Leverett voters OK funding for recreation projects, increasing fire chief hours

By BELLA LEVAVI

Staff Writer

Published: 05-18-2023 4:35 PM

LEVERETT — A request for Community Preservation Act money for a nature trail narrowly won approval at annual Town Meeting, where 150 residents passed all 30 articles on the warrant.

In addition to the controversial CPA request, voters also approved a $7.17 million budget for fiscal 2024, a 4.9% increase from this year’s budget, part of which included increasing the fire chief’s position to full time.

One of the most controversial votes at the April 29 meeting involved setting aside $82,082 in CPA funds for the Friends of the North Leverett Sawmill to use for a Heritage Park and Nature Trail on nearly 5 acres of land next to the historic Slarrow Mill. The funding request passed 58- 46.

The project will create three parking spots, a pavilion and trails (including handicap-accessible options).

“This is a great project for the town,” said Sidney Poritz, a member of the Friends of the North Leverett Sawmill. “This is something worth saving.”

Several residents, including abutter Kathy Stoddard, opposed the idea, saying not enough planning has been done and the Friends group is not open to the public. Residents also expressed concerns about a lack of Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant paths and parking spaces.

Members of the Friends explained that they are a nonprofit that welcomes new members, and they plan to ensure there are accessible parking spots and a path that wheelchairs can use as much as the topography will allow.

In its budget proposal, the Fire Department requested increasing the chief’s hours from 24 to 40 per week. With the change having been informed by two studies, the town planned on changing the job incrementally. Last fiscal year, the chief was offered benefits and this year, the position was set to increase in hours.

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Also passed at Saturday’s meeting was the appropriation of $81,000 for Kestrel Land Trust to purchase and conserve 91 acres of land located between Depot and Long Hill roads, to be known as the Heronemus Forest Conservation Project.

Two citizens petitions were also passed. One creates an Indigenous history, culture and land acknowledgement that would be read at the start of all Town Meetings. The other petitions the state Legislature to allow for permanent noncitizen residents to be able to vote in Leverett elections and Town Meetings, and serve on elected municipal boards and committees.

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