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Select Board roundup: Short-term rentals article added to Town Meeting warrant; budget discussions continue

by | Jan 31, 2023 | Featured: News, News, Police & Fire

After previously expressing hesitation about a Town Meeting article related to short-term housing rentals, the Select Board on Tuesday voted to include the article on the warrant.

The issue arose after a home on Pike Street was remodeled and rented on a short-term basis.

A letter to the board attributed to 15 neighbors noted that the proposed bylaw “is a necessary step in regulating the booming industry’s impacts on Hopkinton.”

Detailing the issues, the neighbors wrote that “illegal renovations and repairs were made, trash and recycling were thrown on the curb or strewn throughout the yard on a regular basis, the upkeep of the property and maintenance of the yard became non-existent, functional and cosmetic repairs that most homeowners would make were entirely neglected, and a preponderance of single-day rentals had turned the property into Hopkinton’s only hotel room.”

During the public forum portion of the meeting, Pike Street resident Roxanne Donahue (one of the letter’s signees) said it was a “really alarming experience,” as it was a “hotel-type occupancy without professional management.” She said the article “puts some guardrails on it.”

Select Board chair Amy Ritterbusch supported the inclusion of the article.

“If people are going to be operating it as a business, running it continuously on a short-term basis, I think there should be some rules and guidelines,” she said. “And I’d like people to be able to vote on it at Town Meeting, and hear the pros and cons.”

Select Board member Muriel Kramer said she would not stand in the way of the article, but she wasn’t convinced the problem was widespread enough at this time.

“I always have a concern when we react to a single incident with a bylaw,” Kramer said, adding: “I’m also sensitive to the fact that if they had not egregiously broken other laws we would not have had the ability to control what was happening.”

Added Shahidul Mannan: “The fine line we need to think about is not to over-regulate in a way that becomes operationally challenging for us as well, but something that suits the purpose.”

On a related note, Town Clerk Connor Degan shared that there were six certified citizens’ petitions in his office that would appear on the Town Meeting warrant. Two are zoning-based, one relates to managing shooting at firing ranges, and two deal with the work of the Upper Charles Trail Committee.

Budget discussions continue

During a discussion about the town’s budget, Police Chief Joseph Bennett said his department continues to interview and recruit in an attempt to return to full staff.

“We’re really struggling as a nation to field police officers,” he noted. “Many officers are just leaving the field.”

Kramer said she appreciated hearing about how the department is doing, especially with recent incidents in the national news that have shaken some people’s faith in policing in general.

“We’re all thinking about you in these times,” Kramer said. “I know everybody is very challenged with the country’s events and so forth. Systemic racism is a problem across all institutions in the United States, and it’s incumbent upon us all to do our part, but also not forget that we are well-served and know that it’s hard for all people who are affected by these events.”

Bennett said the department has benefited from word-of-mouth recommendations, and it helps to get support from town leaders and the community.

”We have many new members, a little diversity in age, and certainly we’ve become more diverse [overall],” Bennett said. “I’ll share that I’m very proud that people are bringing their friends. People who are diverse are actively recruiting members into the department. It shows that they feel welcome, they feel that they belong, and they’re optimistic about the future. As far as the staff that are newer, they’re very excited about the opportunity to be here and where we are going. It’s truly a pleasure to walk into the squad room these days.”

Bennett presented a budget with a 10.2 percent increase from fiscal year 2023. The increase was due to personnel, as operations/expenses came in level-funded.

Fire Chief Bill Miller said requests for service continue to increase as the town’s population grows, which is why his budget came in higher than last year’s. He noted that this past year was the busiest in the department’s history, with 2,513 emergency incidents.

Public Safety Communications Director Meaghan DeRaad explained that her department has an 11 percent increase primarily due to contractual obligations along with a prospective new mid-level management position.

Engineering/Facilities Department Manager Dave Daltorio presented a budget with a 1.65 percent increase from the previous year, noting some utility savings due to the closure of Center School and other factors.

New staffer introduced

Beryl Wagner was confirmed as the town’s new procurement and grants manager. Wagner grew up in Hopkinton and returns after working for the City of Steamboat Springs, Colorado, for four years.

“I’m really excited to use what I’ve learned and also to learn new information, how to be on a different team in a different municipality in a different part of the country,” Wagner said.

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