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Williamstown Candidates Differ on Debt Exclusions

Phyllis McGuire

WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — With the casting of ballots on Tuesday, May 11, voters  will elect two of the three candidates vying for two available seats on the Board of Selectmen.

Incumbents Ronald Turbin, 65, and Tom Costley, 50, are both seeking re-election to a second three-year term and Richard N. Haley Jr., 44, is making his first bid for public office.

Tom Costley

Costley grew up in the suburbs of Washington, D.C., and came to Williamstown in 1978 as a Williams College freshman. In 1986, he and his wife, Liz, moved to Williamstown to raise their family; they have a daughter and son. He's founder and director of Overland, which has programs for youngsters that span the outdoors, service, language and environment.

Tom Costley

He had not considered ever running for office until January 2007 that he told his wife he was interested in being a selectman. "Liz and my family have always been supportive," he said.
 
As Costley recalls it, then presidential candidate Barack Obama's remarks about the power of grassroots endeavors and civic engagement, had inspired him to use his business knowledge and life experience to serve as a selectman. 
 
Now looking back, Costley candidly commented, "when you start, you have no idea what is required. It takes two years to learn how it works. Now I am much better at it."

For Costley, working with his colleagues has been one of the most satisfying aspects of being a selectman, especially with Jane Allen, whom he describes as a mentor. But while he shares her strong convictions against underage drinking, his passion got the better of him last month when his anger over a violation at Mezze led him
to use the term "I will kill you" several times, including to owner Nancy Thomas and waiter Jeff Willette.

Costley acknowledged it was a "mistake" to speak in that manner. "I apologized to Nancy Thomas and Jeff," he said. A day or so later, he also posted a general apology on the story posted on iBerkshires. "Now I'm moving on," Costley said. "It was painful."
 
In the time remaining before the election, he intends to do all he can to help people understand the two ballot questions regarding the Proposition 2 1/2 debt exclusions for Mount Greylock Regional High School's final two payments on a repaired roof and the more extensive heating system and locker room repairs. The cost will be shared by the state, Lanesborough and Williamstown; the Selectmen recommended the articles last month.

The debt exclusion is "not for a fancy curriculum, but for brick and mortar capital expenditures," said Costley, adding that an Prop 2 1/2 exclusion was used to build Williamstown Elementary School. "We have to have the building."

The tax increases would not take effect until 2011. Costley said the roof payments will be finished in two years at a cost of $9 per year on the tax bill for an average Williamstown home, valued at about $300,000. The second bond will be paid in 10 years, starting at $26 a year and decreasing in time to $20.
 
"It's not popular to talk about raising taxes, but you must do it under some circumstances, and this is one of those times," Costley said. "I'm very careful about tax questions in town because I know there are many people for whom every additional expense is a burden. I will not simply say yes to an idea that seems good, unless it is important that it be implemented."
 
Costley has in mind several approaches to increasing revenue through bolstering the tax base. For one thing, if re-elected, he wants talks with the Planning Board on creating a "dense pedestrian center."
 
He wants to remove a zoning bylaw that requires multifamily buildings be spaced 1,000 feet apart and another that requires the first floor of buildings in certain areas be limited to commercial use. He believes that should be allowed, but not required.

"We want families and  young people to live close by to Spring Street. If there were townhouses on Meacham Street, Latham Street, Water Street ... the residents would be able to walk rather drive to the shops, etc.," he said. "This would also preserve open spaces and the rural character of our town."
 
Costley believes that with the population close by, stores, restaurants, etc., would enjoy an upswing in sales, and that would draw new businesses to Spring Street. There would also be health benefits, he said, since people would walk more and fewer cars would be on the road polluting the air.
 
He considers it a privilege to serve as a selectman. "I am looking forward to having the opportunity to do it three more years. I will work my hardest and do my best to help improve town."

Richard N. Haley Jr.

Haley considers running for selectman "a big thing, and serving as a selectman a big responsibility."

A native, Haley lives in his childhood home on Cold Spring Road; his mother and father live across the street in his grandparents' old house.

