Sunday August 12, 2012

LENOX -- Eighty million dollars. That’s the bullseye the town is facing for its long-range needs over the next decade for public safety departments, sewer system, municipal buildings and other services.

"The numbers are staggering, any way you look at them," said Selectman John McNinch.

The figure was compiled by Finance Committee member Lucy Kennedy and her colleagues after sifting through expected upgrades, rebuilds, new equipment and other capital expenses. At the same time, the Select Board has been holding workshop sessions to focus on setting priorities and evaluating financing options.

"The board was so busy putting out brushfires that we never got to really look at the challenges," said Select Board member David Roche, referring to contentious issues that consumed the energies of the board last year and earlier this year. "I think we’ve made some good progress identifying them and not sweeping them under the rug. At least we’re now going down the right road on this."

Referring to the $80 million challenge, Roche noted that "we’ve got to know what we can delay and what we have to generate money for."

"Some of the things we’ve brought up might not fit into the 10-year plan and might have to be pushed out further," said Select Board Chairman Kenneth Fowler at the past week’s meeting.

With an expected $20 million expense to upgrade the town’s aging sewer system and its 100-year-old pipes, and to comply with federal anti-pollution requirements, Roche touted the possibility of regionalization with Pittsfield "which could save us a significant amount of money."

"If we recognize the problem now, we can come up with alternatives and make the right choices," he added.

"This is a lot to think about, a lot of new directions we may have to take," Selectman Edward Lane said.

However, among the most manageable costs in the School Department’s five-year capital plan is a roof replacement for Lenox Memorial Middle and High School and new controls to replace obsolete equipment on heating, ventilation and air-conditioning units at Morris Elementary School -- well under $1 million for both.

Roche noted that "at this time of year tempers get frayed and people get upset," but the hotel-motel and meals taxes are generating funds and the town has been especially crowded this summer.

"As a resident, I have to drive around the block two or three times before I can get a parking place," Roche said, "but also I know those people are spending money in our restaurants and shops, and that’s ultimately going to help our town. We’ve had a busy, busy summer, no doubt about that."

"There’s a huge influx of people," said Fowler, citing 75th-anniversary events at Tanglewood, "and that can only mean more revenue for us. It brings problems, frays tempers but in the end we reap a lot of benefit from the tourists. We just have to somehow make this work."

"It’s our industry," Roche added.

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