Lanesborough: 2017 In Review
The trend of losing stores continued throughout 2017. It started with J.C. Penney and was followed by Payless Shoes, Eastern Mountain Sports, and ultimately Sears.
Town officials have been searching for answers for two years when it comes to the future of the Berkshire Mall, which if lost could be devastating to the town's finances.
It is owned by Kohan Retail Investment Group, which has routinely been behind on tax payments and has faced several lawsuits from private companies which claim the mall owners didn't pay the bills. The town created an economic development committee, which had a part focus on the mall property, and brought on an economic development specialist, who was shared with multiple towns.
But the Baker Hill Road District made the most aggressive move toward the property. It currently owns and maintains the Connector Road but has asked the state Legislature to give it authority to own property - specifically the mall should it become available - and partner with a developer on a project. The state hasn't approved the legislation yet.
That bill was particularly pushed by state Rep. Gailanne Cariddi, who unexpectedly died this year. Cariddi's death was a shock to the Northern Berkshires and left a hole in representation for a period of time. State Sen. Adam Hinds and fellow Berkshire house representatives took the lead on Cariddi's legislation on top of their own work.
That Baker Hill Road District legislation is one of the many Cariddi's Legislative Aide Kevin Towle had been involved with, and one he didn't want to see fall to the wayside. Towle, a Lanesborough resident, jumped into the special election to fill her shoes. Republican Christine Canning, also of Lanesborough, joined the race, as did a number of candidates from North Adams. In the end, it was former North Adams Mayor John Barrett III who took over as the town's state representative.
Barrett could prove to be helpful when it comes to helping the town's volunteer ambulance service. For years the number of calls the volunteers had been able to respond to had dropped while patients increasingly didn't pay the bills.
In January, Selectman Henry "Hank" Sayers put forth a proposal to privatize the ambulance service so the town wouldn't be stuck carrying the cost of buying a new ambulance.
The volunteers, however, didn't want to see the service be lost. They reached an agreement with the Selectmen to keep operating it as a volunteer organization with a conscious effort to increase its response. That agreement had come after much discussion in town about how to help.
On the state level, Hinds and state Rep. Paul Mark, who used to represent Lanesborough before redistricting, refiled a bill that would allow towns in small rural areas to use a single emergency medical technician on basic life support calls instead of two. Currently, state law requires two EMTs on every call and the law change, which has passed the Senate and is on its way to the House, would give the service a reprieve on the basic calls - not the advanced life support calls, though - by allowing a first responder to be the driver.
Barrett's election wasn't the only one in town this year. But it may as well have been because only 222 of the town's 2,286 registered voters made it to the polls to re-elect Sayers, School Committee Chairwoman Regina DiLego and Moderator Robert Reilly, and to write-in Jody Szczepaniak-Locke, who ran in a write-in campaign alongside David Vogel for a seat on the Finance Committee.
The poor turnout, the first of multiple votes town residents were asked to take in 2017, did top town meeting, however. At the town meeting, the town not only approved the annual operating budgets but added $48,000 to restore a second kindergarten class. Some residents had gotten concerned with the class size and petitioned from the floor to create a second class.
As for the town's budget, outside of Mount Greylock increase, the town's operations saw an increase of 1 percent. The Selectmen haggled with Town Manager Paul Sieloff over giving raises to town hall staff but ultimately agreed to fund it.
The Selectmen also haggled with the School Committee over tuition, saying it was set too low. Ultimately, the School Committee adopted a policy that ties it to the per-pupil expenditure cost - resulting in a fairly large increase in the price.
The elementary school's budget was proposed to be level and Mount Greylock Regional School's was level, except for the increased cost for the building project. The new high school project took much of the attention during the first half of the year and construction has been progressing.
But the bigger news at Mount Greylock was the passage of regionalization.
November is also when voters approved joining the Berkshire County Mosquito Control Project and expanding hours for the tax collector and Council on Aging director.
But economic development remained elusive for the town in 2017. The town hoped to see a jump in commercial value with two proposed solar arrays - one on Partridge Road and another off of Prospect.
And the mall hadn't been all bad news. Truly Independent Wrestling opened space there, as did a Baseball in the Berkshires museum.
The Selectmen remain concerned and earlier this year signed a community compact agreement with Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito to bring in state resources to help with economic planning. That paid for the economic development specialists, who late in the year left Berkshire Regional Planning Commission which he was employed by.
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