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Citizens for Limited Taxation

Framingham Town Meeting approves hotel tax hike October 30, 2009
Dan McDonald 508-626-4416 Metrowest Daily News
FRAMINGHAM -- Town Meeting last night approved increasing the hotel room tax from 4 percent to 6 percent, a move that could generate $226,725 this year and $453,450 every year after.

In Memorial Building's Nevins Hall, Town Meeting voted to funnel the anticipated revenues from this year into the town's stabilization fund.

Coupled with Wednesday night's vote to increase the meals tax, the room tax vote means the stabilization fund could receive more than $800,000 this year.

The two taxes could mean more than $1.7 million every year after this one.

For the town to maintain a good bond rating the stabilization fund should ideally be at $10 million. It is presently at $5 million.

Town Meeting rejected a resolution that would have encouraged selectmen to come back by the 2011 fall Town Meeting with a plan to use the additional revenue for development and revitalization.

In other business, Town Meeting was frustrated by $76,200 in cost overruns for outside legal help for a lawsuit involving a developer. Questions posed about Article 3 - a measure to pay unpaid bills - unearthed an internal communication breakdown in town government. The discussion also highlighted what some thought was the bungled handling of that lawsuit.

The case involves Nexum Development Corp., which went before the Planning Board in January 2003 seeking to develop a 25-lot cluster subdivision off Nixon Road called Ford's Meadow.

The board did not approve the development. Nexum sued, challenging that decision and naming present board members Carol Spack and Thomas Mahoney and former members Ann Welles, Helen Lemoine, and Laurence Marsh.

This past spring, a judge sided with the town, but Nexum and the town are still embroiled in appeals.

But the story in Nevins Hall last night did not focus on the result of the case, but rather its financial oversight, or lack thereof.

The town used outside counsel - the firm Hinckley, Allen & Snyder - since Town Counsel Chris Petrini recused himself. He did that because a principal of Nexum - previously identified as Rob Harrington - helped broker a real estate deal for Petrini's home.

Before last night the town had spent $235,000 on the case, said Petrini.

Executive session minutes of selectmen's meeting released at Town Meeting painted a picture of confusion, with that board, which is supposed to handle litigation involving the town, being left in the dark.

In May, Petrini acknowledged that the Planning Board was basically running the case, according to the minutes.

Selectman Charles Sisitsky was concerned then about where the extra money - estimated at the time to be $60,000 - would come from as it had not been budgeted and Town Meeting had not approved extra funds for the case.

At a closed door meeting involving selectmen and the Planning Board in June, Selectman Dennis Giombetti told Planning Board members selectmen had been under the impression the case was dormant, which suggests selectmen did not know it had gone to trial and were not kept abreast of the court proceedings.

Selectmen Chairwoman Ginger Esty said at that meeting the funds for the case had not been replenished because selectmen had not been made aware of the need.

Some town officials ripped into the handling of the case.

Finance Committee Chairwoman Betty Funk said she and her committee did not like "the idea that we have authorities that manage things in ways that are not efficient."

Audrey Hall, chairwoman of Town Meeting's standing committee on ways and means, had similar thoughts. Her committee pressed this week for answers regarding the bill, posing several questions that needed to be answered and prompting a written response from town management.

"What we've seen in the response to the questions is a process that is broken," said Hall.

The measure, bundled with less than $2,000 in other unpaid bills, needed 90 percent Town Meeting approval to pass. It reached that threshold with a vote of 96-4-2.

No one from the Planning Board spoke.

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