CHELSEA — A last-minute vote for reconsideration of a failed controversial proposed ordinance near the close of Chelsea’s Town Meeting drew explosive responses Thursday night from the residents who remained before the meeting adjourned.

And while voters approved a wide range of budget articles, it’s not clear that Chelsea has an approved budget.

Selectman Benjamin Smith moved to reconsider the proposed Site Plan Review ordinance, which town voters had rejected early in the meeting.

For the last year, the Planning Board had been working on the plan to impose some regulation on new businesses that might open in Chelsea, particularly close to an established residential area.

In the weeks leading up to Town Meeting, after public hearings a compromise was crafted so the proposed ordinance would affect only large businesses, and that’s what appeared on the Town Meeting warrant.

Residents lined up to criticize the move, because more than half the voters who attended had left after casting a secret ballot vote on whether to raise the tax levy.

“This is the dirtiest trick that has ever been played in town,” Marshall Swan said, prompting an audible reaction from a number of residents.

Swan’s wife is former longtime Chelsea Selectwoman Carole Swan. Both Swans were convicted separately in federal court for falsifying five years’ worth of tax returns.

Carole Swan also was convicted on two charges of defrauding the federal workers’ compensation program, and at a separate trial she was convicted of three counts of extortion for using her position as an elected official in Chelsea to seek kickbacks from the town’s snowplowing contractor. She currently is being held at the Federal Correctional Institution in Danbury, Connecticut, where her sentence runs until December 2020.

At Thursday’s meeting, more than a dozen people angrily complained about the timing of Smith’s move and questioned whether such a move is allowed.

Moderator Richard Thompson, who had to call for order more than once, said the move is allowed under town meeting rules, as long as the meeting has not adjourned, and when Smith made the motion, it had not been.

Procedurally, a failed item can be brought up for reconsideration only by someone who voted on the prevailing side. Smith said during the original vote, he announced he was voting against warrant article.

He said fellow Selectman Mike Pushard showed bad faith in helping to craft a compromise at public hearings and asking whether people could support that compromise, only to vote against it at Town Meeting.

Smith and Pushard were seated next to each other on the stage in the gymnasium of the Chelsea school during the meeting.

Pushard did not respond from the stage.

Sharply responding to criticism and accusations of cheating, Smith said this: “If there was any dirty pool, it was in the backroom discussions that took place and not out in the open.”

Planning Board Chairwoman Andrea Smith, visibly emotional, waited her turn to speak in the line of residents at the microphone. While she wanted the ordinance to pass, she said, she didn’t want it to pass in that way, and she asked Benjamin Smith to withdraw his motion.

Ultimately he did withdraw the motion.

Shari Truman, who ran for the open seat on the board but was not elected, said just because a compromise was reached didn’t mean that residents liked it.

Lost among the accusations and arguments was the result of the secret ballot vote to raise the tax levy limit established in state law if the budget approved in the preceding articles results in a tax commitment greater than the tax levy limit.

Thirty-three voted yes and 45 voted no.

It wasn’t clear Thursday night what effect that vote would have.

During the sometimes contentious meeting, voters agreed to proposals to add staffing in the Town Office and funding the town’s code enforcement officer for an additional 10 hours a week.

More than 100 residents turned out to review what the Board of Selectmen and the town’s Budget Committee recommended for spending in the coming year.

The selectmen proposed a spending plan that totals $1,303,461, while the Budget Committee’s recommendation came in higher, at $1,342,823.

But the Budget Committee’s line-by-line recommendations weren’t always higher. The committee opposed funding $11,000 a year for additional office staff, and that drew questions from voters about why the funding was needed.

Selectman Smith said a town resident has been volunteering at the Town Office for up to 15 hours a week to help keep up with the volume of work that needs to be done.

“The town can’t rely on that benevolence,” Smith said.

Voters narrowly approved the request, 48-46.

They also pushed back on a proposal to increase hours for the town’s code enforcement officer from 20 to 30. Initially, voters narrowly rejected the change.

“In order to do what people in town have been asking us to do — clean up the town — we need to do this,” said Rick Danforth, chairman of the Board of Selectmen.

Residents regularly bring complaints to board meetings about cleaning up properties, he said. In addition, he said, no one wants to delay septic or plumbing inspections.

“You need boots on the ground to do that,” he said.

On reconsideration, voters opted to restore funding to the higher level, rejecting a suggestion to keep the funding flat at the current year’s level.

Chelsea’s tax rate now is $18.10 per $1,000 of assessed valuation. It’s not clear yet what the new rate will be because an annual town-wide valuation has not been completed, but it’s anticipated to increase because of an increase in Chelsea’s share of the Regional School Unit 12 budget.

Voters agreed to make some wording changes to Chelsea’s shoreland ordinance, which among other things sets limits for the height of structures in the shoreland.

They also declined to approve the discontinuance of a section of Old Route 17.

Chelsea’s Spirit of America award went to Billie Ellis.

In Chelsea, municipal elections are held in conjunction with the state primary.

On Tuesday, Deborah Sanderson unseated Danforth, who has served on the board since the early 1990s, with a break from 2009 to 2012.

Jessica Lowell — 621-5632

[email protected]

Twitter: @JLowellKJ

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