Stockbridge second-home owners bemoan 'taxation without representation'

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STOCKBRIDGE — For about 75 second-home owners who turned out for their yearly meeting with the town's Select Board, this is the summer of their discontent.

From the start, they were aggrieved by the absence of two board members, turning the officially posted meeting into an informal gripe session due to lack of a quorum.

"I appreciate your being here," one part-time resident told Select Board Chairman Terry Flynn, the only town official at Saturday's discussion. "But it shows a real lack of respect and value to the second-home owners."

Complaints ranged from day-to-day concerns such as drainage problems and unrepaired roads to issues such as a downtown traffic study, the fragile health of Stockbridge Bowl and the second-home owners' belief that town government doesn't pay enough attention to their priorities.

Several property owners claimed that the vast majority of homes in town belong to part-time residents and that their real-estate and personal property tax payments amount to a big slice of the town's total tax revenue.

"Taxation without representation," one homeowner grumbled, referring to decisive town meeting votes limited to permanent legal residents.

In Stockbridge, nearly half of the residential properties are owned by part-time residents, Principal Assessor Michael Blay told The Eagle on Monday, adding that the town only collects data on second-home owners who pay a personal property tax. Out of the town's total residential parcels, second-home owners pay nearly 50 percent of the overall personal property levy, Blay said.

Multiple speakers at the weekend meeting voiced worry over the perception that the town's government is off the rails because of multiple controversies and the departure this week of Town Administrator Danielle Fillio for a similar position in Richmond. Fillio has cited "chaos" at the Town Offices and her desire for a calmer, less stressful atmosphere among the reasons for her decision to leave after 11 years serving the community.

"We're going to attempt to have an interim town administrator put in place as quickly as we can," Flynn said. He mentioned Mark Webber, recently retired town administrator of West Stockbridge and Cheshire, as someone "very experienced, knowledgeable and respected" who has volunteered his services for as long as needed. No decision has been made pending interviews with all interested candidates and potential action at Select Board meetings July 22 and July 25.

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"We're not going to rush into hiring a full-time administrator," Flynn cautioned, noting that a screening committee will be appointed to conduct a search later this year.

"We all recognize that you folks are operating under the very difficult perception of dysfunctionality," said part-time resident Richard Jaffe. "You must recognize there are some legitimate reasons why there is that perception."

Flynn acknowledged examples of dissension among Select Board members but also pointed to displays of anger and hostility among residents at recent meetings.

"This is a new phenomenon," he said, contrasting the "respectful tone" at Saturday's second-home owners' meeting with last Thursday's Select Board meeting, where there were several "comments that were intended to hurt." He acknowledged "distrust and disrespect."

Jaffe also commented on the "deteriorating, frightening situation at the Stockbridge Bowl where it appears the biggest obstacle is the Board of Selectmen" and he called the town beach "one of the worst that many of us have seen."

Beachwood section homeowner Alice Stevens described the lake's condition as "horrible."

"If it goes down, the value of all of our houses is going down. Last year was a disaster; there's no reason it won't happen again this year," Stevens said. She was referring to the potentially toxic cyanobacteria algae bloom that appeared late last summer and the continuing infestation of weeds.

A herbicide treatment proposed by the Stockbridge Bowl Association was rejected by the town's Conservation Commission, and an SBA appeal is tied up in litigation at Berkshire Superior Court.

Flynn said a dredging project, including improvements to the beach, is expected next year. Its purpose is to address the sources of silt buildup and improve water flow, said Patty Klein, vice-president of the SBA. But the work is not a solution to the weed infestation, nor is weed harvesting, she asserted. The association's annual meeting is on Aug. 3 at 1:30 at Tanglewood's Hawthorne Tent.

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


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