Four to Vie for Williamstown Select Board Spots

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff
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Williamstown Town Manager Peter Fohlin received high marks in his annual review on Tuesday.

WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — Four Williamstown residents will compete for two open seats on the Board of Selectmen at May's Town Election.

Tuesday was the deadline to return nomination papers to Town Hall, and Town Manager Peter Fohlin reported at Tuesday's Select Board meeting that Hugh Daley, Gary Fuls, Andrew Hogeland and Jack Nogueira have filed for the two three-year positions on the town's governing body.

Select Board Chairwoman Jane Allen and Selectman David Rempell previously announced they would not be seeking re-election for their seats on the five-member panel.

The Select Board posts will feature the only contested races at the May 13 election, held a week before the Annual Town Meeting.

The town's Planning Board will have one new face with the departure of current planner Patrick Dunlavey, and Amy Jeschewitz is the only candidate to file for a spot on the ballot.

Four elected officials have secured spots on the ballot to retain their seats: John Skavlem on the Williamstown Elementary School Committee, Joan Burns on the Housing Authority and two members of the Milne Library Board of Trustees: David Dewey and Kathleen Schultze.

Tuesday's Select Board meeting featured the panel's annual review of Fohlin's performance and its first look at many of the draft warrant articles for the May 20 Town Meeting.

Not surprisingly, Fohlin received high marks from the board. Allen read a glowing evaluation into the record, and it was enthusiastically accepted by the two selectmen in attendance, Rempell and Ronald Turbin.

Allen's evaluation focused on three areas: problem solving, communication and financial management. She said Fohlin excelled in all three.

She noted the execution of the Federal Emergency Management Agency grant and beginning stages of the relocation of Spruces Mobile Home Park residents as "an exercise in creative problem solving."

"Since a project like this had never been done before, Peter needed the cooperation of not only FEMA and MEMA (the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency) but park owner Morgan Management and the attorney general's office, which oversees the rights of mobile home park residents," Allen said.

Allen said she sat in on some of Fohlin's many meetings with state and federal officials during the planning of the grant and was continually impressed by his performance.

"Not a single question was asked that Peter had not already thought about," she said.

On the financial management side, Allen pointed out that when Fohlin arrived at Town Hall, the town had very little free cash or unused levy capacity. Today, the town is in a much stronger financial position on both scores as it looks ahead to major capital projects.

One of those capital projects will be the subject of one of the warrant articles at Town Meeting.

Williamstown and Lanesborough, the two towns that make up the Mount Greylock Regional School District, will be asked to approve the district's borrowing of $850,000 to fund a feasibility study under the Massachusetts School Building Authority project.

School officials have noted that the MSBA ultimately would reimburse the district for 55 percent of the study's cost, leaving the district on the hook for the remaining $382,500, and the School Committee already has committed to fund part of that from its operating budget.

Other warrant articles town voters could face in May include:

* a by-law that would enable Williamstown police to enforce handicapped parking spaces in public and private parking lots. Currently the police only can enforce spaces on public roads;

* an acceptance of Massachusetts General Law Chapter 59, Section 5K, which allows towns to set up a "Senior Citizen Property Tax Work-Off Program;

* allocations recommended by the town's Community Preservation Committee and an article that would rescind a Community Preservation Act grant of $80,000 that was awarded at Town Meeting in 2012 - at the request of the applicant;

* and two zoning bylaw changes recommended by the Planning Board.

In other business on Tuesday, the Select Board approved a permit for the local cancer charity "Pop Cares" to hold its second annual 5K run and fun walk on May 10 and OK'd a one-day alcohol license for Williamstown Community Preschool's April 12 "Spring Fling" fundraiser and seasonal alcohol licenses for the Williamstown Theatre Festival.

Fohlin and Spruces Park Manager Debby Turnbull told the board that Uniform Relocation Act and Manufactured Housing Act payments totaling $224,596 have thus far been awarded and/or approved for 10 park residents, whose homes were appraised for an aggregate value of $147,500. Four of those 10 residents already are living in new homes; five more are scheduled to move out of the park by the end of April.

Fohlin said it behooves all of the residents to seek new housing as soon as possible rather than waiting until closer to the park's 2016 closure.

"The people who are being proactive are cherry-picking properties," he said. "For someone to think they can wait a year or two years and drive up to Pines Lodge Park or Wheel Estates and have their pick of properties, that's a fantasy.

"Homes are going like hotcakes."

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