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Clarksburg Officials Preparing for Debt Exclusion Questions
By Tammy Daniels, iBerkshires Staff
01:32AM / Thursday, April 04, 2019
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Clarksburg officials and employees meet on Wednesday morning to discuss how best to present a plan for a debt exclusion.


The Select Board is considering one or two information sessions
to explain the need for a debt exclusion. 
CLARKSBURG, Mass. — Elected officials are preparing for information sessions to lay out to voters the need for a debt exclusion to borrow $1 million over five years. 
 
The town is hoping to use that money to address numerous needs for roads, buildings, equipment and the infrastructure at the elementary school. The money would be equally split at $500,000 for the town and $500,000 for the school.  
 
"We need to have a good concrete plan to present to the voters," said Select Board Chairman Ronald Boucher at a meeting held Wednesday morning with school officials, Finance Committee members and department heads.  "Maybe have one, two informational meetings for the voters of what we want to do and how it will affect the tax rate."
 
Officials have been mulling over a borrowing to address numerous capital and infrastructure needs for the town and school that can't be accomplished through the annual operating budget. 
 
"Everybody in the room knows the revenue is just not there. Do I think it will fix all the infrastructure issues in town, no," said Finance Committee Chairman Mark Denault, adding that "hopefully, we can do a major portion of the things if the town approves it but it's really revenue versus cost."
 
Boucher wants to put together a priority list and the costs for each item so voters will be able to see exactly where the money is going and what each project will cost. 
 
The current estimate is that $1 million in borrowing would add $1.50 to $1.75 on the tax rate. However, the borrowing would be authorized through a debt exclusion so it would end at five years and have no permanent effect on the tax rate. 
 
Every dollar on the tax rate raises about $112,000 in revenue. Some other debt will be falling off that would reduce the rate by about 30 to 35 cents. 
 
Voters would have to approve a debt exclusion by ballot and the borrowing at town meeting or a special town meeting. 
 
The one thing Select and Finance members were adamant on was that voters be fully informed and that they would be able to see a result from their investment. 
 
"That's the educational part of it for the residents: Is what we're doing for five years going to make a significant enough difference," Denault said. "What are we doing after that five years, what are we doing for 10 years, let's have an answer for that."
 
Highway Foreman Kyle Hurlbut said the roads, the Department of Public Works garage and equipment are a priority for his department. 
 
"Middle Road, for example, we can do a mile and a quarter of that for $500,000, right off the bat," he said. "Or we could take a $100,000 and put it on overlays and buy us another five years. ... The capital price of a truck this year is $230,000. We have a 19-year-old truck, it's costing us money."
 
The town garage is tight and would take about a $100,000 to expand it, he said. "I've looked at more efficient ways with our snow removal but I can't fit that equipment in my shop, so I've asked for the $100,000 grand to make my shop bigger so I can purchase this equipment."
 
Boucher said his focus was to ensure that employees had the equipment to help them work more efficiently. "If we've got money coming in, let's invest it to make us better," he said. 
 
Police Chief Michael Williams said the Police Department would be needing to replace its two cruisers in a few years and officers' protective vests. 
 
Town Administrator Carl McKinney said the Fire Department had submitted a request for a new fire truck in the near future that would cost $425,000.
 
"It's pretty clear we can't afford it at this point," he said. He suggested that some of the borrowing be set aside for equipment, perhaps 10 percent of the cost. The town could create accounts toward the DPW truck, firetruck and police cruiser totaling about $100,000. 
 
"This would put us on a path toward getting toward those goals," McKinney said, and leave $400,000 for the town. "We wouldn't be able to accomplish those purchases immediately but we would be on the path."  
 
Hurlbut said he understood what McKinney was saying but it didn't make sense to put money to aside when it could be spent on what was needed now. By the time enough was saved up, other equipment's going to be gone, he said. 
 
The school has significant issues that a group of volunteers has been trying to address. The priority issues right now, said Northern Berkshire School Union Superintendent John Franzoni, is the roof, the boilers, security/safety and Americans with Disabilities Act compliance. 
 
James Stakenas, a member of the Finance Committee, said the school was in the unusual position that it also needed a longer priority list because there was some grants or state funding that may — or may not — cover some of those items. 
 
Tom Bona, one of the volunteers working on the school, said he could provide a lengthy list of needs far beyond what the stated priorities are. The group's also getting to the point, he said, that contractors will have to be brought in to address some projects because of warranties and guarantees.
 
The town has pledged to use around $82,000 of its Green Communities Act grant toward the boilers; new bids for that project will be opened next week after the first round came in far above estimate. 
 
Principal Tara Barnes said the school with the help of Williams had applied for a safe-schools grant of $35,000 that could address the elementary school's entrance. Barnes said they should know next week if selected.
 
The town's also hoping the governor will release a $500,000 earmark to do the roof on the main structure. 
 
"I think they are waiting for us to show our local commitment to the school," Franzoni said, feeling the passage of the debt exclusion would signal that support. "That as a town, we're committed to fixing this."
 
But he cautioned that even if all the grants come through, the ADA requirements could eat up everything else. 
 
The extensive needs for the school were outlined two years ago during the vote for a school building project. Voters rejected the $19 million renovation and addition feeling the cost was prohibitive but town officials promised a "Plan B."
 
"This is a five-year plan. The good citizens of the town are in the driver's seat of what did you want to the town to look like," said McKinney of the debt exclusion. "We said we'd come back with Plan B. This is Plan B."
 
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