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iBerkshires.com Columnist Section

Sue Bush
More articles from Sue Bush

Residents Bring It On At Forum

By Susan Bush
12:00AM / Friday, January 06, 2006

Forum facilitator James Wojtaszek
Adams – He asked for “creative engagement” and James Wojtaszek, facilitator of a Jan. 5 town government public forum, received precisely that during a nearly two-hour meeting held at the Adams Memorial Middle School auditorium.

Wojtaszek, who is the chairman of the Downtown development Committee, a Vice-chairman of the Prudential Committee, and a town Finance Committee member, was also encouraged by the attendance and participation.

“I thought it went very well, and I was pleased with the attendance,” he said.

“I was happy with the turnout,” said Selectmen’s Chairwoman Myra Wilk, who delivered a 10-minute presentation about the Selectboard and its’ town function. “We had great questions; I was very pleased. It is clear that there is a need and a desire for this type of communication. We will be having more of these.”

Prudential Committee Chairman Edward Capeless and Adams-Cheshire Regional School District Superintendent Alfred Skrocki [see related story] also offered presentations. Each presentation was followed by a 20-minute public comment and question period.

The forum quickly evolved into a session of questions about town growth, taxes, capital projects, and proposed school renovations. By turn, some residents talked about fears of being “taxed out” of town, while others cautioned against a implementing a “business face” that looks only at dollars and ignores human needs such as education.

"Historical Moment"

Wilk termed the forum historical because the session marked the first time the three government entities have come together in an interactive, public setting. After offering details about the town’s demographic, she said that town officials are planning to create an economic development program, streamline town permit and other processes, complete a downtown rezoning plan, and continue work to eliminate city blight.

Budget Overview

The Fiscal Year 2006 town budget is $12,119,893, Wilk said. Education costs associated with the Adams-Cheshire Regional School District and the Northern Berkshire Regional Technical School District consume $3,651,570, or 30 percent, of the budget, while town employee wages, salaries, and benefits draw 45 percent of the money, or $5,489,464, she said. FY 2006 police department costs total $1,520,275, retiree costs total $1,072,639, and the town’s wastewater treatment facility pulls $921,183 from the current fiscal year budget, she said.

Resident and former School Committee member Jeffrey Lefebvre peppered Wilk with questions. Lefebvre stated that the town is presently carrying about $6 million of debt, and need to generate $3 million for a matching grant linked to a Greylock Glen request for proposals. He asked about future debt expectations, and how the RFP funds would be gathered.

Wilk said that a reduction of existing town debt is expected over the next four fiscal years. The town does not foresee any major borrowing during that time, she said. As for the $3 million match, town and state officials are discussing the possibility of the town generating at least some of the revenue via “in-kind services,” Wilk said. Town officials are also investigating whether funds from other types of grant could be acquired for the match, she said.

Taxing Matters

About 41 percent of town residents live on fixed incomes, according to Lefebvre. The town is about $200,000 away from the need for a Proposition 2 ½ override, he said, and charged that an override would cause a $4 - $7 increase in the town’s property tax rate.

Wilk said that town officials are not interested in “taxing people out of their houses.”

The financial situation is part of the reason that the forum was scheduled, she noted, and added that the forum is an opportunity for town taxpayers to become involved and tell town officials what services they expect to see funded.

In response to questions posed by Temple Street resident Stephen Dadek, Wilk said that the downtown rezoning would allow residential housing. A request for proposals involving the Jones Block has been issued and has a submission deadline of Jan. 19, she said.

Lefebvre also asked where the town would make cuts, if cuts were necessary. Capital improvements would be the first place to feel the financial axe, Wilk said, and added that town officials are looking at all town-owned properties with an eye toward possible sales. Town services could also come under scrutiny if cuts were unavoidable, she said.

Property taxes owed by the defunct Crown Vantage paper mill are being sought by the town, Wilk said. The mill shut its doors in 2003 after filing a Chapter 7 bankruptcy. Two courts in two states – neither of which is Massachusetts- are handling the bankruptcy.

Water Tower Project Could Generate Growth


Prudential Committee Chairman Edward Capeless
A Town Meeting-approved plan permitting construction of a 500,000 gallon water tower on the Prudential Committee-owned Hails Hill drew questions because of a side effect of the project: about 31 building lots in the East Orchard Street area will be open to development because of the tower, and more sites may open to residential construction as well, said Capeless. New connections to the water system will be charged a connection fee that could total $2,000, Capeless said.

The $2.2 million tower is being built so that water pressure can be improved to the Hoosac Valley High School and numerous homes along the Orchard Street area. The increased water pressure will greatly improve the town’s volunteer fire department’s ability to extinguish fires, said Capeless. A water rate increase that kicked in on July 1 is financing the construction repayment costs, he said.

But the improvement may lead to new home construction, which may add students to the town schools and place additional demands on town services, according to Dadek and Lefebvre. The town appears to be heading for a tax base expansion rooted in real estate, which could lead to a need for more services, including a full-time, paid fire department, both residents said.

“And we all know the trouble they are having in North Adams,” Dadek said.

Wojtaszek said that there has been no discussion about a full-time department or a “call department,” which gives payment to firefighters when they are called to a specific fire or other emergency. Williamstown’s fire department is a “call department.”

“We have an excellent fire department,” Wojtaszek said. “The intention is to remain a volunteer fire department.”

After the forum concluded, Selectman Edward MacDonald termed it a success.

“I thought it was very, very good,” he said. “It gave us perspective. We have to look at what is of true value to the residents and what we can afford.”

Town Administrator William Ketcham, Selectmen Edward Driscoll, Scott Nichols, and Joseph Dean Jr., Finance Committee member Rosemarie Stachura, Hoosac Valley High School Principal Henry Duval, and additional town board and committee members attended the forum.

Adams Info:

Population: 9,307

Per Capita Income: $18,572

Median Household Income: $32,161

Median Family Income: $40,559

Fiscal Year 2006 Town Budget: $12,119,893

Susan Bush may be reached via e-mail at suebush@iberkshires.com or at 802-823-9367.

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