Second chance for Dalton requests

Friday July 20, 2012

By Trevor Jones, Berkshire Eagle Staff

DALTON -- A string of funding requests defeated by voters in May is headed back to the ballot this November.

The Select Board on Thursday voted in special session to place three Proposition 2 1/2 debt exclusion questions on the Nov. 6 ballot. The funding requests total $199,000 and include a new police cruiser, highway equipment and upgrades to Town Hall.

This was the second time the board approved the requests. At a previous meeting, the board approved four ballot questions but was informed by the state Attorney General’s Office the maximum they could put on the November ballot, which coincides with the presidential election, was three.

The special session was required because of a looming deadline to get the questions on the ballot.

The board unanimously voted to eliminate the smallest request, which totaled $6,000 for the planting of downtown shade trees. Town Manager Kenneth E. Walto recommended dropping the tree funding request, saying the money could possibly be found elsewhere.

All four capital requests, bundled into a single warrant article and ballot question, were approved unanimously at town meeting, which was attended by only 2 percent of registered voters -- 88 of approximately 4,300. But they were defeated by six votes at the town elections the following week.

The town is at its levy capacity, which necessitated the debt exclusion request.

Selectman Stuart T. Sargent was the lone dissenting vote on the three ballot questions.

"I’m having a hard time bringing back a vote that was already voted down," said Sargent.

Selectwoman Mary R. Cherry said the requests were being brought back because they got voted down by a slim margin by a sparsely attended election. She acknowledged there was a poor turnout at the town meeting as well, but she said the national election will allow for a much larger sample of the town’s population and a more definitive result.

Sargent floated the idea of using higher-than-expected state aid and a possible land sale to offset the funding requests. Board members said they were interested in hearing more about the fiscal impact and said there is still time to work on the language of the special town meeting that must be held before the election.

Walto cautioned against using the extra state aid -- an estimated $60,0000 to $70,000 -- because the town is at its levy limit and could use it as a small "rainy day" fund. Walto said there are also pending labor negotiations and right-of-way funding for upcoming Housatonic Street construction.

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