Sheffield annual town meeting preview

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When: 7 p.m. Monday

Where: Mount Everett Regional High School auditorium, 491 Berkshire School Road

Highlights: Town officials are reminding voters to wear a mask and practice social distancing. Check-in is at 5:30 p.m., and voters will be given electronic devices that record votes quickly and secretly. If the auditorium fills, overflow voters will be escorted to the gym.

Zoning changes: Voters will be asked to weigh in on updates that will make the business and commercial district zoning bylaws more alike, allowing for more options for locating a business. And as the town works to become a green community, it will ask voters to approve a by-right solar overlay district at the town's transfer station and capped landfill.

The state will tightly regulate it, and the town has to approve any plans for a solar array there. By also adopting the "Stretch Energy Code" in the town's bylaws to regulate energy efficiency in the design and construction of buildings, voters would give the town access to a $130,000 grant.

School anxiety: With all schools in limbo regarding the flow of state funding and social distancing rules, town officials recommend that voters pass over the fiscal year 2021 school assessment until there is more information about cuts to regular aid. A special town meeting will be scheduled to take a vote on the Southern Berkshire Regional School District budget.

The district could be facing difficult decisions involving cuts, and officials have been meeting with the unions and are looking at ways to operate under the strain, and if the overall budget is not approved by Wednesday, the schools will operate on a 1/12 budget, which is month-to-month spending based on fiscal year 2020.

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Rights of the river bylaw: Voters also are asked by citizens petition to weigh in on a revolutionary bylaw that would give the Housatonic River the right to "exist, flourish, regenerate, evolve, and be restored." It is an initiative that has been adopted by over three dozen municipalities in the U.S. and would give legal rights to the river beyond current state and federal protections.

This would include the ability to sue for damages should the river be harmed by projects or activities. Town officials are recommending that voters do not approve this — at least not until the impact fully is understood by the town's legal counsel, since it could raise liability issues.

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BUDGET

Fiscal 2021: $3,340,210

Increase: 3.95 percent

LINE ITEMS

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$7,152,733 for Southern Berkshire Regional School District

$659,247 for pumper truck, and related equipment and costs

$25,000 for firetruck repair

$11,000 for firefighter weekly training

$10,000 for Rest of River legal expenses

— Heather Bellow, The Berkshire Eagle


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