|Clarksburg Town Meeting OKs $5.1M Budget, Passes All Warrant Articles|
|By Tammy Daniels, iBerkshires Staff|
12:22PM / Thursday, June 01, 2023
|Clarksburg town meeting votes in favor of an amended article transferring funds from the stabilization account. Voters approved all articles on the warrant during the nearly two-hour meeting. |
Town Clerk Marilyn Gomeau takes the role of moderator for the annual town meeting at Clarksburg School on Wednesday.
CLARKSBURG, Mass. — Voters at town meeting on Wednesday swiftly passed $5.1 million in spending for the next fiscal year with no discussion.
But other articles, including a proposal to open the town's capped landfill to a solar operator, prompted some debate and amendments from the floor.
All 24 business articles passed during the nearly two-hour meeting attended by 67 voters. Town Clerk Marilyn Gomeau was elected as moderator for the meeting because Ronald Boucher, re-elected Tuesday by write-in votes, was unable to attend.
Town meeting approved a school budget of $2,838,417.24, up 2 percent over this year; the town's operating budget of $1,880,046, up $63,561, and the McCann Technical School assessment of $383,921, up $70,875 or 18 percent over this year.
But voters raised concerns over an article that gave the Select Board the authority to enter into a 20-year lease with an operator of a solar array.
Several voters questioned why there wasn't more public participation, how much the town might make and if the array would be by right since it the town land was in the solar overlay district.
Town Administrator Carl McKinney said any array would have to have a building permit and would have to go before the Planning Board if that was required, in response to questions from Planner Karin Robert. But he couldn't say how much the array would bring in, though he had heard rumors of how much was possible. He pointed out that it would create two revenue streams for the town through leasing the land and the personal property tax on the equipment.
Several voters pressed for more public input, including waiting until a bid was in hand before taking a vote on the article. McKinney said no business would be interested if its proposal had to go through a public vote.
"We are near our levy capacity limit," he said. "We have a structural deficit to the tune of $200,000. ... You can vote yea, you can vote nay, but at some point there will have to be a decision on where to cut further."
Dan Tanner motioned to amend Article 17 to include that a public hearing would be held prior to the Select Board's signing any agreement to gauge the wishes of the community. The Select Board members in attendance, Robert Norcross and Dan Haskins, indicated that they had no problem with the amendment.
"We just want ensure we're taking the time to do the proper things," said Planning Board member Erin Scott.
Tanner added that he thought the solar overlay district should be revisited, noting everything west of the school was allowed but everything east was not.
"I do believe this is something we need to address," he said. "If you have the required setback and put in suitable screening you should be allowed .... a private citizen should also be allowed to do so."
Voters also amended Article 23, a request to transfer $231,000 from the town's stabilization account to reduce the tax rate, to ensure it would be replenished. The transfer will basically deplete the account until several years of free cash can be certified.
Danielle Luchi motioned to amend the article to read that "when free cash is certified, whatever funds are available will go back into stabilization." There was some talk about whether all the free cash should go in but the amendment and the article passed easily.
Voters also approved the establishment of a revolving fund account for fine and forfeitures to fund police training and equipment, and the creation of a special stabilization account for monies from the opioid settlements. The town will be getting some funds annually over the next 15 years as part of the state's lawsuit and town meeting authorized transferring $6,773.94 into the account from stabilization.
McKinney explained that there had been conflicting instructions from Boston on how to account the funds but then Attorney General and now Gov. Maura Healey had indicated they should be segregated from general funds. This will allow the town to better track how much it has; the funds can only be used for recovery, harm reduction, treatment and prevention.
Voters also approved the establishment of an agricultural commission on a citizen's petition submitted by Martha Tanner. Robert asked why the commission would be appointed by the Select Board rather than elected like other town boards and commissions. Tanner said the rules and guidelines for agriculture commissions are set by the state's Department of Agriculture.
"It was showing that it was appointed by select boards. Lanesborough just instituted one, two years ago and ... I basically followed their protocol," Tanner said. "It is kind of unusual, but that's how it's done."
Voters also gave the OK to cleaning up and updating language in the zoning bylaws (approved last year but not certified by the AG's office because a public hearing had not been held) and the Council on Aging; two zoning changes reduced lot size from a third of an acre to a quarter in where sewer and water were available and halved the road frontage in Upland Conservation District to 125 feet in an effort to "tweak" the state's formula for payments in lieu of taxes to get more money. The district is largely state forest that McKinney said would bring in $264,000 in private hands; the state's last PILOT was $26,000.
Finally, town meeting voted to move the town election from the last Tuesday to the second Tuesday in May. Gomeau said she requested this because the Monday Memorial Day holiday made setting up for the election difficult and "disenfranchised" voters because there were two days — Friday and Monday — when they could not return absentee votes. Town meeting will remain on the fourth Wednesday.
Under "other business," Eric Booth asked that the Select Board resume evening meetings because it is difficult for residents to attend meetings being held in the morning or early afternoon, as has been the case since last year. Several other voters agreed with him that there should better options for participation. McKinney said the hours were adjusted to accommodate the board members and that it has been rare for any residents to attend meetings for years.
Norcross said the board would discuss the matter at its next meeting,
In closing, Gomeau said she was disheartened by the lack of names on Tuesday's town election ballot.
"It doesn't take a whole lot to take papers out and run for office," she said. "I find it very disheartening when I see offices that are all blank. ...
"You have a small little town, you have a nice little community here. ... I think it's important people in the community get more involved."
She also thanked town meeting for "being patient with me because moderator is not my job" and received a round of applause.