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Williamstown Finance Committee Begins Review of FY21 Budget

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff
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WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — Town Hall does not plan to ask for any increase in property taxes to cover the town's expenses in fiscal 2021, the town manager told the Finance Committee last week.
The town's assessment from the Mount Greylock Regional School District remains an unknown.
The Finance Committee on Wednesday began its annual review of the town's spending plan that will be put before voters at May's annual town meeting.
Town Manager Jason Hoch reported that the net of anticipated increases for revenue and expenses shows the town $103.03 in the black for FY21 without any change in the tax rate. Hoch cautioned that he had not yet received an indication from the school district what it would seek to support Williamstown Elementary School and the town's portion of expenses for Mount Greylock Regional School.
The School Committee has yet to discuss its FY21 spending plan as a full committee; it does have a special meeting for a budget workshop scheduled for Thursday afternoon.
On the town side, Hoch happily reported that the Williamstown, like other municipal entities in the county including Mount Greylock, will benefit in the year ahead from no change in the rates it pays for health insurance coverage under the umbrella of the Berkshire Health Group.
It is the third year in a row of 0 percent increases, a trend that is unprecedented, Hoch said.
"For those of you who have been here a long time that are scarred by years of horror … we continue to be in a good space," Hoch told the Fin Comm. "I can't guarantee it will be flat forever. But the group's ability to adjust to change is really good. They're in a healthy spot.
"For the town and school to be able to manage that rate of growth in a reasonable way is tremendous."
Hoch said Berkshire Health Group -- on whose board he represents the town -- continues to carry a significant reserve and that it is offering members the unchanged rates without dipping into that reserve.
He repeatedly characterized spending plans for the departments he outlined on Wednesday as essentially unchanged from the current FY20 plan. Unlike last year, when he explained a few salary line increases to accommodate the transitionary/training periods in key town departments, there are no such staffing needs anticipated in the coming year, at least not in the departments the committee reviewed on Wednesday.
In addition to no change in the tax rate to account for town spending, Hoch said in a meeting telecast on the town's community access television station, WilliNet, that he also forecasts no change in the water and sewer rates.
But there is one area where town residents will be feeling a pinch in the fiscal year that begins July 1: the transfer station.
"So taxes aren't going up, water rates aren't going up, sewer rates aren't going up, everything is flat," Hoch said. "The one piece where there is no good way to solve the problem is solid waste and recycling."
To cover the increasing cost of waste disposal, Hoch is proposing a $10 increase in the annual fee for a primary dump sticker and a $5 hike in the cost of a secondary sticker per household: from $120 to $130 and from $15 to $20, respectively.
He also is proposing a 40 percent increase in the cost of transfer station bags: $2.50 to $3.50 for large bags and from $1.25 to $1.75 for small bags.
"This is not just us," Hoch said. "This is towns everywhere. We're all facing this."
Fin Comm chairman Stephen Sheppard agreed.
"These are not out of line as percentage increases compared to commercial haulers," Sheppard said.
Hoch in past public meetings has talked about changes in the market for recycled materials, a market that is dictated largely by the willingness of China to accept those materials for processing.
The Finance Committee will continue its review of town spending plans this Wednesday at 7 p.m. The Select Board will hear a budget presentation on Monday at its 7 p.m. meeting.

Tags: Finance Committee,   fiscal 2021,   williamstown_budget,   

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Berkshire DA: Up to Towns to Handle Officers on 'Brady List'

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — If Select Board members hoped the Berkshire County district attorney would offer direction on how the town should deal with the impact of having a police officer on her office's "Brady list," they were very disappointed.
Twice during an hourlong presentation at Monday's Select Board meeting, District Attorney Andrea Harrington said it was not her office's place to tell towns how to respond when the county's prosecutor decides one of the municipality's law enforcement officers has a history that needs to be revealed to defense attorneys or, worse, that an officer's history is so concerning that he or she cannot be used as a prosecution witness without approval of a supervisor.
The town currently has 11 full-time officers — including one on administrative leave since March and another pulling double duty as lieutenant and interim chief. A third has been placed on Harrington's "do not call" list, meaning the DA has determined the officer has "made misrepresentations about material facts in a criminal investigation," she said Monday in Williamstown Elementary School's gymnasium.
Some in the community have wondered whether having an officer on the do-not-call list, particularly when the department already is short-handed, creates an issue for the department's efficiency. Many residents have suggested that the town should remove the officer on the list and replace him with an officer who can be fully functional.
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