Williamstown Fire District Election, Annual Meeting Tuesday

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff
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WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The town's fire district Tuesday will face decisions on adding two new members to the Prudential Committee and a fiscal year 2023 budget that foresees a 2.5 percent increase in operating expenses.
 
The day will begin with the annual district election from 4 to 7 p.m. in the Williamstown Elementary School gymnasium.
 
Alex Steele and Joe Beverly are the lone candidates on the ballot for two three-year seats on the five-person Prudential Committee that runs the fire district, a separate municipal entity apart from town government with its own taxing authority.
 
At 7:30, the annual district meeting will be held, and attendees will have up or down votes on 13 warrant articles.
 
Over the last couple of months, the current Prudential Committee developed the warrant, including a line-by-line review of the operating budget for the fiscal year that begins on July 1.
 
The largest increase in the operational budget, Article 6 on the warrant, is for the pay of firefighters in the call-volunteer department. The FY23 allocation is up by $8,500, from $106,800 in the current fiscal year to $115,300, an increase of just less than 8 percent.
 
That number also represents the largest single line in the proposed $492,882 operating budget.
 
Other increases of note include $6,500 for the maintenance and operation line, which jumps 13.4 percent to $55,000, and a $4,500 hike in education and training, which is up 43 percent to $15,000 in FY23.
 
The largest increase by percentage is one over which the Prudential Committee had no control. The district this year had to go out to bid for a new auditor, and the low bid came in significantly higher than the expense in past years. In the FY23 budget, that line item jumps from $8,000 to $14,000, an increase of 75 percent.
 
The increases in some areas are partially offset by decreases elsewhere in the operating budget.
 
The district's assessment from the Berkshire County Retirement system, for example, is down by nearly 37 percent from FY22, dropping from $35,544 in the current year to $22,496 for FY23. Another sizable drop comes in the legal budget, which was up for FY22 in anticipation of expenses related to the district's building project but is down by a third in FY23, from $15,000 to $10,000.
 
In addition to the omnibus Article 6, the warrant has eight other articles related to the district's finances.
 
Article 5 would increase the stipend for Prudential Committee members to $1,000 per year in an effort to encourage a more diverse group of residents to seek positions on the body.
 
"Obviously, you're not going to get rich, but maybe it makes it easier for other people to be comfortable running for this office," district Treasurer Corydon Thurston said during last month's review of the warrant articles.
 
Article 7 would allocate $70,000 for owner's project manager services for the project to build a new station on Main Street (Route 2). Thurston told the Prudential Committee that he believes that figure would cover projections from Colliers, the OPM the panel selected last year, but he twice in recent months has expressed frustration about the international firm's inability to get the district an updated contract even as work continues on the project.
 
Article 8 seeks $120,000 to acquire a new brush truck for the town's Forest Warden, and Article 9 looks for approval to spend $70,000 from the district's stabilization fund to acquire a new 4-by-4, rapid response command vehicle for the fire chief.
 
The chief's current SUV is 10 years old and recently has been racking up repair bills.
 
Article 10 seeks to raise from $10,000 taxation to use as matching funds for grants that the district may receive in FY23. Article 11 calls for $10,000 for personal protective equipment for firefighters. Article 12 looks to $60,000 from taxation to add to the district's stabilization fund.
 
Article 13 will ask residents' approval for the district to petition the legislature in Boston for changes to the district's enabling legislation – both to allow it to take over the Forest Warden, as it did in a deal with the town last year, delete references to street lighting and make language in the district's charter gender neutral.
 
In addition to preparations for the annual district meeting, the Prudential Committee recently has been busy discussing issues directly and tangentially related to the building project.
 
Earlier this month, the committee struggled with the question of when to seek an independent cost estimator for the building project.
 
Ken Romeo of Colliers recommended the district consider contracting with a third-party estimator who would provide counterpoint to the project architect's cost estimates at three different points in the process: schematic design, design development and the issuing of construction documents (when the project is put out to bid).
 
"We never get the estimators to agree on a number, but we get to them to agree on the scope," Romeo said. "We come up with a reconciled scope and a reconciled number – whether it's an average of the two or it might be a median."
 
He said the low end cost of an independent estimator would be about $18,000, and the high end would be about $40,000, but those numbers would not be definite unless or until the district receives responses from a request for proposal. Romeo advised the Prudential Committee to issue an RFP sooner rather than later.
 
He said he hopes to be able to bring the Prudential Committee a schematic design for approval by the end of the next month and to move into the design development phase by July 1. The district hopes to be able to put the building project bond before voters as soon as this fall.
 
At its May 5 meeting, the committee could not come to an agreement on whether to issue an RFP or hold off on the potential expense until later in the process.
 
An easier decision came when the Prudential Committee had the opportunity to make some money on the Main Street parcel voters in 2017 agreed to acquire for a new fire house.
 
Northern Construction approached the fire district about using the parcel, next to the Aubuchon Hardware, as a laydown area for the bridge replacement project on Main Street at the Green River crossing.
 
The contractor offered the district $750 a month to use the land. The Prudential Committee voted to authorize Thurston to negotiate a month-to-month lease with a kickout clause if the district can get started on its own construction project before the bridge work is completed.

Tags: annual meeting,   fire district,   

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'Mary Ann Unger: To Shape a Moon from Bone' at WCMA

WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The Williams College Museum of Art (WCMA) announced "Mary Ann Unger: To Shape a Moon from Bone," a project consisting of a retrospective survey on view from July 15 through December 22, 2022, as well as a publication. 
 
Organized by Horace D. Ballard, former Curator of American Art at WCMA and currently the Theodore E. Stebbins, Jr. Associate Curator of American Art at Harvard Art Museums, the exhibition and catalog offer the first curatorial assessment of the entirety of Unger's practice and highlight key works as culminating examples of her material experimentation.
 
According to a press release, rising to prominence in the downtown New York art scene in the 1980s and 1990s, Mary Ann Unger (1945–1998) was skilled in graphic composition, watercolor, large-scale conceptual sculpture, and environmentally-responsive, site-specific interventions. An unabashed feminist, Unger was acknowledged as a pioneer of neo-expressionist sculptural form. 
 
"To Shape a Moon from Bone" reexamines the formal and cultural intricacies of Unger's oeuvre, as well as the critical environmental themes suffusing her monumental installations. The exhibition repositions Unger within and against the male dominated New York sculpture scene in the last decades of the twentieth century.
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