Lanesborough voters approve 3 percent spending hike


LANESBOROUGH — Town voters approved a $10.91 million fiscal 2017 budget, instated new fees against faulty fire and security alarms and empowered town officials to acquire properties along the route of a planned Ashuwillticook Rail Trail extension.

With a 3 percent increase over last year, the budget, approved with few qualms by voters Tuesday at annual town meeting, was mostly level but did include several investments and safeguards.

"It's a tough budget time; it's a unique budget time, and I think it gets us through and we do have the safety of the stabilization account," Town Manager Paul Sieloff said at the meeting.

New investments in the budget included an $80,000 Department of Public Works truck, a new police cruiser and a snowmobile for the Fire Department, were enabled via a virtual exhaustion of the town's $312,000 in certified free cash.

"I think you're cutting it real close," resident Donald Dermyer said in response to this.

Sieloff said the town's stabilization account presently holds more than $650,000 — which will cover unexpected costs — and he hopes to add to it in future years, following an auditor's advice to grow it beyond $1 million.

In contrast, Sieloff said, free cash ought to be exhausted each year — to use for investments.

The budget also provided for setting aside $200,000 in an overlay account — a safeguard against the possible results of ongoing negotiations between the Berkshire Mall and the Massachusetts Appellate Tax Board.

In this, the mall ownership is arguing that the value of its property is worth substantially less than the $31.5 million town assessment as a result of the recent closure of anchor stores Macy's and Best Buy.

Every $1 million the mall loses in assessed value would cost Lanesborough $20,000 in annual tax revenue.

The budget contained an increase of 10 percent in health insurance costs and the first $362,287 payment on the Mount Greylock Regional High School construction project.

Sieloff estimated the spending plan will increase the town's fiscal 2016 tax rate of $19.36 to $20.59 per $1,000 valuation. If these figures prove accurate, the average single family home tax bills will go up 6.3 percent — roughly $265, from $4,193 to $4,463 — in fiscal 2017.

The Mount Greylock project debt will account for 4.5 of the projected 6.3 percent increase in the average projected tax bill.

Town voters approved the $64.8 million Mount Greylock High School renovation and new construction project in March, culminating a 10-year effort to replace or renovate the 56-year-old facility.

Town taxpayers will be responsible for 32.3 percent of the local cost, or about $10.6 million, while the Massachusetts School Building Authority has pledged $33.2 million. Williamstown will pick up the remainder, or about $22.3 million.

In total, the approved budget contains an increase of roughly $500,000.

Elsewhere at the meeting, town voters after some debate approved a new bylaw establishing a $100 service fee for misfiring security and fire alarms, provided the homeowner does not comply with certain provisions.

Voters also lent strong support to a warrant article giving town officials the authority to purchase or otherwise acquire land along the route of where an Ashuwillticook Rail Trail extension would go.

One article the town did shoot down was a proposal to see the town "become a member of the Berkshire County Mosquito Control Project for a five-year period."

Residents objected on the grounds that they did not want chemicals being sprayed in the town, even at the expense of suffering more of the pests.

Finally, voters agreed to allow a ballot question at annual town election that would make town cemetery commissioners appointed rather than elected. The annual town election will be held on June 21.

"I can see pros and cons either way," said Mary Reilly, chairwoman of the cemetery Wommission.

"I think it's a good idea and I don't think it'll be a major change," Sieloff said.

Contact Phil Demers at 413-496-6214.


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