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Prudential Committee Chair John Notsley, left, and Chief Craig Pedercini review minutes from a prior meeting.
Updated August 28, 2019 08:22AM

Williamstown Fire District Seeks Candidates for Governing Body Spots

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff
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Prudential Committee members Ed Briggs, left, and Ed McGowan participate in Wednesday's meeting.

Updated on Aug. 28 to reflect that the date for the special election will be Nov. 19.

WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The Fire District has targeted Oct. 29 set Nov. 19 for a special election to fill two new seats on the Prudential Committee.

Now it just needs candidates to fill those seats.
In 2018, district voters OKed a proposal to expand the three-member committee that oversees the district. The enabling legislation to change the district's charter was approved in Boston at the end of the most recent session.
Rather than wait until its regular election in May, the committee wants to open the new positions as soon as possible, which means an aggressive election calendar that would see nomination papers available in early September and due by the middle of the month.
"Nomination papers need to be back and certified 49 days prior to the election," district Clerk/Treasurer Corydon Thurston told the committee at Wednesday's monthly meeting.
Thurston said he talked through the process with Town Clerk Mary Kennedy, who had agreed to help coordinate the special election out of Town Hall, even though the district is a separate municipal entity apart from town government.
Thurston explained that between the time it takes to certify nomination papers, file them with the secretary of state, print them and make them available for absentee voting, seven weeks is the minimum time between the deadline for signatures and the vote itself.
The committee Wednesday agreed to keep the process moving as quickly as possible with the Tuesday, Oct. 29, election as the target. On Aug. 27, Prudential Committee Chairman John Notsley reported that the election will be held on Nov. 19 at the elementary school from 3:30 to 8 p.m.
The nomination papers, when ready for distribution to those interested in running, will be available at town hall.
It decided that two weeks would be a reasonable window for potential candidates to obtain the 31 signatures he or she would need to get on the ballot and turned its attention to strategies to find those candidates.
"I'm suggesting we have a forum [for prospective candidates]," Thurston said. "Come to the station, talk to the officers, talk to the committee members who are serving. They don't have to take out papers, but hopefully those interested can at least come talk to you guys.
"That's something we'll have to do quickly if we want to hit the target date."
The committee agreed to aim for Wednesday, Sept. 4, at 7 p.m. at the Water Street fire station for the candidate-recruitment event. Notsley also confirmed in an Aug. 27 phone call that the Wednesday session will take place.
Once the slate of candidates is set, the district wants to pursue a forum for the candidates through the Williamstown League of Women Voters, which each spring hosts question-and-answer sessions for candidates in contested town election races.
The three current Prudential Committee members will have a chance to promote the special election and appeal for candidates before a pool of fans of municipal government on Sept. 9 when they hold a joint public hearing with the Select Board.
As it has done the last couple of years, the committee Wednesday decided to hold its annual tax classification hearing in conjunction with the Select Board. Since the fire district is a separate taxing authority, the Prudential Committee, like the town's Select Board, needs to decide annually whether to continue a unified property tax rate, as has been the custom in Williamstown.
New Town Assessor Chris Lamarre was at the fire station Wednesday to introduce himself to the members of the Prudential Committee and talk about some of the questions it will face at the Sept. 9 meeting at town hall.
In other business on Wednesday, the committee reviewed a Fiscal 2019 report that shows the district spent about 98 percent of its $481,000 operating budget, leaving a surplus of just less than $9,500 that will go to the district's free cash account.
Chief Craig Pedercini reported that he has as many as four people interested in training to be call-volunteer firefighters and that he has scheduled fire drills at Williamstown Elementary and Mount Greylock Regional School for the first week of classes that begins on Sept. 3.
Pedercini also said the Fire Department recently hosted a demonstration event with Springfield's Fire Tech and Safety to look at Amkus battery-powered extrication tools.
Assistant Fire Chiefs Robert Briggs and Mike Noyes told the Prudential Committee that the newest electric cutters and spreaders have advantages over the hydraulic-powered units the district currently uses.
"We can make room for it [on the truck]," Briggs said. "This is such a labor-saving tool. It should be a higher priority. We can save valuable minutes at a car accident and valuable labor for us."
Briggs said at the demo event, also attended by firefighters from Lanesborough, they were able to rip apart two cars without changing batteries.
The committee members asked Pedercini and the assistants to price out the equipment and come back with a proposal for acquisition.

Tags: fire district,   prudential committee,   special election,   

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State Education Commissioner to School Districts: Go In-Person or Face Audit

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff
BOSTON. — Continuing a pressure campaign against local school districts that began over the summer, the commissioner of education this week sent multiple districts a letter requesting "further information" of those who are beginning the school year with remote instruction.
In a letter dated Friday, Jeffrey C. Riley told more than a dozen districts, including Pittsfield Public Schools, Hoosac Valley Regional and the Berkshire Arts and Technology Charter Public School, that they have "very low COVID-19 transmission" and that he is "concerned" that their school committees have elected to keep most students remote to start the academic year.
Riley's letter cites the fall reopening plan issued by the commonwealth in June, which, he notes, was endorsed by the Massachusetts Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics.
He also refers to a July missive from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention titled "Importance of Reopening Schools."
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