Sandisfield's new town administrator faces daunting challenges


SANDISFIELD -- In scale, Lisa Blackmer's new job as town administrator is daunting.

Sandisfield, which forms the county's southeast corner, is the largest town in the Berkshires in terms of area. It includes more than 90 miles of road and features a sprawling scenic New England drive that winds past the Sandisfield State Forest and the Farmington and Clam rivers.

But Sandisfield also is notable for other reasons, as Blackmer better understands after her first month on the job.

The town has a negligible amount of commercial tax revenue. There are pressing infrastructure repair needs with no tax base to build off of, and the town's beautiful rivers can be a nuisance in the winter when ice builds up and prevents water from going downstream, leading to flooded roads.

One of the rivers, the Buck River, jammed up before New Year's Day after downed trees prevented ice from flowing, resulting in flooding on Route 57, which caused residents a headache.

Blackmer started working for Sandisfield in December and has been prioritizing a daunting list of responsibilities. Blackmer is president of the North Adams City Council and takes pride in her background in human relations and finance.

"I like the diversity of the day," Blackmer said. "I can deal with anything from human resources to accounting issues, the promise the governor made."

Blackmer has a diverse business background. She currently works part-time as a human resources manager at the Wheatleigh Hotel. She has also worked for a pair of baseball teams, serving in 2008 as the vice president of marketing and finance for the North Adams SteepleCats and in 2011 as the director of finance and administrator for the Pittsfield Colonials, who had a short-lived, two-year life.

In addition, Blackmer has served on the North Adams Finance Committee and is on the board of the Massachusetts Municipal Association and alumni board at MCLA.

"The first six months will be a learning curve, learning what the boundaries are, what I need to expedite and what I can take my time on," Blackmer said.

From beyond town hall's walls, the relationship between the Select Board and a town administrator might seem like a fluid relationship defined by mutual concerns. However, while city councilors provide feedback, town administrators provide information and guidance.

The Selectmen might ask her about how North Adams handled a problem and she'll point out the town asked specialized staff, a luxury cash-strapped Sandisfield can't afford.

In taking on her new role, Blackmer believes she has the most important skill down.

"I know what I don't know and I know where to go to find the information," Blackmer said.

Well into budget season, there are some positives. The state has allocated a higher level of PILOT funding to cover the cost of state-owned land than in years past. Still, Blackmer said the town definitely could use more, and she said she'll continue to advocate for more Chapter 90 funds.

"I'll ask anyone who is willing to listen," Blackmer said.

Immediate priorities include the budget and negotiating the contract for the Department of Public Works. The DPW contract has been the de facto employee manual, Blackmer said, but she hopes to create a more structured manual and defined job descriptions.

Blackmer would also like to free up funds, but the budget is pretty whittled down, she said.

Working part time at Wheatleigh allows her to tend to Sandisfield during the day and handle her responsibilities in North Adams in the evening.

It'll be long days for her during budget season. Right after Sandisfield's budget process wraps up, Blackmer will need to deal with budget issues in North Adams through June.

"I'll be happy when the middle of July comes," Blackmer said.

Selectman Chair Jeff Gray did not return repeated calls for comment on this story.

To reach John Sakata:
or (413)-496-6240.
On Twitter: @JSakata


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