Voters to weigh $10.5 million budget, Stockbridge Bowl dredging project
STOCKBRIDGE - Voters at the annual town meeting Monday will weigh in on what Town Administrator Jorja Ann Marsden describes as a "frugal budget."
The 33-article warrant seeks approval of $10,536,353 in overall town spending for fiscal 2015, only 0.7 percent above the current year's $10,461,950. The total includes "raise and appropriate" items, sewer and water department surpluses, Community Preservation funds and $600,000 in "free cash."
Also included is nearly $2.6 million for the town's share of the Berkshire Hills Regional School District's $23.3 million budget. The town sends few students to the district, keeping its assessment low; the upcoming year's increase was held to $52,792.
The proposed municipal operating budget of $5,652,000, up $233,000 from the current year, reflects modest pay raises for all employees, including those under contract.
Taxpayers also will be asked to sign off on the start of a Stockbridge Bowl environmental project, final approval to seek proposals for a new cell tower just west of downtown to cure signal "dead spots," and a set of regulations for commercial solar installations and medical marijuana dispensaries.
The annual town meeting starts at 6:30 p.m. at the Town Offices, 50 Main St.
It will be preceded by a 6 p.m. special town meeting seeking approval to cover $162,000 in unexpected expenses this year for snow and ice removal; extra winter electricity costs at town buildings; pothole repairs that must be funded by June 30 in order to be reimbursed by the state later this summer, and other Highway Department items. A quorum of 50 voters is required.
Included is $51,775 for unforeseen Police Department expenses involving the transition to a new chief, the hiring of two new officers and related contract obligations for two departed officers, Marsden said.
The tax rate won't be affected because surplus funds released by the Board of Assessors would cover the $162,000 overrun, she said.
Although the tax rate for the upcoming year has not yet been projected, town residents currently pay $3,669 for the average residential property valued at $418,792, said Principal Assessor Michael Blay. Nearly two-thirds of properties are owned by seasonal residents.
Currently, there are 1,484 registered voters, according to Town Clerk Terri Iemolini.
On Stockbridge Bowl, a $25,000 spending proposal would launch a lake management study for a potential dredging project on portions of the lake, eventually costing $2 million to $3 million funded by a state grant. The Department of Environmental Protection would have to approve the cleanup.
The project would remove a buildup of silt from the outlet section of the Bowl encroaching on the main portion of the lake. Most of the "Great Pond" is owned by the state, but the town is responsible for maintenance.
"We're working very diligently with the Stockbridge Bowl Association," said Marsden. "They're spearheading everything." The association represents mostly seasonal homeowners around the lake. There's no firm timeline for the project, she stated.
Major spending articles up for approval include $600,000 from "free cash" to hold down property tax increases; $377,000 into an "OPEB" trust fund for future municipal retirees' health benefits (added to last year's initial $310,000 appropriation); $113,000 for a Highway Department plow truck; $105,000 for an excavator shared by the highway, sewer and water departments; $105,000 for downtown sidewalk repairs; $100,000 toward water-tank replacements, and $100,000 toward a new fire truck.
Proposed Community Preservation Act funding, which is a 3 percent surcharge on property tax bills plus a state match, would total $281,000 for 10 projects, including a portion of the Stockbridge Bowl dredging design.
Among town departments, proposed spending includes $1,225,000 for public works and facilities, a $600 decrease from the current year, and $1,107,000 for general government, down from $1,216,000. Public Safety spending would total just over $1 million, up from $926,000.
A warrant article seeks approval to request bids for a new cell tower on a portion of the old landfill. The project is expected to draw interest from Verizon as well as other wireless carriers and two tower-construction firms that have expressed interest in working with the town, said Marsden.
Up for a vote is creation of a detailed zoning bylaw amendment detailing special-permit requirements for commercial solar panel projects, except for a by-right use at the town landfill. The goal is to permit installations by providing standards for placement, design, construction, operation and other specifics.
Downtown parkland zoning revisions also are proposed.
The town is seeking approval of a new zoning bylaw requiring special permits for medical marijuana dispensaries in designated non-residential zones, with standards defining who is eligible to apply along with a long list of restrictions and requirements. No such dispensaries have been proposed for the town, Marsden noted.
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