hemlock

The elongate hemlock scale first was found in New York in 1908, and has made devastating inroads in recent decades. A key proposal at Stockbridge's annual town meeting calls for $70,000 for treatment this year of the most-jeopardized, old-growth hemlock trees in the Ice Glen preserve.

STOCKBRIDGE — Town taxpayers will see a lean operating budget for the upcoming fiscal year, reflecting an overall increase of $154,000, less than 1.5 percent, from fiscal year 2021, which ends June 30.

During the “baby town meeting” preview of the annual town meeting’s financial articles, Finance Committee Chairman Jay Bikofsky pointed out that overall taxpayer-funded spending of $10,713,000 has been recommended for voter approval by the committee. It also has been approved by the Select Board.

The total includes $3,158,215 for the town’s 18 percent share of the Berkshire Hills Regional School District’s operating and capital expenses. That’s up by $217,000, about 7 percent, from the current year.

Bikofsky pointed out that the school budget’s operating increase stems from a decline in state funding for the district, as well as for school bus transportation expenses.

Finance Committee member Stephen Shatz voiced “hope to see some changes in the next two years” if consolidation discussions between Berkshire Hills and the Sheffield-based Southern Berkshire Regional School District bear fruit.

Town government operational spending, not including education, shows a decline of $61,000.

Many of the additional financial articles to be voted on at the annual town meeting are funded by the town’s certified “free cash” reserves, which total $2,454,000. Those articles do not affect current taxation.

A major item is an additional $135,000 for the Larrywaug Bridge replacement project on Interlaken Road (Route 183), a key connector from Stockbridge to Lenox. The article sets aside money to cover unanticipated costs that could affect the construction, which has an Oct. 31 target for completion.

A key proposal calls for $70,000 for treatment this year of the most-jeopardized, old-growth hemlock trees in the Ice Glen preserve. In future years, federal grants might be available for funding of the ongoing environmental project, Selectman Patrick White said. There also is a $95,000 request to maintain and upgrade the town’s tennis and basketball courts.

Other articles include: $50,000 for additional post-retirement benefits covering town employees, added into a $3 million trust fund; $40,000 for “part-time professional planning assistance” to the Planning Board; $35,000 for water testing and consultants for the Stockbridge Bowl; and $35,000 for negotiations connected to the “Rest of River” Housatonic River PCB cleanup project.

The town also seeks voter approval to finance $720,000 for replacement of the Park Street Pump Station, $600,000 for restoration of the Chime Tower and $145,000 to purchase a Highway Department truck with a plow and sander.

In addition to the operating budget and special financial articles, annual town meeting voters will act on 16 spending requests recommended by the town’s Community Preservation Committee.

Some of the major Community Preservation Act projects include:

• Creation of a Stockbridge Housing Trust for community housing needs, if the trust is developed and approved by the annual town meeting ($100,000);

• Improvements at the Pine Woods affordable housing complex for driveway reconstruction ($75,000);

• Building repairs for the Stockbridge Housing Authority’s Heaton Court buildings for seniors ($34,000);

• Historic resource projects by the Stockbridge-Munsee Community Band of Mohican Indians for mapping, deed restriction and historic listing preparation of the Field Arboretum on the west slope of Prospect Hill ($20,000).

The state offers partial reimbursement to towns for taxpayer-supported Community Preservation Act projects, expected to be a 32 percent match for fiscal year 2021.

The annual town meeting is set for 10 a.m. June 12, outdoors at the Town Offices. In case of rain, the meeting will be moved indoors. The meeting will be televised live by Community Television for the Southern Berkshires.

Clarence Fanto can be reached at cfanto@yahoo.com, on Twitter @BE_cfanto or at 413-637-2551.