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Williamstown Town Clerk Nicole Pedercini, left, shows Willinet's Deb Dane the cards that attendees at Wednesday's annual town meeting will use to decide questions that cannot be settled by voice votes. On the table behind them is one of six Poll Pads for checking in voters quickly.
Updated June 07, 2021 08:44AM

Williamstown Changes Annual Town Meeting to Wednesday

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff
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UPDATE: At 8:37 Monday morning, Town Moderator Adam Filson announced the following: The chances of rain showers and thunderstorms tomorrow from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. ranges from 40 -6, w2 percent, with rain forecast as being likely. Wednesday's rain probability drops to 10-15 percent on Wednesday for the same time, with the likelihood being a chance. Therefore, I've decided to call for a postponement of tomorrow's outdoor annual town meeting to Wednesday, June 9, at 6 p.m. at Williams College's Farley-Lamb Field, Latham Street, Williamstown.
 
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — While the cannabis cultivation bylaw figures to be the most talked about issue before Tuesday's Wednesday's annual town meeting, it is just one of 34 warrant articles on the agenda for the 6 p.m. meeting.
 
Once again this year, the town meeting will be held at Williams College's Farley-Lamb Field in the Weston Field Athletic Complex. Monday morning, Town Moderator Adam Filson decided to postpone the meeting to Wednesday, June 9.
 
In a brief program on the town's community access television station, Willinet, Town Clerk Nicole Pedercini explained that, although the meeting will be held outside, the town will not be enforcing any COVID-19 protocols — including face-coverings or social distancing — in keeping with the governor's lifting of those restrictions effective May 29.
 
Pedercini said one section of the "home" bleachers at the football/lacrosse field will be reserved for residents who do feel more comfortable maintaining 6 feet of social distance and that, of course, all attendees to the meeting are free to wear masks if they choose.
 
Since more of the 1,200-seat grandstand will be utilized without the 6-foot rule in place (last year, about 300 people attended), all attendees will be required to sit in the stands in order for their votes to count, Pedercini said. Filson has decreed that he will not be counting votes from residents standing along the fence that rings the field.
 
Another change from last year's meeting and going forward for all meetings and elections, residents will be checking in on electronic devices called Poll Pads which the town acquired to expedite the process. Residents will have the option to check in by simply scanning the bar code on the back of their driver's licenses, Pedercini said.
 
"It will pull you right up, and check in will be done in 30 seconds," she said. "I think they're going to make things easier from here on out."
 
Among other things, the use of the new system means residents will not need to check in at a specific station — either by last name or (in elections) precinct number. Pedercini said she will have six stations set up with six different volunteers to assist through the process, and she recommended attendees arrive between 5 and 5:30.
 
If the meeting is anything like last year, attendees should be prepared to settle in for a lengthy debate over the issue of how the town should regulate production of marijuana under its zoning regulations. Many of the same arguments likely will be made, but much has been added to the discussion over the past year as the Planning Board has attempted to modify a bylaw amendment added to the town code in May 2017, just after the commonwealth voted to decriminalize pot.
 
Arguably the most important business of this or another town meeting is the approval of the town budget, although that action tends to generate less floor discussion than items like zoning bylaw amendments.
 
This year, town hall is asking residents to approve $8.7 million for its operating budget and $1.1 million toward its capital improvement plan among other, smaller spending articles. The biggest ticket item on the warrant is a $12.3 million appropriation from the Mount Greylock Regional School District; the cost of PreK-12 education in the town  is up by $234,000, or 1.9 percent for fiscal year 2022.
 
Four separate articles will ask if the town wants to financially support the operating budgets of four local non-profits: the Williamstown Chamber of Commerce ($45,000), Williamstown Youth Center ($77,000), Sand Springs Recreational Center ($19,000) and Williamstown Community Preschool ($50,000). The preschool is a new addition to the list of non-profits.
 
Each of the four requests has the unanimous support of the town's Select Board and Finance Committee, which spends the winter each year reviewing all aspects of the town's budget.
 
The Community Preservation Committee advanced three grant requests to town meeting: a $218,722.50 request from the town's Affordable Housing Trust, a $50,000 request from the Williamstown Historical Museum, and a $56,000 request from Williamstown Rural Lands to support the purchase of an Agricultural Preservation Restriction on 18 acres of prime farmland.
 
So far, with the exception of the preschool request, all the appropriations on the warrant will be familiar to long-time attendees of the meeting.
 
That changes when it comes to Article 25, a request for $100,000 to support services related to the development of a new town Master Plan, a document the town has produced about ever 20 years starting in 1963.
 
In Article 27, residents will be asked to approve a one-time expenditure of $265,000 from the town's Stabilization Fund to convert Williamstown's street lights to more efficient LED fixtures. The article is part of a transfer of authority over the lights from the Williamstown Fire District to town hall. If approved, iBerkshires.com readers will never ever again have to read an explanation of why the fire district was responsible for street lights in the first place.
 
In between Articles 25 and 27 comes Article 26, which will ask if the town wants the Select Board to study whether to set up a stipend program for residents who serve on town boards and committees. The originator of the idea, then-Select Board member Jeffrey Thomas, argued that a stipend would be one way to allow more residents to participate in town government and generate more diversity on its boards and committees.
 
Article 28 is a marijuana bylaw amendment that probably won't generate much debate. Its sole purpose is to change the terms in the 2017 bylaw — passed before the state's Cannabis Control Commission created a regulatory regime for pot — to match the CCC's nomenclature.
 
Those who make it through the discussion on Article 29 — the more substantive bylaw amendment on cannabis — will be asked to approve two other zoning bylaw amendments. One would reclassify a part of Eastlawn Cemetery from Limited Industrial to General Residence; another, Article 31, would change the zoning on two small parcels (one on Main Street, one on Cole Avenue) from GR to Limited Business to reflect their historical use.
 
Article 32 is a zoning bylaw amendment that comes not from the Planning Board but from a land owner's request. The owner of Countryside Landscaping is asking the town to add some uses to the use table for the town's Limited Industrial zone, a request that has the unanimous support of the Select Board.
 
Article 33 is a continuation of a question raised at last year's town meeting and again will require a paper ballot that voters will cast as they leave the Weston Field complex. Residents are being asked whether they will authorize the town to create what is known in state law as a "Municipal Light Plant" in order to establish a municipal broadband service. The authorization requires two separate ballot votes, thus the repeat from 2020. This question has no fiscal implications; it only enables the town to consider studying the viability of municipal broadband.
 
The final question on the warrant, Article 34, comes by way of citizens petition and asks whether the town will commit to achieving a net zero greenhouse gas emissions goal by 2050 and will, in the next two years, develop an action plan to get there.

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Mount Greylock Schools Present Improvement Plans to School Committee

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — Lanesborough Elementary School is hoping to form community partnerships to help teach its pupils about sustainability.
 
The kids already are leading the way.
 
"About five weeks ago, we had a fourth-grade group start the Lanesborough Environmental Squad club," Principal Nolan Pratt said last week. "They're all about being environmentally friendly and seeing what we can do within the school.
 
"That kind of inspired this goal within the School Council. We want to reach out to community partners … and do field trips to see places working on sustainability. I believe they're putting a solar field at Skyline [Country Club] for example. Maybe we can go see how that works."
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