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Clarksburg Shifting Annual Town Meeting to Senior Center

By Tammy DanielsiBerkshires Staff
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CLARKSBURG, Mass. — Town buildings will reopen on Monday, July 6, four months after they were closed when the first Berkshire County case of COVID-19 was confirmed in the small town. 
The Select Board on Wednesday voted to approve a decision by the Board of Health to open the library, Senior Center and Town Hall next month to limited access and in accord with the state's reopening plan. 
The school will continue to be closed at this point and the Senior Center will be open Thursday from noon to 7 to accommodate the town election and will be utilized for the annual town meeting on Wednesday, June 24.
"We're going to follow the state guidelines, no more than 10 people [in the buildings], have to be at least 6 feet apart," said Chairman Ronald Boucher. "They have to wear a mask. People going into the library need to go in do what they need, they can't hang around ... get what they need and get out. Senior Center, same rules apply, no more than 10."
Boucher said the basketball hoops at the town field can also be put back up at that time but police will have to monitor that no large groups are using them. 
The town closed the buildings by emergency order on March 8 with every expectation of reopening a week later. But the spread of the novel coronavirus caused the state to consider closing buildings and businesses; Berkshire County schools decided to close several days before the officials orders from Boston.
"We don't want to go to the school because then we have to disinfect the school and it's a large cost to the town," Boucher said. "This way, we can go into the Senior Center, regular cleaners can go in and disinfect. It's a very short number."
The plan is to put up a tent for any overflow outside or, as the board continued the discussion, Police Chief Michael Williams suggested setting up in the parking lot and using the center if the weather turned. 
Board member Danielle Luchi questioned using the pavilion at the town field but Boucher thought there were more accessibility issues.
"We'll prepare for the worst-case scenario that's using Senior Center and then do  the social distancing," he said.
Board member Jeffrey Levanos said the parking lot could be suitable: "There's not a lot on the warrant."
Annual town meetings with little in terms of controversial articles have had turnouts of 30 to 50. 
The $4,618,835 spending plan for fiscal 2021 includes an operating budget of $1,740,022, a school budget of $2,507,086, and a McCann Technical School assessment of $371,727. The budget is up overall by 8 percent, or $371,965 over this year and will be offset by $98,000 in free cash. 
Voters will also be asked to fund a new highway truck at a cost of $250,000. Boucher had argued to hold off on the purchase because of the uncertainty of the state's financial picture. 
The state is anticipating significant drops in revenue from the novel coronavirus pandemic and the amount of school and unrestricted aid to towns is expected to be cut. 
"Just the uncertainty that COVID-19 has brought about, we don't know, we may have to start laying off people," he said, pointing out North Adams schools are preparing for across the board cuts of 10 to 15 percent. "I just feel at this point in time, investing 200 plus thousand dollars is maybe not the right time to do it."
The town is paying off the $1 million debt exclusion approved last year and although there will be debt coming off (voters will also be asked to use free cash to pay off the library), it won't be enough to cover the anticipated $50,000 a year for the truck.  
The truck would replace a 2002 that has been in for frequent repairs. The new wing plow would also allow the trucks to dual plow and clear roads faster and cleaner. 
"Interest rates for loans are way down for vehicles," said Luchi. "And when are we saving money in the long run when two people can plow the roads at the same time behind one another? They're always over on that budget line."
Boucher still thought the amount was too much and could push the tax rate up 40 cents per $1,000 valuation. 
"Personally, I am not comfortable with taking a loan out at this time for major purchase not knowing where we stand with monies from the state," he said.
In the end, Luchi and Levanos both voted to keep the article on the warrant and let the voters decide. 
Luchi raised a question on including the town clerk in the 2.5 percent cost of living raises for employees. Although elected, the clerk gets a salary as did the accountant and treasurer when those positions were elected. Other officers, including the Select Board, get a stipend or are volunteers. 
She didn't think elected officials should get cost of living raises but Boucher and Levanos felt it had already been settled.
"My feeling is everybody got it. If you're going to take from one should take from others," Boucher said, but added, "I don't believe elected officials should get cost of living." 
The board also voted to increase the salary line for the town accountant to $20,000. The current accountant had indicated she might resign but Boucher said he had spoken to her about staying. Board members felt raising the salary line would give them more flexibility in a replacement should she leave. 
In other business: 
The board wished Levanos well as his term will end with Thursday's election. He's served on both the School Committee and Select Board and been chairman of both. After some years on the Select Board, he'd stepped down but ran as a write-in last year to complete a vacant three-year term when no one stood for the office. 
• The board signed off on an amendment  to the town's aggregation agreement with Colonial Power Group Inc. that would allow it join a larger collective with other towns and a renewal of the agreement. 

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Clarksburg School Preparing for Reopening Scenarios

By Tammy DanielsiBerkshires Staff

The new security doors can be seen in the school lobby. The doors are one of several updates at the school, including a public address system and an accessible bathroom. 
CLARKSBURG, Mass. — Principal Tara Barnes is working on a "nice puzzle challenge" in figuring how students will be situated within the elementary school come fall to comply with public health guidelines for the pandemic.
The state guidelines, so far, are requiring social distancing as well as masking for students in Grades 2 and up. Schools will also require a separated space for children who may be showing symptoms of COVID-19.
"I feel from most of our classrooms, about 15 students is the max of what we're able to get in there," she told the School Committee on Thursday. Further guidance from the state in regard to desks and dividers could mean a few more, but, she said, "I don't want at any point to compromise the safety of students or staff when I'm looking at these spaces."
Barnes said she's reviewing the use of "overflow" spaces such as the gym and rethinking uses of non-classroom areas and how that might affect special education teaching and splitting up classes to keep the numbers down. 
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