Assistant Town Accountant Julie Snow, left, accepts the Town Employee of the Year Award from Jane Nichols.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — If you were not able to make it to Wednesday's annual town meeting, you can always catch the replay.
Of course, the same can be said for just about any municipal meeting in town thanks to WilliNet, the local community access television station dedicated to being "an avenue of free speech for the people of Williamstown to communicate, educate, and entertain."
The Spring Street non-profit was recognized at the start of Wednesday's meeting with the Scarborough-Salomon-Flynt Community Service Award.
It was just the second time an institution received the honor, going back to its days as the Good Citizen Award in 1985. The other organization to win the honor was the Williamstown Garden Club in 2015.
On Wednesday night, WilliNet Executive Director Deb Dane briefly stepped out from behind the camera, taking a break from telling the town's story to become part of it and accept the award from Town Moderator Adam Filson.
"Most notably, over this past year, an extraordinary one in which we needed you most, you rose majestically to the occasion," Filson said, reading the proclamation from the award committee. "At a time when disease forced us to separate, you somehow enabled us, in many ways, to engage with each other even more fully.
"In doing so, you have changed local democracy in ways that will linger long past the crisis that we feel we are finally emerging from."
Dane said there was no higher honor for community builders than to be recognized with the Scarborough-Salomon-Flynt Award.
"Twenty-seven years later, WilliNet continues to be a platform for grassroots democracy and community engagement," Dane said. "We are you.
"This past year, this challenging, extraordinary year of hardship, isolation, loss, uncertainty, you could click on WilliNet and see yourself — exercising, yogaing, praying … Mount Greylock Middle School students read picture books for youngsters … weekly COVID-19 updates, oh-so-many municipal meetings. Your dogs, cats and goats paraded virtually at holiday time. And on and and on."
WilliNet was not the only honoree at Wednesday's meeting.
The town's chapter of the League of Women Voters presented its annual town employee of the year award to Julie Snow, the assistant town accountant.
"Most community members will never encounter Julie Snow in Town Hall," the League's Jane Nichols said. "However, her skill and dedication to the accountant's office have been of enormous value. Julie has demonstrated considerable problem-solving skills, not the least of these to get coherent results from the town's rather clunky financial software."
In accepting the community service award, which usually goes to an individual, Dane called out the volunteer board that runs WilliNet, the organization's founders and her colleagues, Jack Criddle and Richard Lescarbeau, who she brought forward to take a bow.
Even as the non-profit was honored for serving the town, Dane helped the town for supporting WilliNet.
"You wrote to us, you sent money, you told us, 'Connection is comforting,' " Dane said. "Community building can foster caring."
For the most part, the community that turned out for the rain-delayed meeting was in agreement on the questions put before it.
Even a contentious zoning issue that produced a series of conflicting and, at times, confusing votes at the 2020 annual town meeting ended up with an 82 percent vote in the affirmative and agreement between the Planning Board and residents seeking to amend the board's language from the floor.
Neither the town nor school budget merited a comment from the floor.
A $56,000 appropriation from Community Preservation Act funds to support an Agricultural Preservation Restriction at Fairfield Farm that passed the Community Preservation Committee on a 5-3 vote and was recommended by the Select Board, 4-1, passed on the outdoor equivalent of a voice vote, without the need for an official count. Among those raising their "Yes" cards to signify assent was Select Board member Jane Patton, who twice voted against the proposal at the committee level.
No one spoke against the APR expenditure, but three residents came to the microphone to argue in favor of the article.
"An anchor farm here in Williamstown, Fairfield Farm is a key economic driver," said Averill Cook, a member of the town's Agricultural Commission. "It produces millions of gallons of milk for Massachusetts consumers. It's a member of the Cabot dairy cooperative. It provides local food, beauty, recreation, bird habitat, clean air, carbon sequestration and it enhances property values."
The closest vote of the night came not on the marijuana issue but on a decision to authorize the Select Board to study whether to implement a stipend system for residents who serve on town boards and committees.
It was unclear from the Select Board discussion that produced the warrant article whether it intended to spend any money on such a study, but Amy Jeschawitz asked from the floor what the cost might be.
Select Board member Hugh Daley said the board has a discretionary budget to spend on projects but he doubted that this particular study would require much in the way of funding.
That answer did not satisfy Arlene Kirsch, who followed Jeschawitz at the mic.
"I am opposed to this [warrant article], but I am not opposed to a stipend," Kirsch said. "I don't think we need a study, and it's not responsible to ask us to vote yes to something we don't know the dollar figure for."
The issue produced the only vote of the night that Filson deemed "too close to call," leading to the evening's first official count of yes and no votes. The proposal passed on a vote of 153-112.
A much wider margin was earned in the evening's one ballot vote, a decision on whether to authorize the town to explore establishing a municipal light plant to provide municipal broadband service. The vote, part 2 of a two-stage process that began at 2020's annual town meeting, passed by a margin of 255-3.
In all, 367 residents checked into the meeting, 8 percent of the town's 4,855 registered voters and just a hair over the 360 who checked in to the 2020 gathering.
The evening ended on a forward-thinking note as a clear majority of attendees voted in favor of committing the town to achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. The grassroots Carbon Dioxide Lowering (COOL) Committee drafted what became Article 34 on the meeting warrant.
Nancy Nylen, a 2019 Scarborough-Salomon-Flynt Award winner herself, made the motion to approve the resolution, choosing not to read its lengthy preamble but urging her fellow residents to do so on their own.
"Massachusetts set a goal this spring to achieve net zero by 2050," Nylen said. "But as we know, change happens at the local level — person by person, business by business, institution by institution, household by household.
"This is our time to chart our own course, to come up with solutions that work for us that are affordable, practical and inclusive. … Williamstown is and had always been a leader. This is our time to build on our strong foundation to be the best that we can be and come up with the best possible plan."
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Hoosac Water Quality District Facing Prospect of Losing Compost Operation
By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — North Adams and Williamstown could be facing considerably higher sewer fees in the near future if the commonwealth ends a 40-year-old composting program.
Hoosac Water Quality District Chief Operator Brad Furlon broke the news to the Williamtown Finance Committee in his presentation of the district's fiscal year 2024 spending plan.
"There's always been revenues for septage fees and compost fees," Furlon said on Wednesday. "The district was the first facility in the commonwealth to start composting in the early 1980s. … Well, that looks like it's coming to an end.
"Because of the emerging contaminants — PFOA, which we're dealing with with our water, and PFOS — more than likely the district is not going to be able to continue to compost after the end of 2023."
Alfred Weissman Real Estate of Westchester County has entered an agreement with Southwestern Vermont Health Care to purchase the 371-acre campus the Bennington hospital acquired in December 2020.
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