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Clarksburg Sets Saturday Town Meeting for School Project Revote

By Tammy DanielsiBerkshires Staff
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CLARKSBURG, Mass. — The $19 million elementary school project will be back before voters at a special town meeting to be held on Saturday, Nov. 18, at 3 p.m. at the school. 
 
The Select Board on Wednesday night set the date for the special town meeting, which was prompted by a citizens' petition that garnered nearly 300 signatures after the first vote failed to reach two-thirds passage by one vote. 
 
Town officials say they're working to prevent the confusion and overcrowding that occurred at the first special town meeting vote on Sept. 27. A record number of voters tried to cram into the small gym/cafeteria room at the school; at least 100 had to stand outside and could barely hear what was going on. 
 
This time, accommodations will be made to bring to voters into another part of the school where they can still participate digitally. 
 
"We are handling that, we are bringing possibly Skype, possibly the news camera feed," Chairman Jeffrey Levanos said. "We absolutely have to have audio, and video, if we can do that, I would absolutely like to do that as well."
 
Town Administrator Carl McKinney said he was looking into using the main hallway or one of the larger classrooms and feed the audio and/or video from the gym.
 
Select Board member Carlyle "Chip" Chesbro thought those planning to speak should also sign up as they come in.
 
Levanos tried to defer any further discussion of logistics until a future meeting. Wednesday's meeting was merely to set the date, he said. 
 
The special town meeting three weeks ago drew more than 400 voters, nearly eight times the average turnout for a town meeting. It took an hour just to register voters and another hour to vote by secret ballot.
 
This time, officials hope to get ahead of the crowd by having the special town meeting on a Saturday afternoon and opening the doors at 1:30 — giving enough time for everyone to be registered before the meeting begins. 
 
Unlike an election, town meeting acts as the legislative body, meaning everyone must be present to hear the motion, ask questions and vote because articles can be amended on the floor. 
 
Like the last time, the vote will be on the authorization for borrowing the full amount for the project with the condition that the Massachusetts School Building Authority provides $11.3 million in funding and the town $7.7 million. The question also is contingent on the approval of a U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development loan over 40 years and a debt exclusion from Proposition 2 1/2.
 
The special town meeting vote must be approved by two-thirds vote; should it pass, the debt exclusion must also be approved by a simple majority at a town election.
 
While most agree the 60-year-old school needs a major overhaul, the price has divided the town. The loan is expected to cost up to $350,000 a year over 40 years and will tack on an estimated tax rate of $3.25 per $1,000 valuation above and beyond the cost of running the town and school. 
 
Three forums were held to inform community members about the condition of the 150-student school, the solution approved by the MSBA, and the cost and funding sources. Town officials have said they plan to hold another forum to focus on the town's fiscal situation.

Tags: Clarksburg school project,   special town meeting,   

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