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Dalton residents approve climate road map, alternative voting sites

residents at Dalton annual town meeting

Residents hold up their cards to vote against an amendment proposed by Select Board Chair Joseph Diver. The town voted to give officials 120 days to look for alternative voting sites, relative to a petition to move voting to the town's Senior Center, which was not popular among proponents of the petition.

DALTON — Residents approved all of the articles on the warrant for Monday's annual town meeting, including plans to conduct a climate study and to consider relocating voting in the town.

A turnout of 99 decided the town’s direction on the two issues which sparked debate, approving the town’s stated plan to develop a climate road map and to seek out alternative voting locations for town elections.

Dalton Green Committee member Tom Irwin presented on the proposal to allocate $60,000 for a town climate road map, which detailed the town’s need to have a plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by state law.

Irwin emphasized that the proposal was to fund a study and plan that would be implemented with full community input, tailored around figuring out how the town could reduce its emissions by purchasing electric vehicles and implementing green energy measures in its own homes.

Some residents voiced concerns about the study, however, leading to a small chorus of votes against its approval.

“What assurances do we have that these don’t become mandates that we have to follow?” said town resident Joseph Albano.

Irwin assured Albano that the Green Committee does not have the authority to issue mandates of any sort.

Lawrence Gingras, a former Select Board member with the town, chimed into the discussion, saying that he thought the study would have limited effect and that to effect real change, the U.S. needs to stop purchasing goods from high-polluting countries.

Gingras said that many of the proposed changes were too much too fast for climate change.

“Most studies I’ve seen in my lifetime have ended up in filing cabinets,” Gingras said.

Irwin responded with assurances that these steps were necessary, and received support from many in the room.

“I don’t think we can prepare for all eventualities,” Irwin said. “But I think that we can prepare for many. And if we do, we’re going to be in much better shape to sustain ourselves.”

The other item to provoke discussion was a citizens' petition to move town voting from the Community Recreation Association, 400 Main St. in Dalton, to the town’s Senior Center at 40 Field St.

The major concern among proponents for the move was accessibility for disabled voters, as some voters have reported that using the CRA’s ramp entrance is too strenuous for people with mobility issues.

“This in no way reflects anything negative about the CRA,” said town resident Margaret Cahill. “I’m a fan of the CRA. My point is we should not disenfranchise voters.”

Robert Merry, who has worked at the polls for years, was one of the main voices for the move. He noted that the CRA’s ramp is challenging for many residents, and also that acoustics in the building can make it difficult for the hearing-impaired.

“I’d like to challenge anybody here tonight — Select Board, attendees, anybody — to take a wheelchair up that ramp or walk with somebody using a walker or a cane up that ramp,” Merry said. “It’s heartbreaking.”

Bustin Buzzella, a sergeant with the Dalton Police Department, said that more thought needed to be put into the decision on a voting place, noting that the streets leading to the Senior Center might not be able to sustain that level of traffic.

“If we’re going to make a change like this, we should take the time to do a study like the town is so fond of,” Buzzella said.

Police Chief Deanna Strout backed up Buzzella and said there needed to be more consideration.

Ultimately, Select Board Chair Joseph Diver proposed an amendment to give the town clerk, Heather Hunt, and heads of the public safety departments 120 days to scope out alternative sites for voting and report back to the Select Board for a vote.

The amendment was contentious, with many advocates of the move to the Senior Center apparently dissatisfied with the lack of action. The amendment passed with 54 yes votes and 30 no votes, and subsequently the article was approved in total. In effect, town officials are now looking into the matter, but no decisions were made.

The Select Board did not initially vote to approve having the article on the warrant, and the measure had to be introduced by a town resident during the meeting.

Residents unanimously approved the town’s $9.4 million budget, an increase of just over 10 percent from last year’s budget. The town also paid its share of the Central Berkshire Regional School District’s Budget unanimously, approving an allocation of over $8.7 million to support the district’s funding.

Residents also voted unanimously to approve appropriations for three purchases totaling over $415,000: over $188,000 for a loader for the Department of Public Works, $65,000 for a new police cruiser and $161,000 for repairs to be made to the town garage.

Richard Hall, a Dalton resident, raised the lone question on that article, asking if the repairs would be made in such a way that the roof could be outfitted with solar panels. Drosehn said that was likely to be the case.

Town elections in Dalton will be held on May 8.

Matt Martinez can be reached at mmartinez@berkshireeagle.com.

News Reporter

Matt Martinez is a news reporter at The Berkshire Eagle. He worked at Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service, graduated Marquette University. He is a former Report for America corps member.

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