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2009 Special Town Meeting OKs 2 taxes; no action on package stores

Special Town Meeting, fall 2009

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Arlington's Special Town Meeting on Monday, Nov. 16, voted in favor of increasing the excise taxes on restaurant meals and on stays at the town's only hotel.

One article on acholol was adopted, while a proposal to allow two more package stores received no action. Meeting members gave a loud "no" to the proposal to amend the committee to reorganize town government.

Before the meeting got down to business, Moderator John Leone swore in two new meeting members -- Michele Durocher in Precinct 19, who will complete the term of Rich Carreiro, the assistant moderator, who resigned, and Todd Bearson in Precinct 7.

In a voice vote, the meeting supported raising the excise tax on restaurant meals by 0.75 percent. It will take effect Jan. 1.

Selectmen Chairman Kevin Greeley said most surrounding communities had adopted this measure, and he said it is expected to raise $200,000 annually. Finance Committee Chairman Allen Tosti pushed for adoption, saying midyear cuts have already cost the town $25,000 and that a $4.5 million shortfall is forecast for fiscal 2011.

"A $100 meal would cost you 75 cents," Tosti said. "I'm a Not Your Average Joe kinda guy, so that would be 30 cents."

John Leonard of Precinct 17 and Grant Cook of Precinct 6 expressed opposition.

Lyman Judd of Precinct 9 provided some lighter moments leavened with his usual seriousness as he held a handkerchief to the microphone. He said he had been ill and did not want to spread his germs.

Later, Elsie Fiore of Precinct 2 drew laughs when she took the microphone and wondered whether Judd had left it unprotected.

The meeting also endorsed, via voice vote, an article raising the excise tax on hotel rooms from 4 percent to 6 percent. First, though, members heard a lengthy plea for a no vote from Vincent Barrett, an executive with Homewood Suites, owner of Arlington's only hotel.

Barrett said the hotel along the Alewife Brook is "barely covering debt service." He called the measure "another 50-percent tax" as the hotel struggles. He said his 110 guests put his hotel at 70- to 75-percent occupancy. As many as 52 percent of those are long-term stays (30 days or more). Such clients mean more customers for the town's restaurants.

Among meeting members appearing to side with Barrett were Ed Trembly of Precinct 19 and Leonard.

Selectman Diane Mahon of Precinct 14 noted that selectmen had contacted as many as 73 hotel owners and "only three or four" said they did not support this tax proposal.

A. Michael Ruderman of Precinct 9 said the tax was on customers, not directly on the business.

On a standing vote of 140 in favor and 37 opposed, Town Meeting adopted Article 4. That gives the selectmen authority to file a home-rule petition with the Legislature seeking a ballot question at the 2010 spring Town Election relating to the licensing of sellers of alcoholic beverages that are not to be drunk on the premises.

The question calling for a yes or no vote is expected to say:

"Shall the Board of Selectmen of the Town be authorized to issue up to three licenses for the sale of all-alcoholic beverages not to be drunk on the premises in replacement of up to three existing licenses for the sale of wine and malt beverages not to be drunk on the premises?"

If a majority vote yes, then selectmen may issue as many as three licenses for the sale of all-alcoholic beverages to be drunk off the premises in place of as many as three licenses now authorized in Arlington for the sale of wine and malt beverages to be drunk off the premises.

For Article 5, on the other hand, selectmen changed their mind at a meeting Nov. 16 and voted 5-0 to recommend no action. Earlier, the board had urged passage of Article 5, which would add two new alcohol licenses.

Greeley explained that he found a possible confusion between articles 4 and 5. He said that if two new licenses were approved under Article 5, then that might give an unfair advantage to the new licensees, which could sell all alcohol and not just wine and malt.

The recommendation of no action was adopted in a voice vote.

Before voting down a change in membership to the advisory committee to reorganize town government, members offered discussion suggesting that the selectmen were seeking to control the issue.

Joseph Tully of Precinct 14 asked whether the effort by this board would duplicate an earlier one. Selectmen Annie LaCourt said that initiative focused on town finances, not town government as a whole as well as possible regionalization.

Tully asked whether 13 members were not enough. "Otherwise, it becomes unwieldy," he said. LaCourt said it would be a mistake to leave out representation by a selectman.

"What we'll get is a stacked committee," Fiore commented. She asked whether volunteers could be added.

Leone said the vote would be yes or no on the article.

"What other [Town Meeting-created] committee has been allowed to expand its membership in such an unlimited way?" Loreti asked.

Vision 2020 and the Budget & Revenue Task Force, Greeley responded. Loreti said the task force was not created by Town Meeting, noting objections to an expansion from former treasurer John Bilafer, who proposed the effort to look at revamping town government.

"The best thing," Loreti said, "is to stay out of the committee's hair and let it do its job."

James O'Conor of Precinct 19 urged a no vote, and that is what occurred.

To the cheers of many members in the auditorium, Town Meeting voted to dissolve at 10 p.m., an hour early.

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