After almost four hours of discussion and debate, Hingham Town Meeting was continued to Tuesday night.
Voters approved 21 of the 37 total articles Monday night, including the $95.9 million fiscal 2015 budget, the continuation of the Aquarion Water Company investigation, and approval of an electronic voting “trial run” to take place at their 2015 Annual Town Meeting.
After over an hour of debate, voters approved an additional $475,000 to continue the ongoing investigation of the potential purchase of the Aquarion Water Company.
Board of Selectmen Chair Bruce Rabuffo said they are in the “discovery phase” of the court case. “The experts will really help us get to answer the question: what is the price?,” he said.
The price to purchase the Company is estimated by the town’s “Water Committee” to be between $50 and $60 million. However, Aquarion has come out with a number of $184 million.
The Committee estimates that gaining control of this service would save the town between $55-$68 million over 21 years, (about $2.6-$3.2 million per year).
Many residents are concerned that the entire process has been ”shielded” from the public. Rabuffo said this is not the case. “When you’re in litigation, you do not divulge what your strategy is going to be,” he said.
Concerns also arose around a possible inter-municipal agreement with Hull and Cohasset.
“That is a mistake,” Rabuffo said,” What we had was a very preliminary discussion with the neighboring towns. They came up with a proposal where what’s common we pay for commonly, and what’s unique to each town, they would manage that by themselves.”
Rabuffo added that nothing was signed, and it is only a “conceptual” agreement with the other towns.
Rabuffo said he would’ve been “insulted” if he were an audience member and the Selectmen had the “audacity” to put forth a pre-signed agreement. “We don’t do business that way,” he said.
With the approval of Article 20, electronic voting, or “E-voting,” is now part of Hingham’s town By-Laws as a possible form of voting at Town Meeting.
Andy McElaney, Chair of the Electronic Voting Study Committee, ensured concerned citizens that this only permits electronic voting, it does not require it.
McElaney said three “primary” advantages to this type of voting are: privacy and anonymity, accuracy, and efficiency. “Instead of 45 minutes for a ballot vote, it’s a minute,” he said.
At next year’s Town Meeting, a handset will be issued to each voter that works like a “simpler version” of a remote control, as McElaney put it.
A wireless receiver and a voting tabulator allow for results to be displayed on a laptop monitor to the Moderator and the Clerk.
The approval of Article 21 allows the town to hold this “trial run,” with the additional appropriation of $15,000.
McElaney acknowledged some potential disadvantages, such as additional costs and loss of a standing vote that some people like.
“We do have a concern that if too many articles go to electronic voting, that could diminish enthusiasm in the meeting,” McElaney said.
McElaney said the best way to do it is to have people experience it. He said they will know the exact costs to adopt this process going forward at next year’s Town Meeting, and each person can decide for him or herself.
Articles still to be considered include the Medical Marijuana Zoning By-Law, Community Preservation projects, and a Noise Control By-Law.