Dalton: 2022 in Review
DALTON, Mass. —In 2022 the town of Dalton saw a mixture of progress with some long standing projects delayed.
In 2022, the Town Hall renovation project was met with many obstacles causing delays and plan changes.
A special town meeting in June 2021 approved a $500,000 renovation that would improve the 1893 building's structure, electricity, and asbestos abatement, as well as other aspects of the building.
But the project was delayed when it was discovered that bats were living in the building.
That postponed any further work on the upper floors because the bats were listed as an endangered species after white-nose syndrome wiped out 6 million in New England in 2006.
During the August town meeting, residents voted to authorize the town to borrow an additional $162,477 to $200,427 for the Town Hall renovation due to unforeseen setbacks including structural issues and large amounts of asbestos in the building that needed to be removed.
It was determined that developing the third floor of the 1890 building would be a much more involved project than originally thought.
The town agreed that a visioning process was needed to determine the best course of action for the future of the town hall, whether it be a renovation, a new building, or buying or repurposing existing buildings.
The ad hoc committee will consist of a few staff members, residents, and board members. The group would establish the needs that exist now and might exist in the future
The fate of the 130-year-old Town Hall building is still undecided at the year's end but discussions are still underway in regard to the building’s future.
Similar to the town hall project, the Dalton Division Road project also met delays caused by funding challenges, COVID-19, and leadership changes.
The project was funded four years ago and went out for bid recently but came back $146,100 more than the estimated amount.
Due to leadership changes, the project fell through the cracks with many requests and tasks getting lost or not done at all.
"It's that prior leadership did not take appropriate action to move that ball forward, for whatever reasons, and then certainly COVID, but there's a lot of that not moving the ball forward at that time," Diver said during the town meeting.
The town has to wait another five years to start the project because Dalton was not ready with engineering. The state Department of Transportation and Berkshire Regional Planning Commission decided to put aside the project to make way for others that were shovel-ready.
The town now has to wait until 2027 or 2028 when TIP funding will be available.
In the interim, the town regraded the road using American Rescue Plan Act funds and $146,100 from the General Stabilization Fund as a temporary solution.
Recently the select board also voted to explore an addition to the Dalton Division Road Project that would include a sewer line 14 properties could potentially tap into after pleas from residents.
The board voted to authorize Town Manager Tom Hutcheson to utilize American Rescue Plan Act funds to pursue engineering that would add a sewer line to the Dalton Division Road project.
Engineering is slated to cost approximately $37,000. This is based on the estimated amount the project would cost. A typical engineering fee is 10 percent of the cost of the project.
Engineer Fuss and O'neil estimated that completing the sewer line would cost between $370,000 and over $400,000.
The town voted overwhelmingly in support of expanding the scope of the Wahconah Regional High School project to include a new track at an added cost of up to $45,000 a year to the town, roughly 10 cents on the tax rate.
All seven communities in the Central Berkshire Regional School District approved expanding the scope of the Wahconah Regional High School project
The cost of the new track for all the communities combined is estimated at $750,000 but $900,000 would be budgeted for contingencies.
The School Building Committee recommended including a new track to the Wahconah renovation project that was at that time $2 million under budget.
If repairs were not completed by a certain time, then the track team would have to find another track. Bussing the team would create a new operational cost.
Possible Departmental Changes
In 2022, the police department explored merging its police department with Hinsdale in an effort to relieve the strain that the state's police reform law has had on small departments.
A larger force would offer more opportunities for officers
The result of the change is that individuals would not able to keep a full-time job while being certified because of the course time requirements. To make up for the loss of the reserve officers, the chiefs have been utilizing overtime budgets but there is not enough money.
The reform bill requires all part-time officers to be certified the same as full-time officers. In an effort to certify current reserve officers, the state has created a three-year Bridge Academy.
The town hired Municipal Resources Inc., through a grant, to conduct a study to review and determine if this is an appropriate option for both towns. The consultants have also done a study for the town on municipal salaries.
Municipal Resources, Inc. (MRI) informed the Select Board that merging Hinsdale’s and Dalton’s Police Departments is feasible but does come with challenges. Both towns would have to overcome organizational structures, new costs, and potential politics, MRI senior consultant David L. Kurz said.
With the new year soon beginning the town is already looking towards the future proposing new positions and considering raises for a variety of positions in the future budget.
Town Manager Thomas Hutcheson proposed changing the assessing assistant from part-time to a 20-hour benefited position in preparation for long-term staffing.
He also recommended reinstating the 10-hour office clerk position to assist the town manager's executive assistant in some clerical and permitting duties that would allow the assistant more time for human resources, procurement, and budgeting.
Another option is hiring a graduate-level intern for $6,000 for six months to assist in capital planning, budget analysis, and various duties.
Another resource that the town could consider is creating a human resource director position in the future, projected for FY25 and starting at $60,000.
The director would create and maintain a comprehensive personnel records system, handle payroll and benefits administration, and update and review the employee handbook with department heads, among other things.
More information on the potential raises and positions here.
The town voted to approve an amended version of the accessory dwelling unit bylaw that has been in process since Oct 2020.
The bylaw was developed in part as a way to increase the amount of affordable housing in town. There were, however, concerns that the bylaw would allow investors to lock up units for short-term rentals and that it only required a simple majority to pass.
The approved amendment allows accessory dwelling units in owner-occupied properties. Town Counsel Timothy Zessin said it could pass constitutional muster if phrased correctly, but that it may be difficult to enforce.
Zack R. McCain III, Planning Board vice chairman, argued that the town should approve the bylaw as written because the amendment is not practical to enforce especially when it comes to a resident selling their home to a company.
Despite his arguments, voters passed the amendment 46-42 and then the bylaw by 56-31.
The proposed Drive through Bylaw failed 44-32 because it required a two-thirds vote to pass.
The current bylaw passed in 2008 allows for drive-throughs at banks, financial institutions, and car washes only.
The updated bylaw would have allowed drive-throughs at other primary businesses for the purpose of economic development but not in residential districts.
Many of the voters present were concerned that this bylaw would affect the design and integrity of the town and open the way for fast-food chains.
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