting from school annual meeting at Hopkinton Middle High School. Sara Persechino

Monitor staff
Published: 4/27/2021 2:55:39 PM

Town moderator Sara Persechino started Hopkinton’s annual town meeting with a moment of silence to recognize the Hopkinton residents who died due to COVID-19 during the last year.

The pandemic’s effects were visible throughout the rest of the meeting, as it was held virtually via Zoom and YouTube’s live streaming and technical difficulties with sound made it hard for the select board to show slides relevant to the proceedings. 

Monday’s meeting was just the beginning of this year’s delayed town meeting in Hopkinton, as COVID-19 precautions have drastically changed the way the town conducts its business. The meeting consisted only of the introduction of the warrant articles up for town vote, with opportunities for public comment.

 The articles on the warrant included the town’s operating budget, $7,662,087, an in cease of$141,431, or 1.9% over last year. Other financial articles revolving around capital reserve funds and one to raise funds for a financial software update. Vice Chair of the select board Ken Traum spoke to four of the spending articles, saying the process of laying out a 2021 budget “began almost before the ink was dry on the 2020 budget.”

The final town meeting vote in 2020 was in July.

Traum said next year’s budget contains many unknowns, and the current sum was reached based on best estimates of revenues and expenditures.

Another article on the warrant concerns the town’s rental of space in the Bates Building on Main St in Contoocook. Select board Chair Sabrina Dunlap said the purpose was “merely allowing the town to enter into more than a month-to-month lease” with tenants. After previous unsuccessful attempts to get the town to approve the sale of the building, Dunlap said this article was the beginning of a process to allow for longer leases. 

There are two articles on the warrant that arose by petition. One of these is to adopt the official ballot referendum form of a town meeting, also known as SB-2, which would change the town meeting format to a deliberative session followed by a voting session. The select board opposed this article.

“It’s our sense that there’s much lower turnout and participation at the deliberative sessions,” Selectman Steven Whitley said. “With lower turnout and the break between the deliberative and the voting session, there would be less debate among voters and we believe there would be less informed voters who would be casting their votes. It’s not the democratic process that we think of and that we aspire to.”

Public comment was minimal, with only one person speaking in support of the SB-2 petition. He refused to give his last name when prompted by Persechino, but said that the SB-2 format was more democratic, and that since he worked during most town meetings, the change would help him. “I want my voice to be able to count,” he said.

The other petitioned article was for a non-binding resolution requesting that re-districting at the state level be done “fairly and transparently.” Spurred by a volunteer-driven petition, the article is recommended by the select board and drew positive public comment. 

The next segment of the town meeting will be held on Thursday night, when the select board will review comments and suggestions for amendments and make any necessary final changes to the warrant. These comments and suggestions include any made at Monday’s meeting, as well as those submitted via e-mail or voicemail anytime in the intervening days – until 5 p.m. on Thursday. The meeting itself will not allow for additional public comment.

The final portion of the town meeting will take place on Saturday in the form of drive-through voting. For more information, visit the town’s website

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