Sunday May 13, 2012

SANDISFIELD - Town Meeting passed the entirety of its $2.89 million annual budget Saturday, setting the stage for two ballot questions during Monday's election that will determine whether the town will need to dip heavily into its cash reserves, and whether it can proceed with a large road reconstruction.

With the upcoming Proposition 2 1 2 override vote hanging over the meeting, voters approved a $200,000 loan to help pay for the rebuilding of New Hartford Road, borrowing which is contingent on a levy limit exemption; a $10,000 increase to the police department's budget; and a "right to farm" bylaw years in the making. The meeting lasted just over 2 1 2 hours, halving the duration of last year's gathering as representatives rolled through the majority of the 74 articles without incident; even the $1.3 million Farmington River Regional School District budget assessment, which was voted down last year, passed without a peep.

"We had some big ticket items, and considering the magnitude of the issues I'm pleasantly surprised it went as quick as it did," said Selectmen Chair Patrick Barrett. Discussion repeatedly steered back to Proposition 2 1 2, the state law that prevents towns from spending over 2.5 percent of the value of all town property without voters' approval. Townspeople last year turned down the override request, and on Saturday many officials and residents expressed the urgency of allowing the town to go $150,000 over the levy limit during Monday's election.

Finance Committee Chair Kathy Jacobs explained that if the levy limit override fails, Sandisfield will either have to draw from its savings or take out a loan. In response to one resident's frustrated suggestion that the town try "austerity," town counsel Jeremia Pollard averred that Sandisfield and other municipalities he advises are already operating on austere budgets.

"It's obvious from people talking that we know the cookie jar is starting to get empty," said Town Moderator John Skrip Jr. as he closed the meeting.

Passing 32 to 10 while most other items were voted in unanimously, the $200,000 loan contributing to construction of New Hartford Road was the most contentious item on the warrant and the only one not to receive support from the Finance Committee. Those against the loan argued that the project was one in a series of "Band-Aid" solutions to road problems in the town, and pressed for a long-term strategy. Those in favor argued that long-term plans are always in the works, but that the condition of the road requires attention now.

"We've been working tirelessly on this," said Town Clerk Dolores Harasyko. "Our roads have been patch, patch because they're so bad, but we can't not do that portion of New Hartford Road because it'll be a mud pit."

At the polls on Monday residents will vote on a Proposition 2 1 2 exemption for the road construction and the levy limit override.

To reach Amanda Korman: (413) 496-6243 akorman@berkshireeagle.com On Twitter:@mandface