Royalston Town Meeting approves full-time officer, Raymond School upgrades

Town Moderator Andy West calls Royalston's Annual Town Meeting to order as Town Clerk Barb Richardson (right) looks on.

Town Moderator Andy West calls Royalston's Annual Town Meeting to order as Town Clerk Barb Richardson (right) looks on. PHOTO BY GREG VINE

Hands go up as Royalston voters approve one of the articles on Saturday's Annual Town Meeting warrant.

Hands go up as Royalston voters approve one of the articles on Saturday's Annual Town Meeting warrant. PHOTO BY GREG VINE

Town Moderator Andy West calls Royalston's Annual Town Meeting to order as Town Clerk Barb Richardson (right) looks on.

Town Moderator Andy West calls Royalston's Annual Town Meeting to order as Town Clerk Barb Richardson (right) looks on. PHOTO BY GREG VINE

By GREG VINE

For the Athol Daily News

Published: 06-09-2024 5:00 PM

ROYALSTON – Ninety-six voters showed up for Saturday’s Annual Town Meeting at Town Hall, but many did not stay the entire four hours it took to finish the 31-article warrant.

In the end, one Proposition 2 ½ override, two debt exclusions and a $2.9 million FY25 general operating budget were all approved.

Lobbying for support of the override, which would provide just over $75,000 to hire a full-time patrol officer, Police Chief Curtis Deveneau raised points made at several Selectboard meetings and public forums held to discuss departmental staffing.

Anticipating questions regarding the need for a full-timer, Deveneau began by stating simply, “Police reform happened.”

The chief said reform was, generally speaking, a positive step, but added it had some negative impacts on communities that depend on part-time coverage. With the number of officers patrolling Royalston dropping from 19 to nine in the past four years, “The time has come,” said Deveneau, “for full-time policing.”

He said the town was unable to secure the number of part-timers necessary to adequately patrol the community.

Royalston resident Phil Leger backed Deveneau, arguing, “The part-time model is no longer working.”

Another resident, Joe Liebman, peppered the chief with questions, asking Deveneau to defend the need for a full-time officer in a small town like Royalston, which has a population of about 1,250 people. Deveneau said the town needs full-time coverage during daytime hours. The inconsistency of part-time coverage, he said, makes it impossible to ensure an officer will be on-hand to patrol the town, undertake traffic enforcement, respond to accidents and fires, and meet other demands of the job.

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Voters unanimously supported the override, but only after an amendment offered by Liebman was also approved. The amendment calls for the Selectboard to appoint a committee to undertake an in-depth study of the staffing needs of the police department. Results of the study will be presented to voters at next year’s Annual Town Meeting. The override must still be approved at a special election later this year.

A $699,000 Proposition 2 ½ debt exclusion to transform the former Raymond School into space for municipal offices was also approved. Mark Shoul, a resident of Royalston’s South Village and member of the Royalston South Village Revitalization Committee, explained he had long been opposed to the idea, because it meant moving town offices out of Whitney Hall. He had felt that, with the loss of Pete & Henry’s Restaurant and the Royalston Country Store in recent years, relocating town employees from Whitney Hall to the former school in Royalston Center would drain the South Village of its last bit of neighborhood vitality.

However, Shoul said he had reluctantly decided to support the debt exclusion in the wake of studies which concluded that adequately rehabilitating Whitney Hall to accommodate municipal offices would cost approximately $4 million.

While a complete facelift for the Raymond School has been estimated at $2 million or more, Royalston Public Works Director Jaret Thiem, a member of the town’s Building Committee, said the nearly $700,000 sought through the debt exclusion would be enough to meet the goal of providing municipal departments with the modern office space they require.

The money would be used to renovate the main floor of the building only. The top floor of the former school, built by the Works Progress Administration in 1939, will not be renovated – nor will the basement. The town will provide the supplies necessary to make the main floor improvements and much of the work will be undertaken by stu dents from the Montachusett Regional Vocational Technical School.

The proposed debt exclusion passed with only one dissenting vote.

The second debt exclusion seeking $72,000 for a new one-ton pickup for the DPW and $62,000 for a new police cruiser also passed. Five people opposed the truck purchase and nine voted “no” on funds for the cruiser. A debt exclusion for the two vehicles appeared under a single article on the Town Meeting warrant. However, voters will decide each purchase via separate ballot questions.

Town officials anticipate a special election to consider the override and the debt exclusions will be held sometime in September.

Voters Saturday also approved a $2.9 million FY25 town budget – an increase of about $250,000 over the current year’s budget. The budget includes just over $750,000 for Royalston’s assessment for the Athol Royalston Regional School District and more than $85,000 for the town’s Monty Tech Assessment.

Greg Vine can be reached at gvineadn@aol.com.