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Williamstown last held a town meeting at Mount Greylock in 2013 because of anticipated high turnout over a controversial land-use question. This summer, the town may go back to the high school in hopes that the larger gym can allow greater social distancing.

In Williamstown, Fewer Town Election Hours, Higher Prices at Transfer Station

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff
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WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The Select Board on Monday set narrower hours for this month's town election and authorized a jump in the cost of disposal at the town's transfer station.
 
The latter will see increases of up to 60 percent per bag, the first increase in the per bag cost in more than a decade. The move will help the town keep pace with recent increases in the price it pays for disposal of solid waste.
 
The move was anticipated in February, when Hoch presented his fiscal 2021 budget to the town's Finance Committee.
 
On the election front, acting on the recommendation of Town Clerk Nicole Pedercini, the board voted unanimously to set the hours for the June 23 election from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. at Williamstown Elementary School.
 
That is four hours fewer than the usual 13-hour day; most elections in town have balloting from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.
 
Town officials have for months been encouraging voters to take advantage of the commonwealth's decision to allow mail-in voting for all local elections this spring in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
 
On Monday, Pedercini told the board that the town had received about 400 applications for early voting ballots.
 
Last year, 953 ballots were cast in a town election that, like this year's, had just one contested race on the ballot. The lone contested race on the June 23 ballot is for a seat on the town's Planning Board.
 
Earlier this spring, the Select Board had weighed the possibility of an even narrower window for in-person voting. But Pedercini told the panel she was comfortable with the nine-hour day proposed.
 
"Restricting the hours means I'm not going to have to have as many poll workers in the building as long," she said. "But [10 a.m. to 7 p.m.] is long enough that there's a variety of windows. I'm thinking about people who work second shift and third shift.
 
"And, if for some reason someone wasn't able to make it, we still have early voting as an option."
 
She told the board that she currently has 14 poll workers lined up to work on June 23. Normally, the town uses about 24 workers in two shifts of 12 workers apiece over the course of a 13-hour election day, she said.
 
In response to a question from Jeffrey Thomas, Pedercini said this Friday, June 12, is the deadline to register for the June 23 election. Residents are encouraged to contact the town clerk at 413-458-9341 or at npedercini@williamstownma.gov to schedule an appointment.
 
The Select Board took no action on rescheduling a date for the annual town meeting.
 
Hoch and Select Board member Andy Hogeland informed the rest of the body about the information they received from a webinar hosted by the town counsel at KP Law (formerly Kopelman & Paige).
 
Among the information in that presentation: For indoor meetings, towns should plan for multiple rooms for voters, and "Multiple rooms must be connected by at least audio; could use other methods, such as closed circuit TVs or 'Zoom' type format; each room will need assistant moderator and counters. Thought should be given as to how such persons will participate, and how that participation will be communicated to main room. Should provide separate area for those without masks; spacing of seating 6-ft apart."
 
Hoch said he thought that if the town goes with the option of an outdoor meetings, as some municipalities have tried, it likely would be oppressively hot or rainy on the day of the meeting. On the other hand, he has begun conversations with the Mount Greylock Regional School District about using the middle/high school for town meeting instead of its traditional venue, Williamstown Elementary School.
 
"The gym is a little larger, we can have more social distancing," Hoch said. "We can break things out to use the cafeteria. It has a built-in existing video system. We can make that, as an inside venue, work if we had to."
 
Hoch reiterated his previous concerns about scheduling town meeting ahead of having good data from the commonwealth about its FY21 budget and the state aid that is a key piece of municipal budget planning. But he also said he wants to have a town meeting prior by September at the latest so that the town can set its tax rate in October and send out the first of the twice-yearly property tax bills on their regular schedule.
 
"While there are provisions to delay that and do provisional tax bills, I have no interest in doing that unless it's absolutely necessary," Hoch said.
 
Select Board members Hugh Daley and Hogeland asked if the town could create a "two-tiered" approach to town meeting -- holding a "boring" meeting in the summer when voters could be asked to approve fiscal articles that might not drive a lot of traffic to the meeting and holding off on potentially more contentious articles, like appropriations from the Community Preservation Act and proposed zoning bylaw changes.
 
