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The use of Community Preservation funds to fix the foundation of historic First Congregational Church again ran into concerns but was approved 4-1.

Williamstown Fin Comm Votes Recommendations on Town Meeting Articles

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff
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Michael Sussman chairs Wednesday's Finance Committee meeting.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The Finance Committee on Wednesday recommended passage of all the fiscal warrants for May's Annual Town Meeting, but not until after it revisited a few of the arguments that punctuated budget season at Town Hall.
Most of the discussion at its final meeting before the May 16 town meeting revolved around the warrant articles that the committee saw for the first time on Wednesday night: those related to the town's allocation of Community Preservation Act funds.
Members of the Fin Comm raised and rehashed some of the same issues that were raised during the deliberations of the Community Preservation Committee, which sends those warrant articles to town meeting for approval.
The First Amendment church-state issues, for example, were revisited when the Fin Comm reached Article 26 on the 41-article warrant.
After a lengthy debate, the Community Preservation Committee in January decided on a 6-2 vote to endorse an appropriation of $5,700 to support restoring the foundation on the historic First Congregational Church.
Elaine Neely started the Fin Comm's discussion by indicating her discomfort with spending taxpayer dollars on a church.
Daniel Gendron, who occupies the Fin Comm's seat on the preservation panel, shared that members had the same hesitation but that the committee had reviewed documentation demonstrating precedent for using Community Preservation Act funds to preserve historic structures that happen to be houses of worship.
The Fin Comm's newest member, who joined the committee mid-cycle, made light of the request.
"I'm surprised to see this," Steve Sheppard said. "If a request from [pizzeria] Hot Tomatoes came to the committee to maintain their building, would it be acceptable?"
"If it was housed in an historic building," Fin Comm Chairman Michael Sussman answered.
"It looks like an old building to me," Sheppard replied.
The First Congregational Church on Main Street is more than just old. The structure dates back to the early 20th century but has its roots in the town's original 18th-century meetinghouse.
Gendron said it was the building's historical significance that allowed the majority of the CPC to support the appropriation.
Fin Comm member Paula Consolini noted that while it is a church, "First Congo," as it is known around town, doubles as a community center and plays a prominent role in many secular activities.
Four of the nine Fin Comm members declared a personal conflict of interest on the question and sat out the vote. The remaining five voted to recommend the article to town meeting with Neely voting in the minority.
Most of the expenditures on the town meeting warrant are funded by local property taxes and were previously reviewed in detail by the Fin Comm.
CPA expenditures are a special case. The town's CPA account is funded by a property tax surcharge of 2 percent with an exemption for the first $100,000 of property value. In other words, a $200,000 home is taxed only on $100,000 of its value with a bill of $2,000.
Another exception is the town's customary appropriation to the Williamstown Chamber of Commerce.
Town meeting in recent years has allocated 10 percent of the town's revenue from the commonwealth's Room Occupancy Excise Tax to the chamber. This year, that 10 percent translates to $48,126, a bump of 2.89 percent from the fiscal year 2016 appropriation that probably is attributable to the rise in visitors during 2015 to see the Clark Art Institute's Van Gogh exhibit.
The Fin Comm opened its discussion of Article 13, the Chamber of Commerce appropriation, by asking Town Manager Jason Hoch what had become of the other promotional group that has come to the town looking for financing, the Destination Williamstown website.
Hoch replied that he was talking to representatives of Destination Williamstown about distributing to them some money from a special project budget over which he has discretion.
"That seems like a one-time fix," Sussman said.
"We were hoping there would be collaboration between [Destination Williamstown] and the Chamber," Fin Comm member Susan Clarke added.
Hoch noted that while the organizers of the website and Chamber leadership are communicating, neither is a town department under his control.
Fin Comm members then discussed whether the town needed to "send a message" about fiscal responsibility by cutting back on the outlay to the Chamber of Commerce.
"It's a message that should be sent to a lot of budget centers," Gendron said. "We are going to have to make some hard choices. Probably everyone at this point should spend 2.5 percent if they can."
Consolini said she thought the message already was received.
"I would rather try a positive approach first," she said. "If you send a 'signal,' it may be taken as a bit of a slap. It's a small enough town where people are buzzing and trying to get these folks to work together."
Ultimately, the Fin Comm voted to recommend passage of Article 13 and all the financial warrant articles it considered.
The Board of Selectmen will review and vote all of its recommendations for the Town Meeting warrant articles at its April 10 meeting.

Tags: CPA,   Finance Committee,   historic preservation,   town meeting 2017,   

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SVMC Recognized for Excellence in Emergency Nursing

BENNINGTON, Vt. — The Kendall Emergency Department at Southwestern Vermont Medical Center has been selected as a recipient of the Emergency Nurses Association's 2024 Lantern Award for demonstrating excellence in leadership, practice, education, advocacy and research performance.
The Lantern Award showcases emergency department's (ED) accomplishments in incorporating evidence-based practice and innovation into emergency care. As part of the application, EDs are encouraged to share stories that highlight a commitment to patient care, in addition to the well-being of nursing staff. The award serves as a visible symbol of a commitment to quality, safety and a healthy work environment.
"Being on the front lines of patient care in our community comes with unique challenges and triumphs," said Pamela Duchene, chief nursing officer and vice president of patient care services at SVMC. "For our ED team to be recognized among just 94 departments, nationwide, demonstrates the level of excellence and commitment that has been fostered here."
The Kendall Emergency Department at SVMC is also the first ED in Vermont to receive the award.
"This honor highlights the collaborative decision-making and shared governance within our ED," said Jill Maynard, director of emergency nursing at SVMC. "This leadership model is a key attribute of our success, giving our team the tools and support they need to provide skilled and compassionate care to our patients."
In addition to influencing care within the organization, SVMC emergency staff are empowered to be leaders beyond the health system, impacting nurses and other health-care providers throughout the state and country. In the last three years, SVMC's ED nurses have presented at local, regional and national conferences on topics including cultural humility, harm reduction, design considerations for emergency psychiatric care, and orientation strategies for new emergency registered nurses.
SVMC President and CEO Thomas A. Dee congratulated the ED team on receiving the 2024-2027 Lantern Award, and noted that this honor is all the more impressive for being earned during a multiphase renovation of the ED space, part of the VISION 2020: A Decade of Transformation capital campaign.
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