Mount Greylock School Committee Chairwoman Carolyn Greene explains the reasoning for the feasibility study for the high school. The article passed unanimously at town meeting.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The voters of Williamstown on Tuesday evening unanimously approved a feasibility study to look at options for the failing infrastructure at Mount Greylock Regional School.
Annual town meeting voters were asked to authorize the regional school district to borrow up to $850,000 to pay for the study, a required step in the Massachusetts School Building Authority process.
Most of the $850,000 will be reimbursed to the district by MSBA, which is funded by one penny of the state's 6.25 percent sales tax.
The same warrant article will appear on the annual town meeting warrant in Lanesborough, the other member town in the Mount Greylock district. Lanesborough voters will be asked to authorize the feasibility study spending on June 10.
Mount Greylock Regional School Committee Chairwoman Carolyn Greene was gratified to see the unanimous support at Williamstown's meeting, where not a single question was asked from the floor about the warrant article.
"People have said that the efforts that we made in getting the message across helped not only to get people here but to help them understand the issues and enable them to feel good about voting for this article," Greene said. "I think there is an understanding that this really is just about the research. It's not about building a new school building or a renovation itself.
"I think the fact that it was unanimous, the fact that there was not a single question, is an affirmation that people understand that something needs to be done — and that they're willing to spend the time and the energy and the money to get the information we need to make an informed decision."
The School Committee already has committed $150,000 to the cost of the feasibility study from its own operating funds. That money will lower the eventual split between Williamstown and Lanesborough, which are assessed proportionately based on a five-year rolling enrollment figure.
School officials project Williamstown's share will be about $247,000 $148,000. Lanesborough's would be about $148,000 $98,000.
School Committee and Mount Greylock Building Committee members have been canvassing both member towns in an effort to educate voters about the feasibility study and the need to address the building. Volunteers organized babysitting services on Tuesday evening to allow Williamstown parents to attend annual town meeting.
As a result, the annual event featured a smattering of younger faces than are typically seen at town meeting.
"We definitely did a lot of outreach to the elementary school and the high school community, to the Youth Center, to parents in general and grandparents, and we're going to do the same thing in Lanesborough," Greene said. "We will be encouraging families, whether they have kids in the school or not, to come to town meeting and have a voice in this decision."
Williamstown's annual town meeting was attended by 380 voters out of a checklist of 4,631.
None of those voters needed to pull out the yellow voting cards that are distributed at check-in.
The town breezed through the 37-article warrant in fewer than 90 minutes, with only a few warrant articles generating discussion on the floor and only one garnering enough "nays" to cause Town Meeting Moderator Adam Filson to pause before declaring passage by voice vote.
The longest discussion of the night centered around Article 23, which asked if the town would adopt the commonwealth's "Senior Citizen Property Tax Work-Off Program."
Moderator Adam Filson leads the meeting.
Jeffrey Thomas addressed the meeting to say that while he supported the intent of the program, he worried that Williamstown's proposal was not more fully developed before it was brought to town meeting.
"My comment is this is rather vague in its description," Thomas said. "I'm concerned there may be devils in the details of how this would be implemented. If there are only 10 slots, how would it be determined who would be eligible for those slots?
"I'm concerned that by supporting this right now, we will have this program in Williamstown in perpetuity. It seemed to me more reasonable to consider a pilot program for a couple of years. If it went well, we could consider making it into a permanent program."
Pamela Burger of the Council on Aging replied that the work-off program is not permanent if adopted by town meeting. It could be revisited and undone by future town meetings, which has happened — rarely — in the commonwealth, she said.
She noted that the program is in effect in 150 Massachusetts municipalities, including several in Berkshire County, and that Lee officials have offered their assistance as the Board of Selectmen develops the rules for Williamstown's program.
Outgoing Selectmen Chairwoman Jane Allen spoke in support of the program.
"I called Lenox and talked to the town treasurer and the director of the Council on Aging," Allen said. "Their program has been in place for five years, and according to the people I talked to, it's working great. They started out with 10 slots, and they've gone back to town meeting twice to raise the number, and they're now supporting 20 slots.
"I support this initiative because I've seen it work successfully in other communities. To me, it addresses an affordable housing need in Williamstown. ... If passed, this initiative would allow seniors options to reduce their tax burden, thus making their housing more affordable and thus making it more likely they can remain as residents of the town of Williamstown."
Thomas was back at the microphone moments later in his role as a member of the town's Community Preservation Committee. He helped explain an article recommended by the CPC to pay $254,500 of the funds the town has committed to help fund the Cable Mills housing project.
"Because of a town meeting vote in 2007, we are on the hook for $1.5 million for the Cable Mills project," Thomas said. "That commitment was made without funding. The plan was to issue a bond.
"This year, we had the opportunity to set aside some money that would allow us to borrow less in order to meet our commitment. ... This article is about saving the town money."
The article passed with only a handful of dissenting voice votes.
The town cruised through all of its budget articles without a single question raised from the floor.
In other business on Tuesday evening, Allen announced that, as expected, the Massachusetts Cultural Council voted on Tuesday to approve Williamstown as the commonwealth's newest Cultural District. The designation will allow the town to use signage promoting its cultural offerings and will allow Williamstown to take advantage of marketing opportunities at the state level.
Town meeting also was the time to recognize three major honorees.
The Williamstown Chest recognized its Volunteer of the Year, John Craig. The League of Women Voters honored Veterans Services Officer Stephen Roy as the town's Outstanding Employee of the Year. And Dr. Erwin Stuebner was announced as the 2014 Faith R. Scarborough Community Service Award.
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