standing Hopkinton Town Hall

HOPKINTON — Following the June 11 defeat of the proposed Fiscal year 2020 budget, the Town Council has adopted an alternative spending plan.

Finance Director Brian Rosso told council members at the Monday meeting that the town charter required that they adopt an alternative budget, which, with the exception of a couple of changes, is the same as the current budget.

“The short and simple explanation of the alternative budget is, it’s last year’s budget, with the exception of the school expense and the state revenue, two line items that we obviously have no control over,” Rosso said. 

The council approved an alternative budget of $26.1 million. The property tax rate will increase from the current rate of $20.07 per $1,000 value to $20.68.

“Basically, the base of the tax increase is the school expense,” Rosso said, referring to the town’s $19.3 million contribution to the Chariho Regional School District.

The council unanimously approved the alternative budget.

During the first public forum, several members of the Hopkinton Citizens for Responsible Planning group addressed the council, expressing their lingering disappointment over the council’s decision on June 10 to approve comprehensive plan and zoning amendments to permit the construction of a commercial solar energy facility in the Skunk Hill Road-Lisa Lane neighborhood.

The developers, Atlantic Solar LLC and Gordon Excavating Inc., propose to install 64 acres of solar panels on the 172-acre parcel. Council President Frank Landolfi and councilors Sylvia Thompson and Barbara Capalbo voted in favor of granting the amendments, with council Vice President Scott Bill Hirst and councilor Sharon Davis opposed.

The parcel is in a densely-settled residential area with more than 60 abutters. Lisa Lane resident Luanne McCormick said the council had underestimated the determination of residents to fight the project.

“You’ve made a significant miscalculation if you think things are just going to calm down and it’s going to go back to business as usual,” she said. “You’ve seriously underestimated the residents of Hopkinton and the groundswell of resistance to this particular project.”

Old Depot resident Steven Wiehl questioned the approval process and read a recent public post on social media by Planning Board member Ronald Prellwitz who called into question the integrity of residents who oppose zoning changes for commercial solar projects.

“This is a sitting member of a current Planning Board that votes on these topics and these issues,” he said. “What is he doing? Has anybody given a class on ethics in this town? It’s infuriating to me... When you’re sitting in a position of authority or a position where you’ve been assigned or appointed, you cannot engage in these types of things publicly, because we don’t have confidence in people that do it on either side, because you can’t be trusted to be objective.”

Joseph Moreau, also of Old Depot Road, warned councilors that they would not be in office much longer.

“My concern is, how much damage will some of the Town Council members do to our town,” he said. “I look forward to any referendum to replace some of our Town Council members and can’t wait for the election in 2020.”

When the residents had spoken, council members, who cannot engage with speakers during the public forum period of the meeting, turned their attention to other matters, including the adoption of an updated Comprehensive Emergency Management Plan. They also set an Aug. 19 hearing date on a proposed ordinance amendment that would prohibit wind turbines in all zones in the town.

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