Overflow crowd approves Stockbridge town budget

Editor's note: This story was modified on May 20, 2014 to correct the first name of Selectman Stephen Schatz, who was incorrectly named John Schatz in the earlier version.

STOCKBRIDGE -- An overflow crowd at Monday's annual town meeting approved, with near unanimity, a total town budget of $10,536,353, which represented an increase of 0.7 percent over this year.

With cars parked up and down Main and Elm streets, several hundred voters crammed into the former Plain School gymnasium; so many that the town ran out of warrants and voting cards.

The most debated issue of the evening was the line item listing $162,000 in "selectmen's expenses." At least $120,000 of which has been set aside to cover potential legal fees in anticipation of a lawsuit from former town employee Scott Muir, disputing his dismissal.

Muir was found not guilty in March of a total of 19 counts in connection with alleged sexual assaults while he was working as a counselor at the former Plain School.

The selectmen dismissed Muir following the trial from his posts as the town's facilities manager and emergency services director.

Monday night, resident John Hart noted that voting to appropriate the funds in anticipation of a trial "makes a farce of the legal system."

He pointed out that "a legal source" told him that "not one juror believed any of those five girls [Muir was accused of assaulting.]"

In response to another question from resident Alan Wilkin, Selectman Chairman Stephen Schatz admitted that [the selectmen] "were bound by confidentiality," regarding details of the case.

"It's easy for people to speculate," he said. "But we believe our judgment was correct, based on the information we had at the time."

Muir was not at the meeting.

The rest of the budget generated a variety of technical and financial questions. The largest line item in the budget, the town's $2.4 million assessment to the Berkshire Hills Regional School District, was passed with little comment.

Voters also approved separate bylaws for the regulation of solar projects and medical marijuana facilities.

Shatz admitted that the possibility of such a facility being located in Stockbridge was slim, but that the town still needed to have a bylaw in place should a vendor apply.

Voters approved $202,238 to cover the cost of paving town roads, money that will be returned to the towns via so-called Chapter 90 funds; another $105,000 to replace the sidewalks from South Street to Church Street.

There was some discussion of spending $8,100 for new guns, ammunition and holsters for the police department. But that appropriation passed unanimously.


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