EMT Jen Weber takes lead custodian Glen Storie's temperature. All attendees could have their temperatures taken before entering the building and they wore masks while inside.
LANESBOROUGH, Mass. — Voters spent nearly five hours at Lanesborough Elementary School on Tuesday night to pass all 22 articles on the annual town meeting warrant.
The gymnasium was set up to meet all current social distancing guidelines put in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Town Moderator Chris Dodig kicked off the meeting by explaining the town's thought process in deciding to have the meeting at all despite the novel cooronavirus pandemic that has wreaked havoc on the municipal budget process across the state and forced many towns to postpone meetings and even some to go so far as to consider holding them outdoors.
"It was a tough decision to even hold town meeting but some factors and some calmer voices convinced me that it would be OK and looking out at the audience and seeing everyone with masks and 6 feet apart makes me feel much better about it," he told the gym filled with about 80 people. "We can't just avoid town meeting, we can postpone it for 30 days at a time, or the moderator can, but eventually we have to do it and there's no real certainty that any time is going to be better than now."
Many towns, including Lanesborough's partner in the Mount Greylock School District, Williamstown, have pushed town meetings past the end of the fiscal year on June 30, resulting in them having to adopt a 1/12th budget process where the budget is based on the prior year's numbers. Town leaders must approve a spending plan each month to be blessed by the state's Department of Revenue.
The first issue the meeting dealt with was indeed a motion to postpone the meeting for a month made by a voter. She cited some people feeling forced to decide to participate in the process versus protecting their health, going so far as saying "it might be illegal" because they were being denied the right to participate based on a medical condition.
After some explanation from the moderator and Town Counsel Jeffrey Blake assuring no laws were in danger of being broken, and comments for and against from other voters, the vote was in favor of continuing the meeting.
Despite the meeting's length there were no close votes on any of the 22 warrant articles.
The town's operating budget will see a drop of roughly 5 percent from $10,795,329 to $10,268,474. Most of this is from debt for the Lanesborough Elementary School projects coming off the books.
The Mount Greylock Regional School District assessment was approved at $5,761,836, which is a drop of $7,413 from this year. Superintendent Kimberley Grady was in attendance and said the district is prepared to change its plans should state aid numbers come in lower than expected and that she is confident none of those changes would affect curriculum.
Revenue numbers from the state have not been released yet so municipalities setting hard budgets are doing their best to estimate what those cuts might be. It was mentioned by Grady and the town leaders that another town meeting would be very likely in the fall should state aid numbers come in drastically different than what they're expecting.
The meeting voted 65-5 to spend $225,000 to buy a new rescue truck for the Fire Department. Fire Chief Charlie Durfee said the current truck is 34 years old and has simply passed its useful lifespan. The funds will come from a combination of town stabilization funds and the Baker Hill Road District fire truck fund.
The vote also was heavily in favor of the purchase of a new police cruiser to the tune of $50,864.92. Those funds will also be split between the town and the Baker Hill Road fund.
Article 5 passed 50-10. This article authorized the Board of Selectmen to accept a donation of property along Route 8 at the former Vacation Village. The spot has been looked at as a potential site for a new police station. The parcel very recently went under contract for traditional sale but if that does not go through it is expected the Selectmen will accept the donation.
Article 6 saw the town approve an appropriation of $75,000 from free cash to purchase a roughly 5 acre parcel on Ore Bed Road. The town wants to use the plot to replace the current gravel bed, which is getting low.
The meeting almost unanimously accepted $240,740 from the Baker Hill Road District to fund two police salary positions plus expenses for fiscal 2021. The funds are an annual appropriation and stem from the now shuttered Berkshire Mall's opening in 1989.
Lanesborough Elementary School will see the balance of its sidewalks repaired this fiscal year. The town approved up to $58,000 for the project by a vote of 40-16.
New electronic voting devices were used for the first time.
The largest article outside of the budget itself was the transfer of $276,000 from free cash to stabilize the tax rate in anticipation of a shortfall in Unrestricted General Government Local Aid from the state. The article passed 49-3.
Articles 19-21 were citizens' petitions and dealt with marijuana bylaws. The first looked to limit both the number of inside cultivators and manufacturing facilities to two each. Several people spoke out against the petition, saying it unnecessarily restricted new revenue opportunities for the town. It was defeated 41-9.
Article 20 asked the town to impose a 3 percent gross sales tax on marijuana retailers. The town has two potential retailers lined up who would be affected by the tax. The meeting took no action as the town had already adopted the 3 percent tax at a prior meeting.
The last article of the night wanted to amend the zoning bylaws related to marijuana on issues including odor, site plan review, setback requirements, and several other topics. After open consultation from Planning Board Chairman Jamie Szczepaniak, voters decided to postpone action indefinitely with an eye toward bringing back a different petition at a later town meeting.
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