CLARKSBURG, Mass. — The average tax bill in Clarksburg will rise about $65.55 next year, or about 4.4 percent.
The Select Board on Wednesday approved a single tax rate for fiscal 2019 of $15.99 per $1,000 valuation, up from $15.31 last year.
The average single-family home valued at $166,607 would see a bill of about $2,664.
However, the average value of a single-family home has dropped in value by nearly $3,000 and the town's overall valuation by $3 million.
Chairman Ronald Boucher noted that the town's evaluation is now lower than it was in 2009 when it was also raising $550,000 less from the tax levy.
Town Assessor Ross Vivori said the values can go up and down.
"All categories between last year and this year, we did see some decreases ... it's kind of the nature of the beast here. You don't normally see a lot of growth here," Vivori told the board. One year marked a lot of growth because of solar arrays but normally it brings in around $10,000. "That's going out and counting every deck, every pool, every shed, anything that we can find that's considered growth."
This year, about $616,000 in new tax value resulted in around $9,400 in projected revenue, based on last year's tax rate.
"We also saw some lower evaluations come in from Mass Electric and Berkshire Gas this year, which I was kind of surprised to see that," Vivori said. "That's some of the reason we're seeing these decreases in overall value."
The tax levy to support the fiscal 2019 budget is $1,924,899, leaving the town with excess capacity of only $21,160.
That played into a lengthy discussion over funding for repairs at the elementary school. The board postponed a decision on replacing the dated boilers in the school because the prices from the sole bidder exceeded the money on hand.
The town had planned on using $87,000 from the Green Communities grant but the bids were $189,500 for propane and $129,500 for oil. Added to the cost is an estimated $30,000 for pumps, $19,000 for asbestos abatement and the removal and disposal of the old boilers.
"We're not in a position to make up the difference," Boucher said.
Superintendent John Franzoni said the school didn't have the funds either despite being pressed by Select Board member Karin Robert on the amount of school-choice funding available. Robert Norcross, who's been heading up an ad hoc committee to address the school-building issues, asked if this was not a time to use the "rainy day" funds.
"The money budgeted for the school this year is all designated for educational purposes," Franzoni said, adding that school choice funds are also being expended for out-of-district placements. "I've been here for five months but school-choice spending has increased each year as money that's appropriated from the town decreases. ...
"I think everyone's under the misconception that there's a big pot of money at the school but there's not."
Earlier this year, the School Committee had voted to maintain a minimum of $300,000 in the school-choice account to ensure it could cover any unexpected needs. The school has been dipping more into its school choice account — the funds that follow children choicing into the district — to reduce reliance on taxpayers. It has been receiving about $250,000 to $300,000 a year.
"We've gone from spending out of that account $185,000 in fiscal 2017 to $203,000 in fiscal year 2018 and projected at $400,000 to cover expenses this year," Franzoni said. "That money is supposed to be used for educational purposes, not to fix the building."
The attempt to address failings in the 60-year-old school in the wake of the failed new school vote has also run into problems over lines of communications and responsibilities with the ad hoc committee often bouncing between the Select Board and School Committee without getting answers.
Boucher, who was elected May, said he was planning a joint meeting of all three boards.
"I'm trying to learn this town and the situations we're in and I know there are ways to make it better," he said, adding "People are too busy pointing fingers ... We're going to learn how to get things done and we're going to get them done right."
Officials are looking at a debt exclusion vote at town meeting to allow $1 million in borrowing over five years to fund capital projects at the school and in town infrastructure. "It's a finite time period, it's a finite amount," said Town Administrator Carl McKinney.
Town officials also encouraged residents contacting the town's representatives and the governor about releasing $500,000 in state funds earmarked for roofing at the school. Franzoni said he would be meeting with state Sen. Adam Hinds and state Rep. John Barrett III but Robert also raised the idea floated at an earlier meeting of having the children write to the governor. Norcross thought the town should also invite Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito to tour the school.
The board voted to reconsider the request for proposals for the boilers in February so as to have a current bid on hand when the debt exclusion is taken up in May.
In other business:
• The board extended the deadline for repairs to Demers Avenue until Dec. 19. Residents on Demers and Gravel Bank Road were told both private ways would have to be repaired before the town would plow them. Gravel Bank was fixed last week but weather conditions have delayed work on Demers.
• The board voted to impose a $500 fine and send a "strongly worded" letter to Todd Driscoll, owner of the former North Adams Country Club, for installing a lateral line to the sewer system without permitting. The pipe was installed during the state Department of Transportation's recent reconstruction of River Road but MassDOT says it did not give permission. Installing the lateral would need Select Board approval; connecting to the sewer would require permission from the city of North Adams and the Hoosac Water Quality District.
• The town is also looking for citizens to serve on several boards. Robert and Boucher were voted as alternates on the Zoning Board of Adjustment because no one else volunteered. The Finance Committee needs one member and the Handicapped Commission needs four.
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Clarksburg Officials Feel More Discussion Needed on Merger
By Tammy DanielsiBerkshires Staff
CLARKSBURG, Mass. — The Interstate Merger Committee has hired Public Consulting Group to lead it through the next steps toward a merger between Clarksburg and Stamford (Vt.) Schools.
However, the Clarksburg contingent feels more discussion is needed on the merits of a merger between the two small elementary schools.
Superintendent John Franzoni filled the School Committee in last week about the selection of PCG, which had done the initial study of the schools that was presented to the towns. Based on that research, the adjoining towns both voted to continue the process to determine how such a merger would work and what legal processes would be necessary.
There had been only two bids for the request for proposals for a coordinator to develop a plan of action and liaison with state and federal officials. The second was the local Berkshire Educational Consulting Group, lead by Howard "Jake" Eberwein III and William Ballen, longtime educators and administrators in the region.
The School Committee voted for the two-week block on Thursday to ensure the school will be vacant for construction on the new secure entrance. That means students will have both the Monday and Tuesday before Christmas and will also have Jan. 2 and 3 off as well.
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The 11 percent jump in the tax rate is largely because of the $1 million borrowing approved at town meeting in May. The borrowing to address a number of capital projects is excluded from Proposition 2 1/2 but the tax impact will only last five years.
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