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Dalton residents vote to approve funding for town hall renovations, Dalton Division road improvements at special town meeting

The crowd at the Dalton Town Meeting on 8/29

Dalton residents gathered Monday night for a special town meeting to vote on three articles related to funding of town projects. 

DALTON — Dalton residents voted Monday to approve another $200,000 for a stalled Town Hall renovation project, pushing the cost to $700,000, but not without grumbling from taxpayers.

Residents also OK’d spending to advance long-awaited Dalton Division Road repairs.

Those who arrived for the special town meeting at Wahconah Regional High School registered based on their voting precincts and were issued cards to cast “yea” or “nay” votes, if verbal approval proved too difficult to count.

The vote to fund further Town Hall renovations brought out the cards.

The $200,000 will be used to handle asbestos removal and a reconstruction of the historic building’s second-floor ceiling. It will also pay to deal with asbestos-containing plaster in two third-floor offices. Some of the money already allocated, about $30,000, was used to evict bats.

Town Manager Thomas Hutcheson told the audience that officials hope the project will end up costing less that the sum requested.

The additional funding brings the project’s total budget to about $700,000.

Some residents voiced concerns about the money, asking town officials if the project could be funded using COVID-19 relief dollars, such as American Rescue Plan Act money. Dalton resident Lori Allessio proposed that, stating she wasn’t against the project, but wondered if taxpayers could be spared.

“It’s getting very, very difficult ... with the school tax, our sewer bill just went up, or water bill just went up,” Allessio said. “And to think that the cost would be less than you’re projecting is probably naive when all other construction costs are way above.”

Dalton resident Amy Turnbull said she agreed with Allessio and said the town should explore other options for funding.

“I think it’s untenable to continue to raise up taxes,” Turnbull said.

Hutcheson explained that because ARPA funding to Dalton has mostly been allotted to make improvements to roads and sewers, costs would eventually catch up with the town either way.

“In a certain sense, it’s like robbing Peter to pay Paul,” Hutcheson said. “It’s a possibility — but it would mean fewer roads would be paved with that money.”

Select Board chair Joseph Diver said he would be open to putting an agenda item on the next board meeting to discuss how ARPA funds have been allocated.

Dalton resident Al Nadeau voiced frustration with the amount of money going into Town Hall work, noting that the building is not accessible to the handicapped. Nadeau said the town needs to be realistic about its use in coming years.

“We’ve got to start looking and planning for the future and not just pumping dollars into something that’s obsolete,” Nadeau said.

The funding needed support from two-thirds of voters to get approved. It passed 31-14. That is 68.8 percent of the total, barely surpassing the needed 66.6 percent.

Road project

Residents also voted on other spending, including additional funding of $146,000 for a reconstruction of Dalton Division Road. The project won’t be fully underway until five years from now, as Dalton is on a waiting list until 2027.

The dollars would help secure the town’s part of its funding for engineering and design on Dalton Division Road. It will receive funding from state and federal governments to complete the project.

One Dalton resident criticized a lack of action on the reconstruction project five years ago when it was originally brought up — when costs were lower. The increase in funding is meant to address a higher bid the town received since then.

Residents also voted to approve $130,000 for two town projects, with the majority of that figure, $124,000, going toward the town’s solid waste transfer station.

The town also asked for $6,000 to appraise the Bardin property, an agricultural plot the town intends to sell.

The town amended an article to remove $5,000 for its police detail fund, which reimburses officers for their time working on projects with entities from outside the town. This came after discussion from members of the Select Board regarding the allocation.

Hutcheson said that because the detail fund falls under the town’s special revenue fund, and not its operating budget, it couldn’t be voted on at the special town meeting for legal reasons.

Some members of the Select Board expressed frustration, saying they had previously voted to approve the funding, but the dollars hadn’t been moved under a previous administration. Members of the town’s Finance Committee said they hoped to look at the minutes from earlier meetings to find out what occurred.

Dalton Police Chief Deanna Strout said delaying the additional funds could mean officers working details wouldn’t be paid for months. Detail officers are set to begin a paving project this week, she said. The Select Board plans to revisit the issue at its next meeting.

Toward the end of the meeting, one resident expressed hope he and others will not be asked to approve added spending any time soon.

“This is the second special town meeting since the annual,” said Dalton resident Harry Chambers. “I hope this kind of money isn’t going to be asked for semi-monthly for the rest of the year.”

Diver noted that another special town meeting may soon be in the town’s future — for a $900,000 allocation to renovate the track at Wahconah Regional. The track, which hasn’t been resurfaced in 20 years, has seen major wear and poses a safety hazard, he said at a Select Board meeting ahead of the special town meeting.

The Central Berkshire Regional School Committee voted last week to have town-by-town approval for the project.

The funding would come from $2 million left over from the budget to build the new high school. Diver said he plans to seek a presentation from Superintendent Leslie Blake-Davis on the project at the Select Board meeting Sept. 12.

The town has 60 days to get the funding approved, he said.

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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