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North Adams Council Approves Stipends for Retirement Board

By Tammy DanielsiBerkshires Staff
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The new zoning map was presented to the council for approval on Tuesday but was instead sent to committee for further review. 
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The City Council on Tuesday closed a somewhat controversial debate by voting 8-1 to allow a stipend for the Retirement Board. 
And it sent an ordinance that would cause major changes in the city's zoning to the Community Development Committee for further review.
The stipend matter had been brought before the council in June by Councilor Marie T. Harpin, the council's liaison to the board. 
The councilors had at first been positive toward the idea but when they felt some of the questions as to how the stipends would affect the city budget weren't being fully answered, they balked and sent the matter to the Finance Committee, which met two weeks ago. The committee returned a recommendation on Tuesday night to approve it.
Finance Committee Chairman Wayne Wilkinson described the meeting as "a very interesting discussion." 
"I learned a lot. But unfortunately, even though I think I have a really good grasp on finances it lost me in about 15 minutes," he joked. "What the people do in there is important stuff and they know a lot more about it than I did." 
The board, through its Administrator Beth A. Matson, had asked that the council adopt Massachusetts General Law Chapter 32 that sets a stipend of no less than $3,000 and no more than $4,500 annually. Once the law was adopted, the Retirement Board would have control over voting the stipend.
Wilkinson said Matson had given a very informative presentation at the finance meeting and that Councilors Harpin, Rebbecca Cohen and Jason LaForest had asked very good questions.
He said the issue came down to several facts: that the board is well run and does good work in its oversight of the city's $70 million or so in retirement funds, that the council has to adopt the law, that the board determines the amount of the stipend.
The bottom line, Wilkinson said, was how it affected the city budget. The appropriation for the fiscal 2019 budget is already set but the stipend would eventually come out of the administrative expenses in the contributions.
Wilkinson said he was originally against the idea, "but then I saw a list of some of the other stipends that are given by the city."
Several other councilors also noted that they had been opposed or not sure and that the presentation and research had convinced them to vote yes. It hadn't been an easy decision, said LaForest, and that the councilors had really debated the stipend.
"I did indicate that if the board were to approve anything higher than the minimum allotted by law, I would be very disappointed in them," he said. 
The board voted to adopt the law with only President Keith Bona voting against because he was concerned about setting a precedent. The Retirement Board works hard but so do other elected and volunteer boards, such as the School Committee that oversees half the city's budget. 
"It was really vetted and I think each councilor took the time to look into this deeply," said Harpin, who had advocated for it from the start. "I just appreciate all the work that was done on this. ... it's a hard-working crew that's done a lot for the city. It's a big portfolio."
The councilors were all on board with referring an update of the city's zoning map and permitted uses to committee to give them a chance to review it more fully.  
"I know a lot of work has been done and a lot of good work has been done but it's not very clear," said Wilkinson, who made the referral motion. "Zoning has the biggest effect on property values ... I have absolutely no idea what the present changes are."
LaForest read into the record a letter from David Moresi of Moresi & Associates who wrote that the zoning changes would have a negative impact on the Norad Mill, which is filling up with a wide range of small businesses. 
The mill would be in a new zone that would prohibit uses such as storage, assembly and finishing of goods and publishing, among others for the mill. 
"These are key uses to the redevelopment of the Norad Mill and the success it has had in bringing businesses and jobs to North Adams ... take the time to ensure there are no other unintended consequences created within the city," LaForest read.
The city has been working with the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission to realign and update outdated zoning. A joint public hearing with the Planning Board had been held last month. Councilors were also concerned that the changes had not been fully communicated to property owners who might be affected. 
"There was no sense there would be letters or communications that would directly inform those folks that the actual zone category of where they reside or work or own could or would be changing," Councilor Benjamin Lamb said. "If my property zone was changing, I would want to be informed."
Mayor Thomas Bernard believed a list of properties could be generated and property owners informed in some way. 
"I'm totally not against changing zoning because North Adams zoning is archaic," Wilkinson said. "It goes back to the 1950s." 
In other business, the council: 
  • Confirmed the appointment of Kayla Hollins to the Planning Board to complete the term of Allyson Holmes, who is moving. The term will end February 2022.
  • Approved a sewer hookup for Lily Kuzia for a new house being built at the top of North Eagle Street in Clarksburg. 
  • Set a public hearing for Tuesday, Nov. 13, on H.A. George's request to install additional propane tanks at 651 Ashland St.
Also, Mayor Thomas Bernard reminded residents that the winter parking ban goes into effect Nov. 1. There is no parking overnight during the ban to allow for plowing. 

Tags: retirement board,   stipend,   zoning,   

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North Adams School Committee Votes for Remote Learning

By Tammy DanielsiBerkshires Staff

NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The School Committee on Tuesday rejected a hybrid school reopening model to vote 3-2 to go full remote. 
The decision to start school with the remote option was apparently influenced by a letter the School Committee members received from the North Adams Teachers Association expressing concern over re-entering the schools because of the COVID-19 pandemic. 
Committee member Tara Jacobs said she was not comfortable potentially exposing staff to the novel coronavirus in motioning to go with the remote option to start and later transition to a hybrid model. 
"There's no good scenario but the decision to open the school and have someone dying or having health conditions for the rest of their life ... ," she said, motioning to start the school year remotely.
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