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The Finance Committee discussed an array of topics over the course of two and a half hours Monday night.

Lanesborough FinCom Takes No Stance On Retiree Health Petition

By Andy McKeeveriBerkshires Staff
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LANESBOROUGH, Mass. — Finance Committee Chairman Ray Jones wants to speak about his petition to change the health insurance split among retirees on the floor of town meeting.
 
But, it isn't on the warrant. That non-binding question was placed on the ballot to be decided a week later.
 
"I have nothing against the retirees. Our job is to try to save the town as much money as possible and reduce our expenditures," Jones said.
 
Jones has petitioned the Board of Selectmen to place the article on the election ballot. He wants the voters to say whether or not the town should shift from the 85/15 percent split among the retirees to 70/30. Doing so would shift about $70,000 from the town's budget to the retirees, and Jones said it would save the town's budget significantly over time if premiums continue to climb.
 
Even if the ballot measure does pass, the Board of Selectmen is unable to make the change. The Selectmen are the only ones with the authority to do so and two out of the three members have conflicts of interest preventing them from voting.
 
Finance Committee member Ronald Tinkham says the non-binding petition is "a step in the process" and he's hoping that the state can provide a path to make it happen. 
 
Other members of the Finance Committee, however, took issue with Jones submitting such a petition without a discussion. 
 
"We never discussed it. We never voted on it," Christine Galib said.
 
Galib said she didn't agree with the wording of the petition which "lock you in at 70/30." She said after taking a deeper look into the issue, the committee might want to move to a different split. The Finance Committee had only general discussions about the topic, and Jones took it from there.
 
"This is something I did on my own as a private citizen, a taxpayer, and not as a member of this board," Jones said.
 
Jones was adamant about putting the question on a ballot and not to a town meeting vote. He says at town meeting many residents are afraid to vote the way they feel because their peers can see. He favored putting such a question on the ballot to protect the privacy of those voting.
 
Now he wants to use the floor of town meeting to discuss the issue, even though the vote will be a week later. Tinkham said Moderator Robert Reilly will not likely allow for much discussion on a measure not on the warrant.
 
"You just can't get up and talk about anything," Tinkham said.
 
Town Manager Paul Sieloff agreed, but then added the first warrant article sets the ballot so that would be a likely time to discuss it. Otherwise, Jones will have to petition the Selectmen to place the vote on the town meeting warrant as well.
 
In other business, the Finance Committee opted not to step into the fray over the parking lot at Mount Greylock Regional Middle and High School. The Board of Selectmen are against having the parking lot be added into the building project and voted to send a letter to the School Committee with their opinions. 
 
The parking lot and an outdoor amphitheater are two projects the Building Committee are currently getting quotes for in the hopes that the construction continues to trend under budget. Those two projects could later be added into the scope of work, freeing up more of the $5 million gift from Williams College to create an endowment for long-term maintenance.
 
Tinkham pushed the Finance Committee to vote a similar opinion as the Selectmen but the rest of the committee felt it was out of their jurisdiction to do so. 
 
Finance Committee member Steve Wentworth said there have been no decisions made and there is still a long way to go before it is known whether or not there will be room in the budget for those projects. 
 
Wentworth said he supports the School Committee's idea of an endowment to prevent the School Committee from having to come back to the towns for every single capital project. That pool of money will help maintain the new building.
 
Also on Monday, Jones rejected the idea of the town using solar projects to bring in revenue. Last year, Churchill Solar LLC, a subsidiary of Heliovaas, was given the approval to build a solar array in Pittsfield near Jones' home. Jones had fought the project saying it would be detrimental to the scenery and natural beauty.
 
Since then Jones has been fighting solar projects in Lanesborough as well. The town is moving forward with two solar projects, one proposed by Eversource and another the town sought a developer for on town land.
 
"The last thing I want to do is create revenue for the town by causing an inconvenience and hardship for others in town," Jones said.
 
Sieloff said the $10 million Eversource project will bring in some $200,000 per year. At a time when the town's revenue figures are declining, such a development is welcomed to add to the tax base.
 
"In 250 years, other than the Berkshire Mall, this is the biggest project to come to Lanesborough," Sieloff said. "We don't have opportunities like that too often come our way."
 
Neither of those projects is close to residents and Jones said he is Okay with that. But, he doesn't want any solar project to be where somebody can see it.
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