Haley installs foundations for gravestones in North County. "And I'll always be a farmer," said Haley, whose family roots in Williamstown go back to the 1800s. "It's in the blood."

Though he had talked for years about running for selectman, he never followed through. "I would think 'someone else can do it,'" he recalled. "But now is the right time. I don't think the town is going in the right direction."

Richard N. Haley Jr.

Haley loves the town and said he wants to be a voice for the people, especially those who, like him, want to stay here. Some of his friends and family have had to move because they could no longer afford to live here, he said.
 
He is very much opposed to the Mount Greylock debt exclusions on the ballot; both the Selectmen and Finance Committee have recommended the articles.
 
"Once you vote for the override you're stuck with it," Haley said, and pointed out that property owners are still paying for the 2003 override. Then expressing a homespun philosophy, he added, "When you ask your parents for $20 and they give it to you, you come back again for another $20 and another $20."

People on fixed incomes, like his Uncle Charley, make trade-offs to meet increasing expenses, he said. "He fought in World War II and then came back here to live. He's 88 now and living on a fixed income. When his taxes went up by $200 this year, he cut back on heating oil. And now, his taxes can go up even more."
  
Haley believes the perks some town employees receive could be eliminated to help the town budget and that the "over spending in schools" should be addressed.
 
"Williamstown spends money like it's going out of style," Haley opined. "These are hard times and we should learn to get by on what we have." 

Haley is a graduate of Mount Greylock Regional High School, as is his son, Richie, 23, who now works and lives in Boston, and his younger son, 15-year-old Spencer, is a student at the school.
 
Haley is concerned about the quality of the water at the school, pointing to the problems in 2004 when perchlorate was discovered in the water. "They drilled a new well, but the same pipes in the school that carried the [tainted] water are still there," he said. 
 
In 2008, Richie was diagnosed with thyroid cancer, and the doctor said he had had it for a while, Haley recalled.  Five Mount Greylcok alumni about Richie's age have also suffered from cancer, he said. "What can I do but speak out about it for the kids' sake."

Ronald Turbin

Turbin, a retired assistant attorney general for New York State, has been residing in Williamstown since 2003. "I'm happy here," he said. He has three grown children and three and one-on-the-way grandchildren.

Ronald Turbin

He currently is the Northern Berkshire delegate on Metropolitan Planning Organization, which is part of the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission. "We're in charge of allocating Massachusetts highway funds," Turbin explained.
 
Turbin said he loves working in government and for the public. And, if given the opportunity to serve another three years, he would be especially interested in continuing to work on three projects: The further development of Spring and Water streets; housing young families can afford and the proposed bicycle and pedestrian trail that would connect Williamstown and North Adams.
 
"One of the main reasons for making Williamstown affordable for young families is to increase enrollment in our schools," said Turbin. "Decreased enrollment has many ramifications, including a reduction in state education funds."
 
Development is important as it will bring in revenue, and Turbin is pleased with the Cable Mills project on Water Street, the former industrial buildings being converted into a mixed-income residential community. Two new businesses, Nature's Closet and That's a Wrap, have come to Spring Street.
 
Plans to sell the Phototech building on Cole Avenue, abandoned in 1990, however, seem to have fallen through, he said, but renewed efforts will be undertaken to locate a new prospect.

When asked about debt-exclusion override, Turbin prefixed his answer with "I like to be direct and up front." Then he went on to say he believed an override should not be the first option. "All options should be considered." 

But he also believes the Selectmen did the right thing in recommending that voters approve the exclusion on this year's ballot. "They are essential projects," he said
 
"Rebuilding or renovation is difficult to envision at the moment because of the financial crisis, but planning should start for the future," Turbin said. "I envision a joint effort or partnership with the college, Clark and other venerable institutions. Our school system, including the infrastructure, is one of the keys to preserving and enhancing the quality, vitality and financial stability of our town."
 
The polls will be open Tuesday, May 11, from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. at  Williamstown Elementary School, 115 Church St.

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