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Williamstown will again hold its town meeting in the Mount Greylock Regional gymnasium as it has the past two years. The meeting day is Thursday, May 23.

Same Place, New Day for Williamstown Town Meeting 2024

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff
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WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The New England town meeting — steeped in tradition — has been far from traditional in the Village Beautiful over the last five years.
 
In 2020, the May annual town meeting was pushed off until August and held outside due to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
 
In 2021, it again was held outside and in June on Williams College's Weston Field. And the town used a rain date, moving it from its traditional Tuesday to Wednesday evening.
 
In 2022, the Select Board moved the meeting back indoors on its traditional third Tuesday in May, but continued concerns about social distancing forced perhaps the shortest meeting on record. The planned meeting was immediately adjourned by an overwhelming vote of the attendees to June 14 and moved from the elementary school to the much larger Mount Greylock Regional School gym.
 
In 2023, the meeting was back at Mount Greylock and back on the third Tuesday in May. But the traditional raising of hands (with cards) was replaced by the clicking of electronic voting devices.
 
This year? Clickers are back, and the meeting will be in May at the Mount Greylock gym.
 
But the meeting day is a Thursday, May 23.
 
A scheduling conflict at the high school gym forced the Select Board to move the day of the meeting. Barring any unforeseen circumstances, it will gavel in at 7 p.m. that evening at 1781 Cold Spring Road (Route 7).
 
Town meeting members will tackle a 42-item warrant, though one of the articles has been withdrawn by the town body that created it prior to the meeting.
 
As usual, the biggest chunk of the warrant is a series of fiscal measures needing to pass in order for the town to continue operating in the fiscal year that begins on July 1.
 
Articles 3 through 16 relate to annual town financial operations. The two biggest are Articles 5 and 15, which relate to capital spending and general government operations, respectively.
 
Each was reviewed in great detail by the town's Finance Committee this winter.
 
Members of the Fin Comm pushed hard to hold the line on town spending increases and strongly signaled to the public schools that they should do likewise. The result was an FY25 budget (town and school) that projects an increase of about 1 percent in the amount of money that will need to be raised from property taxes.
 
Article 17 also is fiscal in nature, but it is a small, one-time ask to the meeting to approve a $588.74 appropriation to pay an invoice that the town received in April 2021 for work completed in fiscal year 2020.
 
Articles 18 and 19 both are more familiar to town meeting attendees and relate to financing for education. They seek the meeting's approval to pay Williamstown's assessments from the Northern Berkshire Vocational and Mount Greylock Regional School Districts, respectively.
 
The former, McCann Tech, is up by 25.6 percent from FY24, but that does not add much to the town's bottom line as the total assessment is still just $326,687; the increase is directly tied to increased enrollment by town residents in the regional school. The latter, the K-12 Mount Greylock district, has an assessment of $13.8 million, up by 3.9 percent from the current fiscal year.
 
Articles 20-26 relate to the Community Preservation Act, under which Williamstown property owners pay a 2 percent surcharge on their property tax levy (with the first $100,000 of valuation exempted).
 
Articles 21 through 25 deal with the five requests for CPA funding that the town's Community Preservation Committee vetted this winter. Some of the funding for the FY25 CPA allocations, if approved by Thursday's meeting, will come from unspent CPA funds in prior years that the committee reclaimed, as with an FY13 grant of money to the town's Affordable Housing Committee, which no longer exists (Article 22).
 
Article 26 is not an appropriation but a change to the town's CPA bylaw, adding a "resident of the Town" seat to the board to replace the position formerly held by the town manager, who participated in this winter's CPC meetings but not as a voting member.
 
Articles 27-29 are the allocations of town funds to three non-profits that have received funding from the town in the past. One of the requests, from the Williamstown Community Preschool, is identical to the FY24 request approved by the meeting. One, to the Williamstown Chamber of Commerce, is up from $50,000 to $55,000 (10 percent) to support the Chamber's work in promoting the town. A third, to the Williamstown Youth Center, is down by 28 percent from the amount allocated last spring, but that decrease is at the request of the WYC itself, whose funding the Finance Committee supported at the full level requested.
 
Articles 30-32 are new and, in some cases, a long time coming.
 
They deal with revisions to the town's charter, which has not had a major revision since 1956, if you leave out the 2022 vote to eliminate gender-specific language in the document.
 
Article 30 on Thursday's warrant similarly "modernizes" the foundational governing document and brings it in line with current practices and bylaws passed since the charter was adopted. Articles 31 and 32 are arguably more substantive.
 
Article 31 creates a recall provision for elected officials. It would require a two-stage petition process to get a recall election before the voters. Residents would need at least 200 signatures from registered voters in town to obtain an official application for a recall election; then they would need a petition signed by at least 10 percent of the town's registered voters (currently, a little more than 500 signatures) to force the vote.
 
