BNRC Land Purchase Saves Lanesborough Taxpayers $52K

By Andy McKeeveriBerkshires Staff
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Bill Laston Memorial Park was constructed in a way that cut off Virginia Mach from a portion of her land. Now, the Berkshire Natural Resources Council is buying that land.
LANESBOROUGH, Mass. — Berkshire Natural Resources Council has finalized the purchase of 52 acres of land behind Laston Park, alleviating taxpayers from a $52,000 burden.
BNRC purchased the land owned by Virgina Mach that was part of a lawsuit the town lost last year.
The town was expected to pay Mach just short of $100,000 and voted to do so at the annual town meeting. Part of that settlement included the town owning the land since it wasn't accessible to Mach.
Then BNRC told the Board of Selectmen that it would be interested in buying the land to add onto Constitution Hill Reserve. In a three-way agreement, BNRC paid Mach the assessed price for the land while the town paid some $45,000 to Mach for lost logging revenue, attorney fees and tax abatements.
"We were able to negotiate and able to split the payments," said Town Administrator Paul Sieloff. "It could have been $100,000 and then we would have had to figure out what to do with the land."
Voters had already approved spending $100,000 from the surplus overlay account to pay the legal fees. Now, the remaining $52,000 will roll into certified free cash next year. Sieloff added that by reaching the deal in three ways, it saves the town from owning the land at all, decreasing liability and speeding up the process for BNRC.
Meanwhile, BNRC plans to build a bridge over the town brook to Laston Park, connecting the historic Constitution Hill site to the park. BNRC now owns more than 300 acres behind the park and there are multiple hiking trails there.
In other business, the Finance Committee is trying to more clearly define its role now that there is a full-time administrator crafting and overseeing the budget. 
In 2012, voters approved expanding the town administrator role to full time after former part-time administrator Paul Boudreau resigned. In August 2012, the Board of Selectmen hired Paul Sieloff for that position and he started in late October. 
Sieloff has taken over the majority of the budget work, including meeting with department heads. He crafts the budget and presents it to both the Board of Selectmen and Finance Committee and answers the questions regarding the various departments.
In crafting the current fiscal 2015 budget, Sieloff held a joint meeting with heads of the three largest departments, the Board of Selectmen and the Finance Committee. Those budget sectors - police, fire and highway- were chosen for extra scrutiny because they compromise most of the town's spending. 
Previously, the Finance Committee met with each department head and crafted the majority of the budget. On Monday, Finance Committee member Greg Wolf requested that the process revert back to having the committee also meet with each department head.
"Citizens are asking us questions and we have to know the answers. We have to be prepared to defend the Finance Committee [at town meeting]," Wolf said on Monday. 
Sieloff said the Finance Committee can hold meetings with department heads — and not just in a joint meeting — but suggested that committee selects only departments in which they have questions instead of every single one. Sieloff said most of the department budgets stay basically the same. Extra scrutiny on police, fire and highway will continue, he said.
"I didn't want to have somebody come to three meetings," Sieloff said of those smaller departments, adding that by making them come into a night meeting he then has to pay them or provide additional time off. 
While Wolf said the Finance Committee should have a good relationship with the department heads and that comes from the face-to-face budget meetings. However, Finance Committee member Ronald Tinkham said those meetings are why Sieloff was hired full time.
"Paul really needs to do this background work," Tinkham said, adding that the work load before a full-time administrator was becoming overwhelming.
Sieloff also suggested each Finance Committee member be assigned to different departments and sit in on Sieloff's meeting with those department heads. The FinCom members would be liaisons for those particular budget lines.

Tags: BNRC,   Finance Committee,   land sales,   lawsuit,   municipal budget,   

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