Dalton Planning Board Works to Update Special Permit Fees

By Sabrina DammsiBerkshires Staff
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DALTON, Mass. — The Planning Board is navigating how to update its special permit fees to bring them up to date with the current costs of services. 
During the board meeting last week, Town Planner Janko Tomasic said the cost of completing the services is higher than what it costs to take action on the application.
The current application fee charged by the Board of Appeals and the Planning Board is $375. 
This fee is intended to cover the cost of labor, time, materials, postage for the certified abutters list for abutter notification, postage for the certified mail for the notice of the decision, and two Berkshire Eagle legal advertisements for the public hearing.
"According to the data, the base cost for a permit application is barely enough to cover the cost of the application process," according to Tomasic's special-permit costs breakdown. 
Based on the last six permits, the least expensive permit is $414 to complete because of the increase in cost for the steps in the permit process.   
The flat certified mail fee for eight letters is $69.52, which covers the cost of certified mail to abutting towns, the applicant, and notice of the decision to the applicant
The abutters list is $25, and two legal advertisements in The Berkshire Eagle is $268.40.
Board members asked if there was another paper they could use with a cheaper legal advertisement fee. 
The Berkshire Eagle is the only place to legally advertise as public notices are required by law to be posted in a print newspaper. The town can not just do online advertisements, Tomasic said. 
"We can't unfortunately advertise anywhere else. So, I'm exploring those options. I think, right now, we're legally tied to The Berkshire Eagle. We can't just do online advertisements. I'm not quite sure why. I didn't get a straight answer on that, but I spoke to [Town Manager Tom Hutcheson,] and he said for right now, we have to do The Berkshire Eagle,"
"So when there are other chances to switch where we can legally advertise. I think that would be a good thing to do. But as of right now, can't we're kind of stuck with The Berkshire Eagle.' 
These base expenses leave only $12.19 for the postage for the Notice of Public Hearing letters. 
The town is legally required to send a Notice of Public Hearing letter to all abutters within 300 feet of the property.
Over the years, materials and services have been rising in cost, including the fees for The Eagle advertisements, postage, and the two different fees for an abutters list. It is unclear when the town last updated its fees.
"The general public pays $50 for a certified abutters list, while a special permit or variance applicant only pays $25," the cost-breakdown sheet states.
"The current fee the Town of Dalton has for its applications is not reflective of the actual cost of the materials, work, and time needed to go through the process."
If the town does not address this, it will become a problem for the town budget, Tomasic said. 
He proposed two potential solutions: a tiered system in which the number of abutters is separated into ranges, and there is a set fee for each range or a set fee with an additional cost of $8.69 per abutter. 
In a follow-up, Tomasic said he prefers the second option because it is more accurate to the cost of services. 
When looking at what other towns are doing, they have a flat fee and an additional charge for the cost of postage for abutter notification, he told the Planning Board. 
The board directed Tomasic to draft an updated special permit application with this new fee system for the board to review at its next meeting. 

Tags: fees,   Planning Board,   

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Two People Shot in Downtown Pittsfield

iBerkshires.com Staff
PITTSFIELD, Mass. -- Two people were shot and wounded near North Street on Friday in an incident police are saying is "not a random act," the Berkshire County District Attorney's Office said on Friday evening.
The victims were shot on Friday afternoon in the area of North Street and Bradford Street, according to a news release from the DA's office. Both were transported to Berkshire Medical Center, where they are being treated for their injuries.
The Pittsfield Police Department is investigating the shootings, the office said.
"Based on preliminary investigations, Pittsfield Police believe this was not a random act and that there is no immediate danger to the public," the news release reads. "However, as a suspect has not been identified, law enforcement encourages the public to remain vigilant and report any suspicious activity to police."
It was the second reported shooting in the city this week. On Thursday, a city man was charged with murder in Tuesday's death of another Pittsfield resident on Fenn Street.
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