Hinsdale voters OK officer, highway worker; road repair article fails

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HINSDALE >> A new full-time police officer and full-time highway worker will be added to the town workforce after an annual town meeting Wednesday, which at one point became a debate on the alleged underfunding of road repairs.

With few qualms, voters approved $5.7 million budget for fiscal 2017, a 3 percent increase over the current year.

"We asked the town to make some very needed investments, and I'm encouraged by the response," Town Administrator Ryan Aylesworth said. "We tried to strike the right balance: To choose the right places to invest while being very thoughtful and fiscally prudent."

If there was any disagreement, it was that some residents actually wanted to spend more.

Resident David Kokindo said the town people's cars, and by extension, wallets, were taking a beating because of the rough shape of many Hinsdale roads.

The town, according to Kokindo and others who spoke, invests very little into its roads beyond annual Chapter 90 funds from the state.

"It's got us a town full of horrible roads," he said. "We need to get serious about our roads."

Kokindo made the argument during discussion of a citizens petition to raise and appropriate an extra $150,000 to speed repairs to the badly deteriorated East Washington and Fassel roads. Fourteen out of 27 of the culverts and crossings on East Washington must be replaced, according to town Highway Superintendent Rene Senecal.

Senecal initially said his primary need was for more manpower, which residents had already granted him when they approved the budget, which included a new full-time highway worker.

But, pressed further, Senecal did say the extra money would speed repairs on the two roads, and that he had wanted to budget an extra $25,000 in road-repair money.

Resident Paul Brown echoed Kokindo's sentiments.

"Rene's doing magic with no money," Brown said. "If we don't start dedicating some money at some time to some of these roads, we're not going to have any roads to start with."

Though garnering significant support, the article failed to win a majority. Senecal said he plans to lay a short-term layer of asphalt on the roads while the culverts get fixed this construction season, with longer-term fixes to follow.

Other warrant articles approved established a watershed protection district and a new bylaw governing solar photovoltaic installations, amended town bylaws to bar delinquent taxpayers from receiving permitting for new projects in certain situations, allowed spending on a new set of extrication equipment for the fire department and funded the early stages of a master planning process.

John Conner, a town representative on the Central Berkshire Regional School District School Committee, recommended the town reject its school assessment because the district has not been cavalier enough in cutting down budgets, in his opinion.

"I think, really, the budget needs to be voted down ... because [it] doesn't make sense," Conner said.

Nevertheless, few voters opposed the item.

Also at Wednesday's meeting, Town Meeting approved borrowing for a $250,000 replacement of a gate valve needed to control the level of Plunkett Reservoir. The item will not hit the tax rate until fiscal 2018.

Contact Phil Demers at 413-496-6214.


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