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Town Meeting: Fowl Mood after Passing $99-Million Budget

Town Meeting Members passed a $98,954,326 operating budget for Fiscal Year 2018 with no debate on Monday May 22, saving most of their discussion for two proposed Zoning By-law amendments regulating chickens. With only eight articles of the 44 articles left to be voted upon, the Annual Town Meeting was adjourned after five hours at 12:30 a.m. on Tuesday morning after it was found a quorum no longer existed.

The meeting was scheduled to resume Wednesday, May 24, after a "Doubt the Quorum" call by one member found only 122 Town Meeting Members present, four shy of the 126 needed to stay in business. In the few minutes preceding that question, bleary-eyed people began leaving Upper Town Hall to go home to bed and attendance plummeted from the 167 present at the start of the meeting.

Both of the proposed zoning amendments about chickens failed to get the necessary two-thirds' majority needed to be passed. The Planning Board's proposal to not allow any chickens in the RA Residential zone was defeated by a vote of 59 in favor to 110 opposed, and Michael Soares' petition to allow up to four hen or chicks anywhere without a permit failed by a vote of 81in favor to 83 opposed. Both proposals ruffled a few feathers, with proponents and opponents pecking away at each others' arguments.

On the first article, Planning Board Chair Patrick Kennelly cited the density of lots in the "older neighborhood of town." Michael Visconti noted, "Milford is not a farming town," and said the resulting "explosion of chickens" might lead to an avian flu epidemic in town. Jamie Wheelock said his family had raised chickens without problems on his quarter-acre lot. Soares complained of the high price to file the necessary special permit application.

In support of his article, Soares cited more than a dozen reasons for allowing hens and chicks, noting that "a well-built coop will deter any predators." David Consigli and Kennelly said the special permit process now in place protects neighbors. Cesare Comolli noted there have been chickens in his neighborhood for 30 years without a problem.

At the start of the meeting Finance Committee Chair Christopher Morin outlined the main drivers of the 3.8 percent overall budget increase for the FY18 budget of $99 million: union contract increases driving up Police Department spending by 6.2 percent and the Fire Department budget by 4.0 percent; a 10.8 percent increase in the trash collection contract; the Parks Department up 8 percent with one new hire; the Highway Department up 9.7 percent with two new hires; and overall School Department spending up by 4.6 percent – a 2.4 percent increase in general education and a 2.2 percent increase in special education and English Language Learner costs. "These increases are an investment in our town," he said.

The town will meet its financial goals, Morin stated: "We are in a very healthy financial position."




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