OTIS — The town has a new building.
Otis voters accepted a gift of the St. Paul's Episcopal Church, located at the intersection of Routes 23 and 8, at the recent annual town meeting.
The 21 article warrant asked voters to fund a $5.4 million budget, and to support expenditures relating to new town vehicles, renewable energy, and the stabilization fund, among others. Most of the items passed easily with unanimous or majority approval during the 2 1/2-hour meeting.
But articles relating to funding repairs to an old school house, instituting a Community Preservation Act tax, and accepting the gift of the church generated extensive debate and pushed the meeting late into the evening.
The building was offered to the town by two competing interests that claim ownership over the building: the St. Paul's Executive Committee and the Episcopal Missions of Western Massachusetts.
"We all want the same thing," said Jeff Pigman, the committee's chairman.
The town voted to accept the gift after some debate over the details of taxpayers shouldering the responsibility of another piece of property. The church was the focus of a protracted and detailed discussion. The crowd was uncertain about taking on a new responsibility, especially if there would be requests for more funds to repair the church in the future.
Language in the warrant item referencing a possible legal challenge from the "successor of the Wardens of the Protestant Episcopal Society of Otis" also raised eyebrows.
Pigman rose to address that language. He told the town that the committee believes it holds the deed to the building.
Yet though the committee is the legal successor to the wardens, Pigman said they had no interest in contesting the claim — if the town accepted the building.
To ensure that there would be no challenges down the road, town lawyer Jeremiah Pollard inserted language into the article stating that the committee would have to commit to relinquishing any claim over the building in order for the town to accept the gift of the building.
That satisfied the majority of town voters, who passed the item easily.
Residents also expressed skepticism about setting aside $100,000 for repairs of the old East Otis School House, citing the cost for repairs and the future of the building.
But by the end of discussion, the measure passed with a clear majority.
That was not the fate for an attempt to reintroduce the Community Preservation Act in hopes of a ballot vote next year. The town voted the act down by a large majority.
Residents cited higher taxes and Otis' willingness to take care of its own projects as reasons for rejection.
Reach staff writer Eoin Higgins at 413-496-6236 or @BE_EoinHiggins.