Wednesday May 9, 2012

WEST STOCKBRIDGE -- Town Meeting approved a trial-run expansion of police shifts, a right-to-farm bylaw, and a stabilization fund for the Berkshire Regional School District's capital spending.

The town's proposed $4.6 million spending plan for fiscal 2013 passed with minimal discussion, said Town Clerk Ronni Barrett. Monday night's meeting attracted 92 voters.

Several people questioned a four-month trial of additional overnight police coverage, as well as a new patrol shift from 4 p.m. to midnight on Sundays. They wondered whether the town was experiencing a "crime wave," said Barrett.

Chief Thomas Rubino explained that he was seeking to be "proactive" to ensure local control and prompt response times in case of need. When the local department is unmanned, state police from Lee cover the town, but in an emergency, they could be delayed if they were assigned to a distant town such as Mount Washington.

Longtime downtown merchant Joe Roy cited the immediate department response when a mid-evening fire broke out on April 25, damaging the Public Market and threatening nearby buildings. Two local officers, Joe Bastow and Phil Smit, rescued a resident from the building's second-floor ledge.

Roy also mentioned several recent area break-ins before voters approved the experimental staffing changes.

Voters gave police and volunteer firefighters prolonged applause and a standing ovation as Roy credited them for a "rapid response that saved the downtown" from a potential conflagration.


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Several current farm owners questioned the right-to-farm bylaw proposed by a citizens' petition with 100 signatures.

But petitioner Jon Piasecki and Administrative Assistant Mark Webber assured them that the pro-agriculture bylaw reaffirming state laws would have no impact on existing local zoning regulations.

All 41 articles passed on a voice vote, Barrett said. A procedural article allowing the town to "aggreggate" electricity and reduce monthly bills for residential and business users was questioned by resident Chris Vreeland, who cited possible complications.

But Webber pointed out that the idea is only a possibility. Extensive public input would be considered if it moves forward, and any user could "opt out" of a townwide power agreement, Webber said.

To reach Clarence Fanto:
cfanto@berkshireeagle.com or
(413) 496-6247.
On Twitter: @BE_cfanto