Williamstown Candidates Differ on Debt Exclusions
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.
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.
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."
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.
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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Williamstown Candidate Statements
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — All 17 candidates on the May 11 town election ballot were offered free television time to introduce themselves to voters and say why they are running for positions ranging from library trustee to town moderator to selectman.
WilliNet, Community Access TV for Williamstown, invited the candidates to videotape a short statement of up to five minutes in length. Over the course of three days, 12 of the 17 candidates taped their message in the Spring Street studio. They were combined for broadcast as "The Candidates Speak."
"'The Candidates Speak' offers voters the opportunity to put a face with the name on the ballot and acknowledges the efforts of the individual candidates, especially in the uncontested races," said WilliNet Executive Director Deb Dane.
"The Candidates Speak" airs on WilliNet's Channel 17 and at willinet.org through May 10 or can be watched below.
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Williamstown Moderator Race Could Set Fiscal Policy
Candidates Richard Haley Jr., left, Ronald Turbin, moderator Anne Skinner, Frederick S. Leber and Mark S. Gold at Tuesday's candidate forum. Thomas Costley is seated at far right.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The voters will have a clear choice between financial philosophies this election when they vote for moderator.
Frederick S. Leber wants an aggressive Finance Committee; Mark S. Gold wants a balanced, thoughtful one.
Mark S. Gold
Richard Haley Jr.
Frederick S. Leber
Williamstown is one of a few towns in the state that put the composition of the Finance Committee in the hands of the town moderator. With the position now a three-year term, the winner of this year's election will have the ability to reconstitute the panel.
The two men aired their different views of the moderator's role on Wednesday night at a candidates' forum sponsored by the Williamstown League of Women Voters at Town Hall and moderated by league President Anne Skinner. Also speaking were the three candidates for the two selectmen's seats up this year: incumbents Thomas Costley and Ronald Turbin, and challenger Richard Haley Jr.
Leber and Gold are vying to fill the seat being vacated by longtime Moderator Stan Parese.
Gold, a corporate attorney with Grinnell Smitt LLP who's lived in Williamstown since 1979, sees the position as requiring a grasp of parliamentary procedure and patience to ensure that town meeting runs smoothly and efficiently. It's a tradition, he said, that previous moderators have hewed to.
"I think the moderator should be scrupulous in maintaining his or her neutrality," he said. Appointments to the Finance Committee should be "highly skilled and work diligently to be fair."
Leber, however, said he'd "appoint a Finance Committe that would be much more aggressive and confrontational than the Finance Committee has been."
"If what the town wants is a moderator who'll stand up at the next town meeting and say what a wonderful job everyone's been doing, they should not vote for me," said Leber, who also has a legal background, in finance, but came to Williamstown 10 years ago as founder of an Internet startup, Orbis Vox. He currently operates a small livery service.
He wants a Finance Committee that will not rubber-stamp budgets but will do due diligence in questioning spending, particularly spending on administrative and legal costs for the schools over instruction, set priorities and set standards of disclosure.
Gold, a former chairman of the Mount Greylock Regional School Committee, said, he'd had to go before the Finance Committee for 10 years. "I still have scars. If that was a rubber stamp they hit it pretty hard."
Both men agreed that the schools were important town functions that should be properly funded.
Among the selectmen's candidates, Costley and Turbin, both elected in 2007, said they'd learned a great deal in their three years and wanted to continue with initiatives. Haley said he wanted to represent the taxpayers and vowed he wasn't going anywhere.
"I love being a selectman," said Costley, owner of Overland, which offers adventure trips for adolescent. "It's not easy and I'm not always great at it ... But I will work hard."
He said wished he done more early on to better understand how the actions of the selectmen affect the town. He also wants to have more time to work on changing zoning to allow greater density in the commercial downtown district while preserving open space.
Turbin, retired from the New York attorney general's office, said he enjoyed working on various committees because he gets a broader perspective on the many divergent issues that town faces. "We make sure we have a very polite debate and everyone's view get heard."
Haley, a local farmer and contractor whose roots go deep in Williamstown, said he had no issues with how the others had served. Rather, he was concerned about the town's finances and their affect on taxpayers.
"We've got a monster in this town and we're feeding the monster all this money. People can't afford to live here," he said, adding the town should put a freeze on hiring and salaries. If Costley wanted more open space, then taxpayers had to get a break on their taxes, he said, or it wouldn't remain open space.
Turbin said "there are no easy answers to the commercial problems we're having" but the town manager and treasurer had "done a fine job of cutting to the bone" without sacrificing services. "We have to keep at it."
Costley said no one at Town Hall had gotten raises the year before, and very small ones this year. "Overall, the increase in the tax rate is less than 2.5 percent. ... I know there are people in town where every dollar hurts."
Haley said that wasn't enough. "I want to challenge the town to save money."
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Candidate Forums Slated in Williamstown
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The League of Women Voters is sponsoring forums for candidates running for contested town offices on Tuesday, April 27, and Thursday, April 28.
Both forums will be held in the Selectmen's Room at Town Hall from 7 to 8 p.m. They will be taped by Willinet for broadcast later in the week.
On Tuesday, the candidates for town moderator and the Board of Selectmen will attend. Running for a one-year term as moderator are Mark Gold and Fred Leber. The candidates running for two three-year seats on the selectman are incumbents Thomas Costley and Ronald Turbin, and challenger Richard Haley Jr.
Wednesday's forum is for candidates for the Williamstown School Committee and the McCann School Committee. Running for the Williamstown board are Valerie Hall, incumbent Margaret McComish and Huff Templeton. Running to represent the town on the vocational regional school board are Daniel H. Collyer and incumbent James R. Gazzaniga Sr.
League President Anne Skinner will moderate both forums, which will be taped for broadcast on WilliNet. The public is invited to attend and ask questions of the candidates.
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Nichols Announces Campaign Staff
Scott Nichols, candidate for selectman in the town of Adams, announced his campaign committee on Sunday.
"I am extremely excited by the overwhelming support I have received since I announced my candidacy," said Nichols. "For the past couple of years, I have had a number of people in the community encourage me to run again for office. With Joe Dean stepping down after many years of distinguished service on the Board of Selectmen, I felt the timing was right."
Noelle Pandell is the chairman of Nichols'campaign committee and Jim Fassell will serve as treasurer. Additional campaign committee members are Don Wright, Carol Corrigan, Norm Schutz, Jim Waltermire and Larry Pandell.
"I would like to thank the Maple Grove Civic Club for hosting the open forum to allow all candidates to express their views on a number of topics," said Nichols, who participated in the Sunday event.
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