Adams Town Meeting Passes $17.6M Budget, Greylock Glen Funding

By Sabrina DammsiBerkshires Staff
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Town meeting members spent nearly three hours passing this year's town meeting warrant.
ADAMS, Mass. — Town meeting members on Wednesday passed all articles on the warrant during an almost three-hour-long meeting, including a $17.6 million budget and the transfer of $150,000 from stabilization to lower the tax rate. 
Drawing the most interest from the 108 meeting members was Articles 4, which raised stipends for elected officials, and 20, a bylaw change that no longer requires an officer to man the front desk at the police station. 
Town meeting also approved expenses related to the operations of the new Outdoor Center at the Greylock Glen, including the half-year salary for a director expected to be hired at the end of the year once the facility opens. 
Article 4 was amended to correct an error and significantly raised the stipends for the Board of Selectmen. The chair will now receive $2,000 a year, up from $300, and board members $1,200, up from $300. In addition, the chair of the Board of Health will received $1,386 and members $924. The Cemetery Commission rates were nearly doubled from $350 to $500 for the chairman and $300 to $500 for members. 
Selectman Joseph Nowak had advocated for this at the first review of the budget in March and had made this request last year. However, he did not call to hold it. 
Donald Sommer, a former member of the Selectmen, agreed with Nowak and claimed that when  he was on the board as chairman and received about $1,800 it "pretty much" covered the cost of transportation to select board and state meetings. 
He made a motion to amend the article to increase the stipend. 
The stipends had been reduced across the board as a part of cost-cutting measures at the beginning of the pandemic, which also included furloughing town employees for months. The Selectmen had initially been cool to the idea of bringing the numbers back up. 
The changes in the stipend resulted in an increase for the personnel services line item bringing it to $7,238,83 and will cost about roughly 2 cents increase on the tax rate. 
Meeting members also voted to amend the Assessors, the treasurer/collector and town clerk's salary and compensation to $76,501 to reflect 2.5 percent raises and the part-time assessors had their stipends raised to $1,800 from $300.
They also approved the rewording of the "Powers and duties of the chief of Police; presence of officers within the Town" bylaw after a lengthy discussion. It means that an officer will no longer have to be assigned to the front desk at the police station 24 hours a day.
This change will provide the chief more flexibility in addressing the overtime burden that losing reserve officers has caused and will allow him to have more officers on the street. 
Concerns regarding this change was the possibility of a "dark station." Members wanted to ensure that there was someone at the station in the case a resident went there in need of assistance and wondered if it had been thought through.
"This has been incredibly thought through and talked about persistently since I showed up as town administrator in March of 2019, said Town Administrator Jay Green. 
Chief K. Scott Kelley had requested the change, telling the Selectmen and Finance Committee several months ago that it locks up his sergeants who could be better used on the streets and mentoring younger officers. 
"In the almost three years that I've been here, I think that I've proven that my focus is only on this police department," Kelley said. "I want what's best for this department."
Members were told a yes vote did not mean no one would be at the station, but that it wouldn’t necessarily be an officer there 24 hours. 
"We are restricted by this bylaw with regard to the staffing. What we are asking is to give flexibility to the Police Department to staff the department in the way that we need to in 2023," Selectwoman Christina Hoyt said. 
Hoyt added that she often hears residents ask why there are not more officers on the street and this change will help with that. 
Meeting members approved the town’s $6.5 million assessment for Hoosac Valley Regional School District though meeting member Judy Taylor called the district's $21,385,195 budget "outrageous" since it only has to fund two schools and fewer than 2,000 students. 
Hoosac Valley Regional School Superintendent Aaron Dean defended his budget, listing off some of the successes including preschool and expanded programming. "I'm not going to apologize for the work that we've done because I feel like we've done great work," he said.
Meeting members also authorized the spending of $65,000 so that the town can hire and executive director for the Greylock Glen to maintain the Outdoor Center and $40,000 to keep a former community development director on at an hourly rate for special projects.  
They also authorized the appropriation of $233,000 to cover additional expenses for the Outdoor Center, including concrete testing, air testing, and the water system. 
The town had to quickly go out to bid so "these were things not anticipated when the budget was set to get that $6.5 million and then the $8.3 million [from the state]," Green said. 
The remaining articles passed with little to no discussion.

Tags: town meeting 2023,   

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Mass Audubon Sole Respondent for Greylock Glen Programmer

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff
ADAMS, Mass. — Mass Audubon was the sole respondent to the town's request for proposals to provide "place-based environmental education" at the Greylock Glen Outdoor Center.
The Lincoln-based non-profit returned an in-depth plan with a six-year project timeline. Mass Audubon was among the collaborators with the town in the early planning process for the 1,063-acre glen, of which about 50 acres is being developed. 
It notes that the programs envisioned for the center — lectures, summit hikes, school field trips, bird walks and the like — would be tailored to demand as time goes by.
"[O]ur staff are trained to utilize a community engagement approach to understand from residents and other key constituents what they hope to learn and do where we operate environmental education programming," Mass Audubon's letter of intent reads, in part. "This data helps to inform how we design and implement program portfolios that meet our desired outcomes."
Town Administrator Jay Green said Friday that town staff will review the proposal before a likely presentation from Mass Audubon to the Board of Selectmen, which will decide whether to enter into lease negotiations with the non-profit.
Mass Audubon's proposed lease agreement calls for a zero dollar annual payment to the town for a five-year period beginning April 1, 2024.
A letter signed by Mass Audubon President David O'Neill explained that the non-profit deviated from the town's request for a 10-year lease because of unknowns related to the Glen development project.
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