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Williamstown Fin Comm Echoes Select Board, Advises Mount Greylock Committee

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff
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WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The Finance Committee last week followed suit with the Select Board in advising the Mount Greylock Regional School Committee to hold onto a reserve.
Some members of the Fin Comm wanted to go a little further than that.
In the end, the panel voted without dissent at Wednesday's virtual meeting to endorse a non-binding resolution passed 24 hours earlier by the Select Board and to task Chairman Stephen Sheppard and one or two other committee members to draft a letter to the school district.
The Fin Comm has set a special meeting for Wednesday evening to review that letter; the School Committee has a meeting set for Thursday afternoon.
During last Wednesday's discussion, Elisabeth Goodman recommended that the Fin Comm's letter go beyond merely advising the School Committee to hold onto at least $1.5 million of a $5 million capital gift from Williams College.
"The school comes to us for approval of its budget — I mean, it presents its budget, and it asks for a recommendation," Goodman said. "I think it's fair to warn them when they do come before us, we want to see how they are funding … how are they going to plan for this maintenance fund, and we will expect to see that be funded as part of their budget.
"We can say, 'Yeah, it's good fiscal responsibility.' But I think we should tell them that when they come to us with a budget, we expect to see that that was funded."
Sheppard said he agreed with that point.
About 10 minutes earlier in the meeting, Michael Sussman discussed a past School Committee decision that bucked the advice of the Fin Comm.
"The Select Board and the Finance Committee have at times suggested or clearly encouraged certain actions by Mount Greylock," Sussman said. "I would refer you to a year or so ago when we were uncomfortable about the financing of not paying the interest and principal in the first year of the [Mount Greylock Regional School construction] bond. We sent a letter to Mount Greylock that we felt that is what they should do.
"And that recommendation, I believe, was supported by our Select Board and Lanesborough's Select Board and the Lanesborough Finance Committee. So the idea that we have not stepped in and encouraged certain behaviors is not … we have done this before."
"But, Michael, did they do what we suggested?" Goodman asked.
"No, they didn't," Sussman replied.
The issue they appeared to be referencing came up in spring 2016, when the School Committee was faced with two different payment strategies in the first year of the bond. After hearing input from both member towns in the regional school district, the School Committee first voted 4-1-1 to pay both the interest and principal. Less than a month later, it reversed that decision, voting 4-1 to eschew the advice from the towns and voting to pay interest only on the note.
The current question is whether the School Committee will continue to preserve a portion of the Williams capital gift for future extraordinary maintenance needs, like a new boiler or a new roof.
For years, School Committee members have talked about saving $1.5 million of the gift, which is held within the college's endowment, to create a balance similar to a building renewal fund at Williamstown Elementary School. That fund was established from a $1 million Williams College gift to the elementary school when it was built at the turn of the century. The WES fund has been used in the past to fund items like upgrades to the heating system and projectors for the school's white boards.
Recently, members of the Mount Greylock School Committee appeared to be open to spending down the Williams gift on a current capital need whether or not that expenditure cuts into the $1.5 million. 
That discussion at the district prompted Williamstown Select Board member Hugh Daley to ask his colleagues to make a recommendation to the School Committee, and he repeated that request in a letter to the Finance Committee.
Last week, the Lanesborough Board of Selectmen voted to offer its advice to the School Committee and sent an letter signed by the town manager asking that the maintenance fund be preserved.
Daley spoke at Wednesday's Fin Comm meeting to explain his request and implied he has faith the School Committee will consider input from the town bodies.
"I believe the School Committee is going to get there," Daley said to the Fin Comm. "As you know, committee work is hard work, and you always get beat up on it a lot. I know they're all good people, and I know they're all working from the right place. I just think it's important to — because it's become a little bit more of a political issue — it's very important to focus on the one concrete thing, which is this building maintenance fund.
"It should be set aside, and it helps them establish a budget, and then they can go improve everything as much as they can within the remaining budget."

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Tags: capital spending,   Finance Committee,   MGRSD_budget,   reserves,   Williams College,   

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Baker Acknowledges Frustration of Those Trying to Sign Up for Vaccines

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff
BOSTON — On the first day residents 75 and older could sign up for the COVID-19 vaccine, Gov. Charlie Baker said he knows people are frustrated about the time it takes to get those appointments, but the commonwealth continues to be constrained by the supply of vaccines on hand.
"I think the biggest challenge we're going to face on this rollout, and we've said this several times, is if demand does outstrip supply, which is where we're going to be for some period of time until the federal government can get to the point where their distribution to us reaches some level that's consistent with the number of people who are eligible to get vaccinated," Baker said in his daily press availability on Beacon Hill.
"This process, for people, will be frustrating. I understand that, and I think we all appreciate it's going to require a certain amount of patience for people to realize it may take several trips to the website before they can get an appointment."
Starting Wednesday, the Berkshire County COVID-19 hotline, 413-449-5575, began running a recorded message that advises county residents 75 and older to visit one of two state websites, either or for information.
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