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Williamstown Finance Committee Reviews Town's Capital Plan

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff
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WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The Finance Committee last week concluded its review of the town's fiscal 2022 spending plan and made plans to vote its recommendations next week.
 
The last major item up for discussion was the capital spending plan for FY22, which represents about 6 percent of town hall spending, or $650,000.
 
That represents a $90,800 increase from the current fiscal year, but as Town Manager Jason Hoch reminded the Fin Common on Wednesday, $650,000 is closer to what the town had been investing in infrastructure before it dialed back that budget last summer due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
 
The largest single item in the capital plan is $203,000 for erosion control along the banks of the Hoosic River near Syndicate Road.
 
"We've seen significant erosion along that bank, and it gets perilously close to a 12-inch sewer line we have and the main sewer line interceptor that carries along the river from North Adams," Hoch said. "We're coordinating with [the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection] and the [Army Corps of Engineers] now on a long-term mitigation plan. The Corps will likely address the actual work at some point because the original design and rebuild was theirs.
 
"But we're in a situation where we need to do something faster than waiting for the various bureaucracies to get their long-term plan in motion."
 
Hoch's budget also calls for the replacement of two large vehicles used by the Department of Public Works: a single-axle dump truck valued at $178,000 and a dump truck with plow and sander that costs $83,000.
 
Hoch also proposes this year to purchase a second sidewalk plow, an investment originally slated for FY21 that got pushed off because of the pandemic.
 
"Right now, we have one sidewalk plow," Hoch said. "It doesn't give us a lot of backup, and given more sidewalks, more active use of those, it was something we thought was good to put in place last year. So we're going to do it again this year."
 
Hoch proposes to pay the $156,000 for a new sidewalk plow from the town's stabilization fund.
 
That fund stands at about $1.4 million, and Hoch projects it to be around $1 million after FY22, largely because of a previously announced plan to fund a street light replacement project from stabilization and "pay it back" with savings from the more efficient, cheaper to maintain, town-owned fixtures.
 
"The way I budgeted for the cost of the street lights, it gives us the option to reimburse that over the next few years with savings," Hoch said. "That's a decision for the next town manager. Right now, it makes sense to loan ourselves that money."
 
The Fin Comm on Wednesday also reviewed the warrant articles for Community Preservation Act grants recommended by the Community Preservation Committee.
 
Melissa Cragg, who fills the Fin Comm's seat on the CPC, explained each of the applications to her colleagues, reporting that the one request that generated some dissent on the committee was a request for $56,000 to support and Agricultural Preservation Restriction on 18 acres owned and farmed by the Galusha family.
 
Hoch and Cragg explained that while the town is being asked to contribute more than the 10 percent local match required by the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources, the ask from CPA funds is less than the $66,000 non-cash contribution from the Galushas, who are receiving less than market value for the property under the APR. The bulk of the APR is bulk of the project's funding, to the tune of $327,450.
 
Cragg reported that some of the objection among CPC members, who voted 5-3 to recommend the application, centered on concern about making more land in town off limits to future development. The APR program is designed to preserve prime agricultural land for farming.
 
The Fin Comm is expected to make its advisory vote on the APR project and two other CPA grant requests when it meets on April 14.
 
It also will vote its recommendation on a new proposal to establish a $3,500 stipend for members of the Select Board. Current board member Jeffrey Thomas proposed the idea, which would go into effect for any members elected after this May's annual town election if it is approved by annual town meeting voters in June.
 
"This topic is about inclusion," Thomas said in introducing the idea to his board last month. "I'm proposing it for one reason and one reason only: to broaden the range of community members who can consider serving on this board.
 
"For example, a stipend might make it easier for people with children to serve because it would cover the cost of child care [for evening meetings]. It might make it easier for someone with a lower income because they wouldn't need that second job to make ends meet."
 
Thomas, who next month is resigning from his position with one year left on a three-year term, argues that other towns in Berkshire County provide a stipend to members of their Select Boards, and such a move in Williamstown could increase the candidate pool for the elected position.
 
"For as long as I've served on this board, I've worked in different ways to increase representation on boards and committees," Thomas said.
 
In other business on Wednesday, the Fin Comm heard a report from the auditor who reviewed the town's books for fiscal 2020. As it has for many years running, the town received a clean report from the certified public accountant.

Tags: Finance Committee,   fiscal 2022,   williamstown_budget,   

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Williamstown Names Interim Police Chief; Process Sparks Committee Member's Resignation

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The interim town manager Monday announced that Lt. Mike Ziemba will serve as the town's interim police chief.
 
Ziemba, who has been serving as acting chief since the departure of Kyle Johnson in December, was vetted by a committee of concerned citizens created by the Select Board to advise the town manager, who has hiring authority under the town's charter.
 
That committee's role was called into question on Monday when one of the residents appointed to serve announced on Facebook that she was resigning over concerns with the process that led to Ziemba's appointment.
 
While making it clear that she had no objection to Ziemba's elevation to the position, Aruna D'Souza charged that Blanchard "overruled" the advisory committee by not appointing its preferred candidate.
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