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Al Terranova, Mary MacDonald and Rich Cohen joined in a 5-2-1 majority to defer action on an invoice for inspection services.

Mount Greylock Building Committee Seeks More Information on Permit Fees

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff
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Williamstown resident Matt Sheehey asks the committee to take no action on payment for inspection services.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The Mount Greylock Regional School Building Committee on Thursday decided to defer action on an invoice from the town for inspection services and instead ask Williamstown's town manager to come before the committee and explain the basis for the bill.
 
At issue is up to $300,000 in fees that the school building project has incurred over the life of the addition/renovation at the middle-high school.
 
The town has provided the district with documentation that the project actually has run up $309,554 worth of fees already, based on the published fee schedule for inspection services. But in keeping with prior communications between the town and district going back to 2015, the town is offering the district a discount on those fees.
 
Williamstown resident Matt Sheehy encouraged the committee to gather more information before deciding to approve the expenditure, a course also pushed by committee member Richard Cohen.
 
"I think further conversation needs to be had by the Williamstown Select Board," Sheehy told the committee during its public comment period. "It is a political issue. … There are a number of questions that need to be asked, including how the town is calculating the numbers.
 
"Don't take action on it. The town of Williamstown is not going to suffer. [Town Manager Jason Hoch] will do just fine without the money. Take the time to consider it before we pay interest on something we shouldn't pay interest on."
 
Cohen urged his colleagues to consider the examples of other regional (i.e., multi-town) districts that have received more significant waivers. Cohen cited, among other projects, one in the Concord-Carlisle district where the town's published fee schedule would have amounted to $700,000 in charges but the district actually was charged $90,000.
 
"It seems like the customary procedure is not to have one town dictating [the charges] by fiat," Cohen said. "No one is saying we should refuse to pay it. The motion is to defer this … until we get a full accounting of the actual costs."
 
Cohen made much of a pair of December 2016 emails by Hugh Daley, then the chair of the Williamstown Select Board and still a member of that board and the School Building Committee. In it, Daley refers to "50 percent of the fee schedule price as the budget for our fees."
 
Daley said in a separate email on the same December day that the expenditure ultimately would be "based upon the cost of services provided … which would be a savings compared to the published fee schedule." Cohen, who provided the long email thread to the committee at its last meeting, read excerpts again on Thursday night.
 
Daley attempted to put that email into context on Thursday.
 
"The original number from the [owner's project manager] was $600,000 or $800,000," Daley said, referring to the OPM's estimate of projected fees associated with the $64 million building project. "The fees as presented by Jason with a cap of $300,000 represented a 50 percent reduction."
 
In other words, Daley said his "50 percent" number was based on 50 percent of the estimate the district had from Dore & Whittier of Newburyport, the owner's project manager, and did not refer to half of what the actual charges ended up based on the fee schedule.
 
"I have to admit, I never calculated the fees," Daley said. "I was relying on information provided to us by the OPM.
 
"The more important thing here is whether or not any action by this committee changes the fees set by the town. Those fees are set by fiat. Those fees are proscribed and assessed. [By deferring], we seem to be saying to the town, 'This letter you sent saying $300,000, we don't agree with it except where it says 'actual costs.‘
 
"It appears the fees are slightly higher than $300,000, so they are coming in under that. I'm not sure what we can do to reduce these fees as a committee."
 
Of the eight members present for Thursday's vote on the invoice, Cohen was joined by four of his colleagues in a 5-2-1 decision to defer. Thomas Bartels and Mount Greylock Principal Mary MacDonald, both of Williamstown, joined Cohen, Al Terranova and Chairman Mark Schiek, all of Lanesborough, in voting to defer.
 
"Some people are asking for a complete waiver of fees," Cohen said. "I don't think that's to be expected. But I expect and many of us expect that fees would be based on actual cost, not the published fee schedule. We have not gotten information on what the actual costs are. We have no idea what reasonable hourly fees would be and reasonable overhead."
 
Daley and Mount Greylock Superintendent Kimberley Grady voted against the deferral, and Williamstown resident Caroline Greene -- like Terranova, a member of the school committee -- abstained.
 
After the motion to defer succeeded, Daley suggested but stopped short of making a motion that the committee form a working group to gather more information.
 
Cohen stressed that the information must be presented to the full deciding body, the School Building Committee, and not a subset or working group.
 
That led to Greene moving that the committee invite Williamstown Town Manager Jason Hoch to its Wednesday, Oct. 10, meeting at Mount Greylock to present the rationale behind the bill. And she accepted a friendly amendment from Cohen that the invitation include a request that Hoch provide documentation to the committee in advance of the meeting so members can review the numbers before the session.
 
"I really think we need to be mindful that [the Oct. 10 meeting] should not be another public debate," Greene said. "[Cohen] used the word negotiation, and that's fine, but I don't want to be part of a knock-down, drag-out with the town manager. We need to be respectful.
 
"I do want us to commit to resolving this at the next meeting. We need to put this thing to bed. We can't keep deferring it. We can't ask other bodies to address it."
 
Cohen agreed that the conversation needs to be respectful. As to the "commitment to resolve" the issue at the next meeting, he noted, "That's an opinion, not part of the motion."
 
The committee voted 7-1 to invite Hoch to its next meeting with Terranova demurring.

Tags: MGRHS school project,   permitting,   

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