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The Williamstown Select Board Monday voted enthusiastically to renew the contract for Town Manager Jason Hoch, left.

Williamstown Select Board Salutes Volunteers, Recommends Sand Springs Article

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff
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Select Board Chairman Hugh Daley opened Monday's meeting by saluting a local teen he had seen wading into the Green River to remove construction debris. 
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The Select Board on Monday recognized some local residents who are doing their part to pitch in and help the Village Beautiful live up to its nickname.
Chairman Hugh Daley opened the meeting by talking about an incident over the weekend when he witnessed local youth Teague Murphy selflessly wade into the Green River to remove some construction materials that had been thrown into the water.
"I went over Sunday to walk my dog, and and we noticed there were a couple of those large containers and a couple of cones in the river, and Teague and his mom were over there pulling those things out and throwing them up on the side there," Daley said.
"I think it's worth it to say thank you to him. It did not look warm in the river. But he's young, and his heart pumps, and I think he stayed perfectly fine."
Murphy is an eighth-grader at Mount Greylock Regional School.
Select Board member Anne O'Connor closed Monday's meeting by updating her colleagues on the second annual townwide pickup she organized on April 14.
The event, originally set for the week before but rescheduled because of the weather, collected three dozen leaf bags filled with refuse from various sites around town, O'Connor said.
"There was a whole lot of litter removed," she said. "We had 44 volunteers ages 6 to 87. … It's a lot of fun."
The main order of business at Monday's meeting was the board's review of the warrant for the May 15 annual town meeting.
The Select Board voted unanimously to recommend voters approve all 31 articles they will face at the 7 p.m. meeting.
All of the articles had been reviewed previously by either the Select Board or Finance Committee or both. One area that sparked conversation on Monday night was the extent to which the town supports area non-profits.
As in years past, there are articles on the warrant allocating town funds to the Williamstown Youth Center and the Williamstown Chamber of Commerce. In the case of the latter, the town has committed 10 percent of its revenue from the Room Occupancy Excise Tax on the theory that the chamber will use the money to generate more tourist business.
A new article for this year's meeting, Article 15, asks whether voters will commit $19,000 to the Sand Springs Recreational Center to assist in the operation of the historic swimming pool.
The Finance Committee voted not to recommend approval of that request with two members present voting in favor, four opposed and two abstaining. Some members of that panel indicated they wanted to see more information about how the subsidy would directly benefit Williamstown residents, as opposed to Sand Springs users more generally.
Sand Springs Executive Director Geraldine Shen, who was not invited to address the Finance Committee at last week's meeting where it made its recommendations, told the Select Board on Monday that she felt the non-profit made the case that town residents would benefit from the funds at a prior finance meeting.
"It sounded like, in my interaction with [Fin Comm] on [April 4] that they were interested in knowing maybe not exactly how every dollar is spent but the services we'd provide, the discounts we'd provide," Shen said. "I presented that info verbally to them on the 4th.
"Elementary schools, the middle school, the Williamstown Youth Center -- different groups come for a visit, and the Williamstown Youth Center has swim lessons that are at a greatly reduced rate. We offer classes for seniors that are at a greatly reduced rate. There are close to $10,000 in discounts we give to Williamstown groups -- not including Pine Cobble School.
"Also, we said we'd do a 10 percent reduction in season passes of all kinds as well as day passes for folks who have Williamstown addresses."
Select Board member Jane Patton argued that the town should support Sand Springs and should also look at ways to increase other recreational offerings in town.
Patton, who said she was part of the original group that raised money to buy the former privately held pool and operate it as a non-profit, said the community members who purchased it found it needed more maintenance than anticipated to make up for years of "benign neglect."
"The operating projections were, pardon the pun, blown out of the water," Patton said.
"Getting some small portion allocated so we can reduce fees and continue to offer these scholarships and programs for folks -- I feel it's something the town should get behind."
Her colleagues agreed, ultimately voting 5-0 to recommend approval of the Sand Springs warrant article.
"What I like about the town investing money in this is it will break down the idea of this perception that Sand Springs is operating outside the town," Daley said. "To the degree it helps more community members access the pool because they already know they're in for a penny, that's a great thing.
"We can't run a pool for $19,000 a year, so this seems like short money to me."
The Select Board also voted 5-0 to recommend approval of Articles 13 and 14, which deal with the Chamber of Commerce and Williamstown Youth Center, respectively.
But before making that vote, Andrew Hogeland recommended that the town take a hard look at its rationale for supporting non-profits -- regardless of how worthy the causes may be. While the youth center and chamber are relatively well-established and familiar items on the warrant that generate little discussion at town meeting, the Sand Springs request could open the door to other deserving non-profits to make similar requests, Hogeland argued.
"I'm worried that we've been auto-funding budgets for the Chamber of Commerce and the youth center for a long time," Hogeland said. "We have not delved into what they do, and are we getting our money's worth. The arrival of Sand Springs opens, for me, the question of what criteria we should use for giving to non-profits.
"After tonight, we should take a more thoughtful long-term view on how we hand out money to non-profits. … There are any number of entities out there who might think this is a good idea."
In other business on Monday, the Select Board approved a letter of support for Northern Berkshire Habitat for Humanity's effort to receive approval for its Cole Avenue and Maple Street project under the commonwealth's Chapter 40B provision and unanimously voted to extend Town Manager Jason Hoch's contract by three years.
"This is the happiest I've been in a 20-year career in government," Hoch said of his first 2 1/2 years in the corner office.
"If you're that happy, we must be doing something wrong," Hogeland joked. "We need to have more oversight."

Tags: cleanup,   Sand Springs,   town manager,   town meeting 2018,   

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