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Select Board members, from left, Jeffrey Thomas, Anne O'Connor and Andy Hogeland participate in Monday's meeting.

Williamstown Finance Committee to Review Nonprofit Requests

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff
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WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The Select Board will be considering articles for the town meeting warrant at its next scheduled meeting on April 8, including all the financial articles.
 
The town's Finance Committee has spent the past couple of months reviewing those articles and will wrap up its item-by-item review on Wednesday when it hears from the Northern Berkshire Vocational Regional School District (McCann Tech) and three non-profits that are asking the town for help with their operational budgets in fiscal 2020.
 
All three of the non-profits in question, the Williamstown Youth Center, Williamstown Chamber of Commerce and Sand Springs Recreation Center, have been supported by town meeting in the past. Last year, was the first year that Sand Springs sought operational support, a request that spurred the Fin Comm to create a more formal procedure for all such requests, requiring non-profits to submit certain financial data for the town as part of the request.
 
Select Board member Andrew Hogeland at Monday's board meeting said the detailed application and financial data were helpful and that he had concerns about two of the requests: the Chamber and Sand Springs.
 
In the case of the latter, Hogeland noted that town voters in May will be asked to support the recreation center in two separate warrant articles; it also is seeking a one-time infusion of Community Preservation Act funds to help make the second floor of its building handicapped accessible.
 
Hogeland had greater concerns about the Chamber, which in recent years has sought and received from town meeting 10 percent of the town's share of the rooms and meals tax revenue from the prior year.
 
"I've always been worried that the town has given them 10 percent of the hotel tax, which isn't based on [the Chamber's] needs," Hogeland said. "It's just what they get.
 
"I feel as though we're on automatic pilot. … I don't want to be on automatic pilot anymore."
 
Hogeland also questioned why the town's grant — proposed to be $46,302 in FY20 — is more than the approximately $32,000 the Chamber receives in membership support.
 
"If their members support them, maybe we support them as well, but maybe not more," Hogeland said.
 
He said he planned to share his concerns with members of the Finance Committee prior to Wednesday's meeting to see whether they wanted to make any changes to the proposed warrant article on the Chamber of Commerce support, but he wanted to bounce the idea off his colleagues on the Select Board first.
 
Thomas noted that while the Chamber would get more from the town than it does from direct membership support, the agency also has other revenue streams, like grants, and the town's contribution as proposed would be less than half the Chamber's revenue in FY20.
 
"The other thing I think about is we rely on the Chamber to organize two of the most well-attended community events every year: Holiday Walk and the Fourth of July parade," Thomas said. "They're certainly a service to the Spring Street businesses. I don't know how much they benefit businesses not on Spring Street. But I also see them as a big community benefit. They're really big days, and people turn out."
 
Hogeland said he was not suggesting the town pull its support to the Chamber of Commerce. He did indicate that such support could be more thought out.
 
"I just want to make sure that the Chamber, its volunteers and part-time staff know that we do appreciate the work they do," Thomas said. "The question is what's the right funding model and exercising our role as stewards of town dollars."
 
The Finance Committee meets Wednesday, March 27, at 7 p.m. in the Select Board Room. 

Tags: chamber of commerce,   fiscal 2020,   williamstown_budget,   

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New Williams Inn Opens on Spring Street

By Tammy DanielsiBerkshires Staff

Chef Kevin DeMarco has put together a menu informed by local produce. He is part of leadership team appointed by Waterford Hotel Group, which manages the hotel for Williams College.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The new Williams Inn is positioned to be a catalyst for the town's retail center on Spring Street as well as a bucolic retreat for guests — as exampled by the deer grazing near the patio this week.  
 
"We really want to be an indoor/outdoor experience," said Kevin Hurley, the inn's general manager, during a press preview just days before the hotel's opening on Thursday. "We will see a lot of those features, again with the windows, and just the way the hotel feels is really connecting ourselves to the outside." 
 
The $32 million, 64-room hotel at the bottom of Spring and Latham streets replaces the 100-room original hotel at Field Park that closed on July 31. The older inn, purchased by Williams College in 2014, was considered outdated and energy inefficient for an institution that's committed itself to sustainability. 
 
That commitment can be seen throughout the 58,000 square-foot three-story New England-style structure — from its reclaimed wood to its high-performance facade and solar PV array. 
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