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Williamstown Fire District Proposes Tax Cut for FY21

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff
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WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The Fire District will ask voters to approve a slight tax decrease when they convene the annual district meeting at the end of the month.
 
On Wednesday, the Prudential Committee, which oversees the district, finalized the warrant for the annual district meeting and election.
 
The committee proposes a fiscal 2021 budget of $565,865, a drop of 2.80 percent, or $16,286, from the $582,151 voters OK'd last May for FY20.
 
Although the largest single piece of the budget, the district's operating expenses, is up by 1.58 percent to $495,865, the district will not be asking voters to approve $24,000 worth of additional expenses compared to a year ago.
 
The last two years, for example, the district sought and received $55,000 ($30,000 in FY20) for a feasibility study for the Main Street station that district officials hope to build. That request does not appear on this year's warrant. Likewise, the Prudential Committee chose not to ask for a separate expenditure for personal protective equipment, which added $9,000 to the budget this year.
 
The largest single expenditure on the annual meeting warrant will not impact the tax rate at all. That is a request to spend $380,000 from the Fire District's stabilization fund to pay for a 2,600-gallon tanker truck. The district long has had a practice of paying cash for its apparati. This year, the Prudential Committee is seeking $50,000 from new tax revenue for the stabilization fund, the same figure voters approved last year.
 
The Fire District is a separate taxing authority apart from town government, although, for the sake of efficiency, the town bills residents of the district.
 
In keeping with its practice, the district will hold its annual election prior to the annual meeting at Williamstown Elementary School. The polls will be open on June 30 from 4 to 7 p.m. in the school's auditorium with the meeting to follow. One member of the five-person Prudential Committee, current Chair John Notsley, is up or re-election and running unopposed.
 
Face coverings will be required to enter the school. Like the town, the district is encouraging voters to apply for mail-in ballots in advance of election day. Voters can obtain an application by emailing the town clerk at npedercini@williamstownma.gov and specifying that they are seeking a ballot for the Fire District election.
 
Wednesday's Prudential Committee meeting was the first since the local Fire Department put down a barn fire on Torrey Woods Road, and it gave Chief Craig Pedercini a chance to thank all those involved with the incident.
 
"I don't know if I picked a good time or a bad time to go out of town that day," Pedercini said. "It was a pretty devastating fire, but many hands make light work. We had a number of departments who responded to that call: Pownal, Hancock, New Ashford, Clarksburg, Lanesborough.
 
"I understand they did a really great job. … Unfortunately, the barn was pretty well gone when they got there, so it was 100 percent a defensive tack."
 
Assistant Chief Robert Briggs, who was in command at the scene last Thursday, said it was a total team effort.
 
"The Williamstown Police Department was on scene before us, and they helped set up the fire truck and with the installation of the hose into [Hemlock] Brook. H.A. George did a great job coming in and helping us with the propane tanks that wouldn't stop leaking [in the former barn]."
 
In order to create more leadership roles within the department, Pedercini on Wednesday proposed that the district create two new positions, deputy chief and lieutenants. He recommended promoting Briggs to deputy and authorizing him to name two lieutenants from the current roster of call volunteer firefighters.
 
"I'd like to keep three [current] assistant chiefs and appoint the two lieutenants because the five officers on currently have been doing it for 20 years, and there's no one after us who has had a taste of responsibility, so to speak," Pedercini said. "You've got to start somewhere because we're all pushing the retirement age. I think putting a couple of lieutenants on at the same time would be a good way to go."
 
The move follows on a recommendation about organizational structure in the study of the department conducted by Municipal Resources Inc. last year.
 
The Prudential Committee voted unanimously to approve Pedercini's recommendations.

Tags: annual meeting,   fire district,   

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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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