2 incumbents, 2 political newcomers vie for 2 seats on Dalton Select Board

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DALTON — Two Select Board incumbents are facing a challenge from two political newcomers in the upcoming town election.

The challengers both say the town needs new blood on the Select Board.

"The biggest complaint I hear from people is their voices are not being heard in Town Hall," said Marc Strout, 45, of Hemlock Hill. "It's time for fresh ideas and a new way of doing things."

The other challenger, Margaret Cahill, hit a similar note.

"Sometimes I wonder if they realize they're representing the people of the town," Cahill said. "They keep things close to the chest and there's a real lack of transparency."

Having penned a somewhat contentious citizens petition to cut the salaries and health benefits of sitting selectmen, Cahill promises to bring some fire to the campaign. The town will vote on her petition at the May 2 annual town meeting.

The top two vote-getters in the Select Board race will nab the two available seats. Polls are open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. May 9.

At a recent candidates forum, incumbent Selectmen John F. Boyle was asked "What are your qualifications to be on the Select Board?"

"I am a Select Board member," he said.

In an Eagle interview, Boyle added, "Experience matters. Absolutely."

Boyle, of East Housatonic Street, is the Select Board's senior member, finishing up his ninth year on the board. He also served another nine years on the board in the '80s.

John W. Bartels Jr., currently Select Board chairman, said he's an asset for the experience he's been getting working with the school district, on the Seven Town Advisory Committee and in regional education forums.

"I'm getting a very strong handle on how the schools work," Bartels said. "I've put the time in, and want to be a very close monitor looking ahead."

Strout, 45, a seven-year town resident, stressed the need to promote new business growth as the only means to fix the town's financial situation, as he opposes cutting services and raising taxes.

"Dalton needs to do a better job marketing itself," he said. "The town website needs to be encouraging for businesses."

A 20-year member on Pittsfield Police Department, Strout currently serves as Drug Unit Commander.

"I'm a problem solver," he said. "Negotiating compromises and working with people — that's what I do."

Boyle said as a member of the Redevelopment Authority he tries to promote business as well, and he cited goals to "streamline the permitting process and remediate contaminated properties to return them to the tax rolls."

Helping get the senior center built, revising the town's zoning bylaw and encouraging sales of town properties held in tax lien were among Boyle's stated accomplishments. He also serves as a representative on the Berkshire Metropolitan Planning Organization.

Supporting Dalton's road reconstruction projects and helping shepherd the town into the Massachusetts Green Communities Act were among Bartels' stated accomplishments.

The former town police chief wanted to continue his work with the schools and find more room in Dalton for senior housing, for which the town has a need.

Cahill, 66, a six-year resident, worked as a teacher, a social worker and for a national health care company in her career. She put the same stress on new business growth, but thought one could locate plenty of fat to trim from town budgets as well.

"Let's include people in finding solutions," she said. "There's no easy approach. I wish I had a magic wand, but I really believe more openness will generate ideas nobody's even thinking about yet."

All four candidates placed equal importance on the future use of the old Dalton High School building on First Street.

An earlier attempt to have Berkshire Housing Development Corp. convert the building into 33 units of affordable housing was shot down at a special town meeting in December, leaving the 90-year-old, long-idle building again in limbo.

Now, the town is facing options to either find an alternative redevelopment plan, sell it, or tear it down — at a cost between $700,000 and $1.3 million.

Strout and Cahill stressed the need for citizen involvement going ahead on the property — and said the lack of public awareness on the earlier attempt led to its failure.

Bartels said he's in the process of helping appoint a seven-member committee to assess the property's possibilities and what residents desire for it. He still thought it would find its best reuse as senior or affordable housing, but he was open to a sale as well.

Boyle favored selling the building, and said he would like the Select Board to hire a Realtor to help facilitate a sale.

Contact Phil Demers at 413-496-6214.


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