"I'm trying to think of a town meeting in the last 10 years where the budget articles generated much debate," Daley said.
 
The most contentious such debate in recent years involved not town spending but the appropriation for Williamstown Elementary School, which drew considerable discussion in 2016.
 
Hoch and Jeffrey Thomas pushed back on the idea of splitting town meeting into its "boring" (fiscal) and "interesting" components in hopes of having less attendance at the former.
 
"I'm not quite there with you and Hugh on this," Thomas said after Hogeland spoke. "I'm not sure I see it as so black and white between 'essential' warrant articles and 'non-essential.' I think that's going to be a little bit in the eye of the beholder. There are always going to be some people in the community who feel really passionate about getting a CPA warrant article through or other people who are really concerned about a Planning Board item."
 
Hoch made a separate but related point.
 
"We're blessed in many ways to have a high degree of civic participation, of people coming to meetings," Hoch said. "When we call a special town meeting, people come. We've had some fairly quick ones -- those specials on school-related things like the regional agreement or the acquisition of Turner House. People come out, and we're done in a short period of time.
 
"So even the brevity of our agenda -- it may reduce the time, but I'm not sure it reduces the participation because we're lucky that we have a lot of people who see that obligation of participating, regardless of the length of the agenda. And I want to make sure we honor that so people are comfortable coming in whatever format we choose."
 
On the town's transfer station, the good news for users is that Hoch is not proposing an increase in the price of stickers residents purchase to access the facility.
 
The bad news is that the prices they pay per bag of refuse are going up significantly as of July 1.
 
Currently, transfer station users pay $1.25 per 15-gallon bag or $2.50 per 30-gallon bag.
 
On Monday, the Select Board approved price hikes to $2 per 15-gallon bag and $4 per 30-gallon bag.
 
Along with that change, the town is doing away with the sale of town marked bags, instead going to a sticker-based system. One town sticker will be required for each small bag and two will be required on larger bags. The rationale is that using stickers instead of town-sold bags will eliminate the need for residents to "double bag," thus cutting down on the use of plastic, Hoch said.
 
"Disposal contracts have now been finalized through the region," he said. "As anticipated, costs were going up. Sadly, in most cases, they went up more than we projected."
 
Recycling will remain free to residents with a transfer station sticker on their vehicle, although Hoch noted that the fee the town pays for disposing of recycled glass and plastic is going up.
 
But the per-bag cost will rise 60 percent.
 
"That's a hefty increase," Thomas punned, apparently unintentionally.
 
Hoch agreed.
 
"Solid waste disposal [cost] is up 12.75 percent this year, and we have not adjusted bag prices for a long time," Hoch said. "It's been under-represented in carrying its share of the operating cost.
 
"The cost to us has jumped up. And the way that that operation works is the cost driver is the volume people bring to us."
 
The town's transfer station operates as an enterprise fund with revenue covering the cost of the service, similar to water and sewer operations.
 
Thomas said that it has been at least 15 years since the price per bag was increased because it has not changed since he has lived in town.

Tags: town meeting 2020,   transfer station,   

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Williamstown Select Board Recommends Social Justice Articles to Town Meeting

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The Select Board on Monday recommended to town meeting passage of two warrant articles designed to address issues of racial equity and diversity after reconsidering an earlier decision to make no recommendation on one of the measures.
 
The last two items on the 37-article warrant for Aug. 18's outdoor annual town meeting at Weston Field were generated by way of citizen's petition.
 
The first asks town meeting voters to commit to the "Not In Our County Pledge" generated by the Great Barrington-based group Multicultural BRIDGE. The second, titled "Equity," calls on all agencies and committees of town government to re-examine their policies, demands the town train board members and employees about issues of systemic inequities and requires quarterly reports on these issues to the recently formed Diversity, Inclusion and Racial Equity (DIRE) Committee.
 
Board members expressed support for the intent of both articles but raised technical issues about each, though the panel took no action on the warrant's final measure, the Equity article, before Chair Jane Patton realized there were members of the audience who wanted to speak to the articles from the "floor" of the remote meeting.
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