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Robert Ericson said he wants the town to prioritize its spending more to keep the tax rate down.

Ericson Looks to Reel in Taxes If Re-elected to Lanesborough Selectboard

By Andy McKeeveriBerkshires Staff
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LANESBOROUGH, Mass. — A small town like Lanesborough shouldn't have the highest residential tax rate in the county, according to Robert Ericson.
 
Ericson is seeking his third term on the Board of Selectmen and has grown into taking a more fiscally conservative view on the town's finances — a viewpoint he said he didn't he'd ultimately take. But as he's spoken with many residents in town, he's realized the demographics are aging and there are a significant number of retirees on the verge of being "forced out of their houses."
 
"I think we should try to reduce the tax rate to reflect the population and income levels we have," Ericson said, adding that Lanesborough isn't a wealthy town overall. 
 
Ericson said the town has continued spend more and more money and that's led to Lanesborough being atop a chart no town is proud to be.
 
Lanesborough has the highest residential property tax rate at $22.63 and an average tax bill of $5,100 — the fourth highest in the county. Yet its most recent average income per capita is $24,987, below the county median.
 
If elected to another term, he promises to continue to hold the line on taxes whether the decisions are popular or not.
 
"Maybe we don't need everything we think we need. ... we can't be everything to everybody," Ericson said. "You've got to prioritize things."
 
The town's largest commercial taxpayer, the Berkshire Mall, has been struggling and the potential end could be in sight. Ericson said when the mall was active, there was a need for the extra police officers to handle a number of issues on that property — from fender benders to mischievous individuals. He questions whether the town should continue to have as many officers without that activity anymore.
 
"That's gone. Why do we need all of the officers in a small town of 3,000 people?" he said. "That's not going to be a popular view but let's face the facts here."
 
He had taken on a project over the last to year to renovate the aged police station — and adds that building needs to be renovated no matter what — but some have pushed for the town to buy the former Vacation Village land and the five buildings there and renovate them into a senior center, offices, and a police station. 
 
Ericson said that will incur additional expenses from the purchase to the repairs to having somebody manage the facility and additional liability.
 
"That's not going to be cheap," he said. 
 
He believes that the town needs to do more to serve its senior population. But he wants to take a regional approach by partnering with nearby cities and towns to provide services at a greater capacity.
 
"We need to buck up our senior population services but we need to do it with other towns. We don't need to do it alone," he said.
 
He continued to say the town is repairing roads that aren't well traveled and that he'd like to prioritize so the town isn't trying to fix every road all at once. He'd also like to keep a close eye on the school budgets as the school-age population dwindles.
 
Ericson said there are a number of areas in which the town can work toward living more within its means. He said it comes down to "basic economics" of not buying what one can't afford. He added that when people look to build new homes, the tax rate becomes a deciding factor so lowering that could spur new development.
 
Meanwhile, Ericson would like to encourage building on the economic base. He has a particular desire to bring young professionals to town and would encourage the development of condominiums and rental units to encourage that. 
 
He said young professionals tend to avoid buying homes in order to be more mobile and easily go where the jobs are. The former General Dynamics engineer said he hears from former colleagues all the time that the employer struggles retaining and attracting young professionals because of housing.
 
"It's not like GE in the '40s when you get a job and stay in it," he said. 
 
He also sees big possibilities in outdoor recreation. He'd love to see a stronger marketing effort made to package all of the outdoor recreation opportunities available in the Berkshires to help bolster tourism. He said the town has gems in the lake, Ramblewild, Mount Greylock, caves for spelunking, and nearby ski areas that would benefit.
 
He'd also like to see a renovation of the road to Mount Greylock to help support that.
 
Recreation is one vision he sees as a future at the Berkshire Mall. He said things like the Albany, N.Y.'s Indoor Rockgym, which provides indoor mountain climbing and caving, is the type of thing that could occupy some of the space. He envisions the property being redeveloped with mixed uses — from housing to retail to parking to entertainment. 
 
"We've got to figure out something to with the mall if it falls into our hands," Ericson said. "It's not going to be the mall like the mall we know now."
 
Ericson is being challenged by Gordon Hubbard for the three-year seat on the Board of Selectmen. The retired engineer has been involved in government for more than a decade, serving on the Mount Greylock Regional School Committee, the Building Committee that oversaw the renovation of the locker room at the high school following a ceiling collapse. 
 
He was elected to the Board of Selectmen in 2013 and has been particularly noted for chairing the town's Energy Committee that got the town designated as a Green Community, which brought in grant money to do a number of energy efficiency projects. He said there are more projects to do that will save utility costs.
 
"We've fixed a lot of things but there is a lot more to be fixed," he said. 
 
Ericson's specialty is in building construction so he'd like to continue to improve the town buildings in a cost-effective manner.

Tags: election 2019,   town elections,   


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Lanesborough Closes Book on Fiscal 2019

By Andy McKeeveriBerkshires Staff

The Board of Selectmen recognized Town Clerk Ruth Knysh for six years of service.
LANESBOROUGH, Mass. — The Board of Selectmen closed the fiscal year's books on Monday after transferring some $63,538 from health insurance to cover deficits elsewhere in the budget.
 
Of particular concern for Finance Committee member Ronald Tinkham was a $45,167 overage in winter roads supplies and repairs.
 
The town, under the previous manager, had been creeping that budget figure up to become more accurate. Tinkham believes that should continue to eliminate deficits.
 
"We need to be sensitive to that when we establish next year's budget," Tinkham said.
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