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Clarksburg holds a special town meeting on Wednesday.

Clarksburg Special Town Meeting Passes All Articles

By Tammy DanielsiBerkshires Staff
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The meeting was held outside because of COVID-19 restrictions.
CLARKSBURG, Mass. — Voters on Wednesday authorized the Select Board to make payment in lieu of taxes agreements with two commercial solar arrays.  
Only about 14 voters attended the special town meeting on the lawn of the Senior Center that also gave the Select Board the ability to start new employees at wage steps commensurate with their experience and education and approved the first step in making the town clerk and appointed position.
The town has been pushing the two solar arrays — one off West Cross Road and the other at the former North Adams Country Club — to make some form of payment. The town attempted to bill the arrays for personal property taxes but did not expect to receive anything because of state law.
"The law was so broadly written, okay, that it basically exempted anybody from having to pay taxes on solar arrays," explained Town Assessor Ross Vivori. "If you have solar on your home, it's exempt and that's not going to change. The problem is that law got applied for commercial arrays."
The commercial arrays do pay property taxes at the industrial rate because they are considered power generators. But unlike other commercial entities, they do not pay taxes on the arrays themselves and other equipment. 
Another array on River Road has already entered into a PILOT agreement; the other two arrays have indicated they would be willing to do the same.
Asked what would happen if the state changed the law, Vivori was pessimistic that that would happen. There have been three failed attempts already, he said.
"I was on a Zoom meeting this morning, with 80 other assessors trying to build support with this thing. And I would hope that eventually it would get to the governor's desk at some point, and they approve it, and change that law," he said. "But I don't know if that'll ever happen in the near future. right now, it's kind of like we got a bird in the hand."
Passage of the articles will allow the town to negotiate with the arrays and enter into 20 years agreements. Vivori said the payments would be made quarterly.
"To sum up what Ross said, there's no free rides here anymore," said Select Board Chairman Ronald Boucher. "So, you know they're making money, they can easily give the town something back."
The pay scale amendment passed with one no vote. Select Board member Danielle Luchi explained it has been difficult to find job candidates because they drop out when they learn the pay.
"We've had some turnover down at Town Hall, and particularly the administrative assistant position we've been trying to fill, and it's just been hard finding quality candidates," she said. "Even though they have years and years of experience, you have to start them at number one. ...
"We would like to place them on the scale where we see they fit, of course, you know, keeping the taxpayers in mind."
The article passed with only one vote against; the article on appointing the town clerk passed with two against.
One voter, after learning the Select Board would appoint the clerk, said he was worried about nepotism in a small town in which everyone knew each other.   
"I think the citizens of the town should vote for the town clerk," he said. 
Voters hold up cards signifying their approval of an article.
Luchi said she understood his concern but it could work the same way in voting. The job would be posted and candidates vetted, with finalists being interviewed by the board, which would also oversee the position. The voter thought this was reasonable. 
"The reason why we want to move it from an elected position to an appointed position is because currently the town clerk position, they are entitled to making their own hours," said Luchi. 
That had been four hours a week but the Select Board didn't think that was serving the needs of the residents. If the position was appointed, the board could set the job's hours. 
The town had considered making the position appointed along with the town treasurer/tax collector and accountant nearly a decade ago, but voters rejected the idea. The former town clerk resigned in July and temporary town clerk was appointed until the position can be permanently filled. 
That can't happen until after the next town election because the change would also have to be ratified by ballot. 
Officials also intimated the town clerk may have to take on other duties as well. 
"As we move further down, you're gonna see a lot of different situations are going to combine because small towns are not going to be able to stand alone anymore," said Boucher. "We have to become smarter. ... by going to an appointed position, it opens the field up for a lot of quality individuals. So it's a win win."
The town has had to make do in recent years in trying to fill posts and volunteer boards. On Wednesday night, Boucher again stepped in as moderator because no one ran for the post. The administrative assistant retired several months ago and the board has struggled to replace her. The temporary town clerk, Paul McLatchy III, will be serving Clarksburg as well as fulfilling his town clerk and administrative assistant duties in Rowe. 
"This town has never had a lot of people volunteer for the work in town," said longtime volunteer Ray Moulthrop. "They need to come to the realization either they start doing this or the town's getting annexed."

Tags: PILOT,   special town meeting,   town clerks,   

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Clarksburg School Seeks Town Support to Pursue Renovation Plan

By Tammy DanielsiBerkshires Staff
CLARKSBURG, Mass. — School officials are planning to submit a statement of interest to the Massachusetts School Building Authority next year. 
But they want to make sure there's town support before considering any building project.
Voters rejected a $19 million renovation and addition project in 2017 but gave the OK to a $1 million borrowing last year, giving half to the school for infrastructure projects. The school's put in new boilers, had some asbestos-abatement done, created an accessible bathroom, redone the nurse's office and teachers room, and installed a new secure entrance and public address system. The electrical panel is the next project and all schoolwork will be remote on Thursday and Friday while it occurs.  
"We've done these great projects over the last six months here, but we still have a tremendous amount of work to do in that building. It's not over," Assistant Superintendent of Operations & Finance Jennifer Macksey told the School Committee last week. "The superintendent and I are having conversations with the town about what our next steps are. ... We need a renovation project to go forward with the SOI, but we need to be sure we have the town's support before we invest a lot of resources in that process again."
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