ADAMS — Town meeting members approved the town's spending plan and a ban on single-use plastic bags at retail stores during a sweltering annual town meeting at C.T. Plunkett Elementary School on Monday evening.
The $14.4 million fiscal 2017 budget is a 2.06 percent increase from the previous year's spending plan.
Like its neighbors Cheshire and North Adams, the town of Adams saw its health insurance costs rise sharply this year by 14 percent, a major factor in the town's costs increasing. It was buoyed, however, by an uncommon decrease in the assessment it owed the Adams Cheshire Regional School District after a painful increase the following year.
The warrant included an article to expend $130,000 from the town's free cash to make repairs to the boiler room roof at C.T. Plunkett Elementary.
One town meeting member asked why such a capital expenditure was included in the town's budget and not the school district's. Town Administrator Tony Mazzucco noted that the school district was limited in its budget this year due to fiscal constraints in Cheshire, and "at the end of the day, we still own this building."
"The roof has to be replaced, there's no other choice," Select Board Chair Jeffrey Snoonian said.
School Committee Chairman Paul Butler defended the committee's budgeting process, saying he'd love to spend more money on capital needs if the towns would agree to increase the school budget. He also said that Adams Cheshire spends less per pupil than any other district in the county.
Though the budget remains quite tight, town officials praised the funding carved out for economic development projects, most notably $65,000 for engineering and $40,000 to the community development department to plant the seeds for development at the Greylock Glen.
Decades in the making, plans for the Greylock Glen have changed hands and stalled for one reason or another, but town officials have renewed efforts in recent years and appear closer to spurring growth on the scenic property. The implementation of a meals tax and the funding reined in from it are expected to assist in that development.
Community Development Director Donna Cesan received a round of applause for her impassioned defense of the Greylock Glen funding.
Cesan reminded town meeting members that the town is now under control, through a 99-year-lease with the commonwealth, of the 60 acres of Greylock Glen land that will be developed with an eye toward tourism.
Residents often criticize the project for taking so long, Cesan said, but that's largely due to developing it on a "shoestring budget" for too long with two appropriations in town meeting during the last 12 years toward the project.
"We're at a critical point with the Greylock Glen project," Cesan said.
The budget includes several capital purchases, including new laptops for police cruisers, computers in town offices, and a redesign of the town's website.
To balance the budget, the town will utilize $105,000 from free cash, the lowest amount used in recent years. The budget also, for the first time in more than a decade, does not draw from the town's stabilization fund.
This year is also the first that the town will see a savings from utilizing the emergency dispatch services of the Berkshire County Sheriff's Office.
A proposal to ban the use of single use plastic bags at retail stores was unanimously approved by voters. The proposal was likely to have the largest impact on the Big Y Supermarket, the town's only large grocery store, but a number of smaller retailers would also fall under the ban.
Though it ultimately passed unanimously, the plastic bag ban was the subject of discussion. Town meeting members asked if retailers would make replacement bags available for free, how the enforcement process would work, and what the definition of a retailer is.
Town Moderator Ed Driscoll said that town officials did reach out to the retailers—Big Y, Rite Aid, and Dollar General—who would be affected by the proposed ban.
"All three of them said, we don't care what you do because our corporations have already reacted to the cities and towns and Massachusetts that have done it already," Driscoll said.
Polystyrene, commonly known as Styrofoam, was not included in the ban, Driscoll said, because restaurant suppliers told town officials that the industry would likely provide it's own alternative to the material within the next year. The new rules will take effect next spring and leave the enforcement process up to Board of Health. A violation will be punishable by up to $50 per day. A second violation is punishable by up to $100 per day and a third can be met with a $150-per-day fine.
A similar but farther reaching ban was proposed at the 2015 annual town meeting but failed to win the support of town officials and was shot down by voters.
Contact Adam Shanks at 413-496-6376