Truck, steeple, Ashfield House lien face Ashfield residents at Town Meeting

ASHFIELD — Replacing the town’s 20-year-old highway truck, fixing the Town Hall steeple, cutting financial ties to the Ashfield House and developing a “Community Rights Resolution” in the face of the Tennessee Gas Pipeline project are among articles residents will face at the May 3 annual town meeting, beginning at 10 a.m. in Town Hall.

With about $80,000 in debt service to come off the town books this fiscal year, the town will see three ballot questions to pay for the town truck and school building repairs through debt-exclusion tax levy limit overrides. Debt exclusion votes let towns temporarily raise taxes above the 2-1/2 percent levy limit to pay for specific projects.

The first seeks $167,000 to replace the 1994 dump truck used for plowing, sanding and general road repair work. The truck has broken down several times this winter.

The remaining two debt-exclusion votes are for the town to pay its share of Mohawk and Sanderson Academy school maintenance and building improvements in the Mohawk school district’s capital building plan. According to Finance Committee Chairman Ted Murray, Ashfield’s debt share for building improvements at the Mohawk high school would come to about $18,676 annually for the five-year plan, and about $37,494 per year for Sanderson, over five years. Payment for these projects would not start until at least July 2015.

The Mohawk Trail Regional School District’s operating and capital budgets are projected to be rise less than 2 percent. But the total assessment request for regional educational expenses is $1,949,819.

One article seeks to discharge the town’s $287,000 lien against the Ashfield House, an 18-apartment publicly supported housing complex on Main Street, now run by the Franklin Regional Housing and Redevelopment Authority. According to Murray, the town holds a $300,000 mortgage on the property, dating back to 1989, when it was owned by Suzanne Corbett. Corbett, a Williamstown Road resident, and two Ashfield House tenants, have brought many complaints about the current Ashfield House conditions to both the Selectboard and the Board of Health in recent years. The lien came from a federal grant for housing rehabilitation, and no money was to be repaid until the property was sold. When it was purchased by Rural Development Inc. in 2004, the balance due was $287,518.

When RDI and Ashfield House Inc. reached a purchase agreement, the Selectboard at that time agreed to release the Ashfield House Inc. and Corbett family from their obligations to pay off the loan, transferring the lien instead to RDI.

This July, the Selectboard agreed to subordinate the lien, so that the 200-year-old complex could get a 20-year, no-interest, $510,000 loan to refinance and renovate. But the board also considered releasing the lien altogether and, in Chairman Thomas Carter’s words, “get the town out of the business of having anything to do with financing the building.”

Gas pipeline article

An article brought by citizens’ petition proposes that the town develop a “Community Rights Resolution” to give residents more say in large-scale energy infrastructure projects, from the cutting of trees along utility lines to large-scale wind turbines or “high-pressure gas pipeline to carry shale gas through 76 Ashfield properties,” according the article. The article asks for rules, bylaws or other actions that would support townspeople’s rights to vote on large-scale state, federal or corporate energy infrastructure projects, and to prohibit projects before townspeople have had a chance to vote on them. The article also seeks to ensure the Selectboard is informed before any landowners are contacted.

Selectboard members are hoping that the petitioners will be willing to postpone action on this article and move it to a special town meeting in June, when there is more time for discussion.

Other warrant articles:

∎   Adopting a state provision to waive the dog-license fees for residents over the age of 70. They would still be required to get dog licenses, but wouldn’t be charged for them.

∎  Changing the date of town caucus so that it is never held less than 38 days before the annual town meeting and election.

∎  Hiring a part-time energy manager for the town, contingent upon getting a grant from the Department of Energy Resources.

∎  Spending $40,000 from money transfers to pay for repairs to the Town Hall steeple.

The total spending request for General Government is $293,475. Other major costs are: Public safety $195,690; library, cultural and recreational expenses $55,987; sanitary services $87,829; highway and road expenses $544,624 (this includes $62,000 for Ashfield Lake Dam maintenance); human services $43,186; health insurance $164,951; sewer services $139,057; debt expenses $223,647.

You can reach Diane Broncaccio at: dbroncaccio@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 277

(Editor's note: Some information in this story has changed from an earlier edition)

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