Article 32 would create a mechanism for enforcement that the original charter lacks. This topic was the subject of considerable debate after the ad hoc Charter Review Committee made its final recommendations to the Select Board this spring. The discussions continued after the town meeting warrant was sealed and sent to the printer, and those talks yielded significant amendments to the version in the printed warrant. A photocopied version of the amended language will be inserted into the warrants distributed on Thursday evening at the middle-high school.
 
Articles 33 and 34 are not charter amendments — which need passage both by town meeting and the legislature and Boston — but bylaw changes that grew out of the Charter Review Committee's deliberations.
 
Article 33 changes the deadline to submit warrant articles — either by citizens petition or from a town board or committee — to make sure there is adequate time for discussion at the Select Board level before the warrant is sealed. It also creates a role for the Select Board in the town's budget process by requiring the elected body to discuss with the town manager its budget priorities for the coming fiscal year by Nov. 15 each year.
 
Article 34 would create a bylaw that requires the Select Board to name a charter review committee at least every 10 years (starting in 2034) to ensure the document does not go another 70 years without a major review.
 
Articles 35-38 are a series of targeted property tax relief measures initiated by the Select Board: the adoption of a low-income exemption for the CPA surcharge; an expansion of the financial eligibility requirements for the existing senior property tax exemption; an expansion of the senior property tax exemption by opening it to residents under the age of 65; and the creation of a means tested senior property tax exemption. None of the proposed measures would impact the town's property tax levy; instead, they would shift some of that tax burden away from lower-income residents.
 
The latter three articles are home rule petitions, which, like the charter revisions, will be sent to Beacon Hill for approval if town meeting votes in favor.
 
Article 39 comes from the Planning Board, which has spent the last couple of years discussing and developing a "Cottage Housing Bylaw," that essentially would allow greater density in the General Residence zoning district by allowing, "a collection of densely spaced small single-family or duplex structures, arranged around a common area or areas, developed under a single land development plan."
 
The meeting may be able to take a breather when it gets to Article 40, which, as printed in the warrant, seeks to transfer control of the Spruces Park on Main Street to the Conservation Commission. The Con Comm, which drafted the warrant article, later voted to ask town meeting to refer the article to committee.
 
Article 41 on the warrant comes to the meeting via citizens petition and would amend a bylaw passed just last May regarding what can be flown on town flag poles. The article passed last year limited those poles to three flags: the American Flag, the flag of the commonwealth and the POW/MIA Flag. Article 41 would add the Progress Pride flag to the list of approved flags as a "meaningful gesture of respect, support and recognition of the LGBTQ+ individuals and allies with the Town of Williamstown."
 
Article 42 also is on the warrant via citizens petition. It seeks to have the town permanently conserve as open space a 1.2-acre parcel the town acquired in 2004 using Community Preservation Act funds. Town Manager Robert Menicocci said on May 16 that he has had discussions with the person who filed the petition and assured them the town will seek a conservation restriction on the parcel in question.
 
"I believe they are satisfied and will request withdrawal [from the floor of the meeting]," Menicocci wrote in an email.

Tags: annual town meeting,   fiscal 2025,   williamstown_budget,   

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Mount Greylock Super Taking Principal Job in Great Barrington

WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — After years of leading school districts, Jason "Jake" McCandless is taking a step back to focus on a single school.
 
Mount Greylock Regional's superintendent will take over as principal at W.E.B. Du Bois Regional Middle School in Great Barrington on July 1, according to a report in the Berkshire Edge.
 
McCandless tendered his resignation last month from Mount Greylock after four years at the helm and just one year into his current contract. He had previously been superintendent of the Pittsfield Public Schools and in Lee. 
 
The Berkshire Edge reports the Berkshire Hills Regional School District announced the hiring via press release on Friday morning. 
 
Du Bois Principal Miles Wheat has taken a job in the Chatham, N.Y., school district less than a year after being appointed. Du Bois Middle School has an enrollment of about 350. 
 
McCandless was lauded by the outgoing class of 2024 at Mount Greylock's graduation ceremonies on Saturday. 
 
On Thursday, McCandless again declined the opportunity to explain why he suddenly resigned mid-contract from the Lanesbourgh-Williamstown school district.

Instead, he reiterated previous statements about how grateful he was for the opportunity to work in the Mount Greylock school system.

"Right now, I believe someone else is better suited, skilled and equipped to do that work here," McCandless wrote on the last day of school for students in the Mount Greylock district.

He did not answer a follow-up email asking why someone else is "better suited."

In his initial Thursday email, McCandless said he was comfortable with the idea that people in Lanesborough and Williamstown will fabricate their own reasons for his abrupt departure absent an explanation from him.

"Folks will create the narrative that works for them, with or without my version being on the record," McCandless wrote.

He also concluded his Thursday, June 13, email with the following statement.

"I am not sure what or where is next – but I leave the MGRSD Community nothing but gratitude," McCandless wrote.

By Friday morning, the Berkshire Hills Regional School District was announcing McCandless' hiring.
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