Dave Irwin of Adelson & Co. walks the Board of Selectmen through the details of the town's fiscal 2016 audit.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — Regional cooperation was on the minds of selectmen on Monday night.
The Board of Selectmen meeting touched on several areas where the town can interact with its neighbors in North Berkshire and beyond, starting with a shared services arrangement with the town of Lanesborough.
Williamstown and Lanesborough already are linked through their membership in a two-town regional middle-high school district. On Monday, Williamstown officials approved an agreement that allows Town Planner Andrew Groff to work 10 hours per month with Lanesborough committees addressing land-use issues.
For a trial period of six months, Groff will "attend meetings in Lanesborough, [prepare] materials for said meetings and [prepare] any post-meeting legal documentation. [Groff] will undertake these tasks upon the request of the Lanesborough Town Manager," according to the agreement.
Lanesborough will compensate Williamstown $362.52 per month, according to the agreement, which the Williamstown board approved on a vote of 4-0. Selectwoman Anne O'Connor did not attend Monday's meeting.
Town Manager Jason Hoch told the board the agreement to share some of Groff’s time with Lanesborough grew out of a conversation with the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission, which referenced a former statewide initiative that encouraged such arrangements.
The board supported the agreement but sought to clarify that the additional responsibility would not detract from Groff's duties in Williamstown.
"My singular misgiving is Andrew is a busy guy," Selectman Jeffrey Thomas said. "But he seems to be up for it. It's his prerogative. I'm not sure it's a sustainable model."
Hoch noted that the agreement specifically notes that Groff will continue to report to him, implying that the town’s community development director will remain focused primarily on Williamstown.
Hugh Daley asked why the agreement did not specify the number of hours, instead allowing the time frame to be implicit in the dollar figure coming from Lanesborough to Williamstown. Chairman Andrew Hogeland said he had a similar concern.
"The reason I didn't push it is because the whole thing is terminable with 30 days' notice," Hogeland said. "At this point, I'd rather trust people and terminate it if it doesn't work out."
Hoch stressed that the shared services deal is temporary.
"In addition, this is an interim approach," Hoch wrote in a memo to the board. "I do not anticipate it being feasible or responsible to expand the number of hours or to have it last longer than 12 months."
In other cooperative endeavors, the town is joining three other municipalities in a grant application to study broadband access and seeking funds to develop a regional dog kennel in North Adams.
The latter is a joint effort of Williamstown, Adams and North Adams, which wants to build a facility at the new Department of Public Works facility the city is developing on Hodges Cross Road. The new facility would allow Williamstown to stop using the kennel it operates sporadically on an as-needed basis, Hoch explained.
"Adams and North Adams have been wrestling with this problem longer,” Hoch said. "I don’t have a problem, but I’d love to be part of this because three is better than two.
"Longer run, we're talking about the possibility of sharing animal control services, but that's a lot more complicated."
On the broadband front, the town is joining with Great Barrington, North Adams and Pittsfield in a Direct Local Technical Assistance grant application to BRPC.
The grant application specifies the municipalities involved already receive broadband internet service from Spectrum (formerly Time Warner Cable and Charter), according to the grant application.
"While this service is currently broadband per the federal definition of such service, there is regional concern that local officials must continue to encourage system investment so our region is not left behind in terms of technology access and can support varied new types of businesses that rely on such services well into the future," the application reads.
Yet another opportunity for regional cooperation was raised from the floor of the meeting when resident Allen Hall addressed the board regarding a delay in funding for the new administration building at the Harriman-West Airport in North Adams.
Hall noted that the local tourism trade and Williams College are both benefited by the success of the nearby airport.
"If we could throw a little help to move that along, that would help Williamstown without costing us a nickel," Hall said.
Hoch told the board his understanding is that the project is hung up at the commonwealth's Department of Transportation. Hogeland recommended the town manager follow up with North Adams Mayor Richard Alcombright to see whether Williamstown can provide a letter to state funders to support the project.
The largest item on the board's agenda Monday was a report from Pittsfield's Adelson & Co. Certified Public Accountants. Dave Irwin told the board that the firm issued a clean opinion of the town's books for fiscal 2016 based on a recently completed audit.
Looking ahead to FY18, the director of the Williamstown Youth Center addressed the board to thank the town for its support of the non-profit and lay the groundwork for the appropriation likely to show up on the warrant for May's annual town meeting.
David Rempell told the board the youth center derives about 60 percent of its operating budget from activity fees, which the center strives to keep as low as possible in order to serve the broadest possible constituency.
Rempell, a former Williamstown Elementary School principal and selectman, told the board that the town appropriation helps the center to provide invaluable services outside the school day.
"I've spent, as you know, much of my life in schools," Rempell said. "Moving to an out-of-school-time facility, I can make the argument that kids are as impacted by quality out-of-school-time programming as they are by in-school programming. … Some of the conversations I've had at the youth center surpass the best conversations I had when I was a principal at the elementary school."
The members of the board praised the youth center’s efforts -- not only operating its own before- and after-school programs but providing a space for other children’s activities.
"You guys have done a great job by having Berkshire Dance Theatre there and [WES] Adventures in Learning and sports programs," Selectwoman Jane Patton said. "To be able to have all of that right there … all within the confines of the building is a game-changer. I can’t say enough.”
In other business on Monday, the board approved an alcohol license for the Blue Mango restaurant on Spring Street, held an executive session to discuss the acquisition of an unnamed piece of land and heard noted a reminder from the town clerk that nomination papers for the May 9 town election are available Feb. 1 and due back with the requisite 28 signatures by March 21.
There will be seven positions on the ballot: two on the Board of Selectmen, one on the Williamstown Elementary School Committee, two on the Milne Library Board of Trustees, one on the Housing Authority and one on the Planning Board. Hogeland and Daley, whose positions are up for re-election, each declined to say whether he has decided to take out papers for another three-year term.
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