Sandisfield elects 2 new faces to Select Board

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SANDISFIELD — Voters turned out in force Monday, electing two new Select Board members who campaigned for a new vision and approach to the problems of a far-flung Berkshire town struggling to modernize and grow.

Brian O'Rourke overwhelmingly unseated John Skrip, and beat out challenger Jeffrey Gray for Skrip's three-year seat.

O'Rourke received 154 votes, while Skrip garnered 72. Gray earned 26 votes.

Results for the one-year seat were closer — George Riley won it by 10 votes, against challenger Charles Pease. Riley took the seat with 130 votes to Pease's 120.

Of the town's 595 registered voters, 265 went to the polls.

It was an election in which candidates focused on fixing the town's aging and failing infrastructure — mainly roads and buildings in a place with 94 miles of pavement and dirt, and about 900 residents, and all of it meant to attract business and families to town.

Campaign talk also centered on the importance of installing a fiber-optic system, with hopes for successful end to negotiations currently underway with Crocker Communications.

But for those elected, it all means change.

"I'm excited and apprehensive," O'Rourke told The Eagle. "It's changing the direction of the town. Everybody's for change until change happens, and then people dig their heels in."

O'Rourke, who owns a construction company, said since news of his "major victory" has spread, he's received lots of emails advising him to "take a deep breath and get a thick skin."

He said the win signals hope, however, that residents may be ready to take this scary ride with him — one out of what he says has been a cautious, cost saving approach to budgets at the expense of long-term investments that would nourish the town.

"I learned a long time ago that you need to spend money to make money — cutting costs and reducing budgets does not help economic growth," he said.

O'Rouke said he'd like to begin by meeting with the Finance Committee about the budget, and particularly, the capital improvement fund. He added that solar farm companies that provide tax revenue and other fees to the town should be courted and any electrical wiring investments to that end be made to ensure long-lasting annual revenue.

He also wants to work with the state Department of Transportation to get help for a deteriorating Route 57. MassDOT handed Route 57 over to the town for upkeep more than 20 years ago, according to Road Superintendent Bobby O'Brien.

"I want to press this," O'Rourke said of $1 million-per-mile road repairs to 8.2 miles of pavement. "It's been dumped in our laps."

Riley agrees, and said he will begin to work on this, since the town has been patching the road under great strain. It hasn't been paved since 1986 and doing so would bust the town's budget several times over.

"It's one of the main thoroughfares in town, and we only have a couple of main thoroughfares," Riley said. "It's a concern."

Both Riley and O'Rourke said that Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito traveled on the road during a recent South County tour and publicly noted its poor condition and the MassDOT signs that still flank it.

Riley, a consultant to nonprofits, said he is grateful to have been elected, and for the voters who turned out — 115 more than those who cast ballots last year. He said it may have been the sharp contrast and "clear differences" between candidates that had residents flocking to the voting booths.

"It wasn't like Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum," he said. "They knew that who was chosen was going to make a big difference to what direction Sandisfield takes."

Incumbents ran unopposed for all other town offices up for election. They are: Simon Winchester, moderator; Willard Platt, Planning Board, Kathleen Burrows, Board of Assessors; Billie Anderson Pachulski, School Committee; and Roger Kohler, Board of Health.

Reach Heather Bellow at hbellow@berkshireeagle.com or on Twitter at @BE_hbellow and 413-329-6871.


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