Egremont voters OK new regional district assessment rules, $90K for schoolhouse

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EGREMONT — Voters approved a $4.5 million operating budget, $90,000 for improvements for the South Egremont School and proposed changes to the Southern Berkshire Regional School District five-town agreement during Tuesday night's annual town meeting.

About 170 voters attended the meeting, which featured 28 articles. At 9:30 p.m. voters had made it through about half of the agenda, with the meeting continuing past the Eagle's deadline.

A potentially controversial amendment to the Southern Berkshire Regional School District agreement that changes how individual town payments are assessed passed following light debate.

The new assessment formula uses a "five-year rolling average" of a town's commitment to the district. The move is meant to smooth out dramatic fluctuations in assessment caused by annual changes in student enrollment.

Southern Berkshire Regional School District member towns are Alford, Egremont, Monterey, New Marlborough and Sheffield. Monterey and Sheffield have already approved the new assessment measures at their respective annual town meetings.

Select Board member George McGurn said the new assessment model would save the town $30,000 in the coming fiscal year.

Some residents were skeptical of spending $90,000 to make the historic 1880s South Egremont School compliant with federal Americans With Disabilities Act compliant.

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Noting that the town has already spent an estimated $400,000-plus to repair the old schoolhouse in preparation for it hosting an educational program once more, voter Richard Allen asked how much more the town would have to spend on the old building before it could be used. He suggested that the town shouldn't spend more money on it.

Voter Danile Kelly said she moved in town, in part, to send her children to school at South Egremont. Until the schoolhouse is ready, students in the South Egremont early-kindergarten through kindergarten program have been attending classes at the school district's main campus in Sheffield.

Kelly said the schoolhouse is attractive to young families and that children are thriving in the program.

The vote was close, but ultimately the yeas won. Select Board Chairman Bruce Turner said the $90,000 will be the last bit of money Egremont needs to spend to open the school to the public.

Voters passed the $4.5 million annual operating budget following questions about union dues, road paving and newsletter expenses. The $4.5 million budget is a 5.4 increase over the current budget.

As of press time, Egremont voters still needed to weigh in on whether the town will ban all recreational marijuana businesses except for retail and how Lake Prospect's invasive weed problem should be handled. The outcome was still being tallied in the secret ballot votes to spend $200,000 to further Egremont's engineering designs for Mount Washington Road repairs and a second question on whether to spend $280,000 for a new highway department truck.

Kristin Palpini can be reached at kpalpini@berkshireeagle.com, @kristinpalpini.


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