Buckland defeats garage site

BUCKLAND — Annual town meeting voters said “no” again to buying land with a used garage in Charlemont for the Highway Department garage. And they also rejected Mohawk Trail Regional School District’s budget request — which was an increase of almost $103,000 over this year’s budget.

In March, a special town meeting article to buy an old drive-in movie site and transform an unused bus building into a highway garage failed by merely two votes. The land cost was $675,000 and the town had sought permission to borrow up to $1 million for renovations and additional highway buildings on the site. After that narrow defeat, three articles were returned to the annual town meeting warrant through a citizens’ petition.

A few residents argued that the former bus garage on the 17-acre Charlemont site would not be energy-efficient. Richard Hillman of W.R. Hillman Excavating said the town could end up spending as much to renovate the old building as it would cost to build a new one. He said the town would have to make payment-in-lieu-of-taxes to Charlemont, and, with no ties to the Shelburne Falls Wastewater Treatment Facility, all the wastewater from cleaning town vehicles would have to be collected and periodically hauled away. He estimated the town would spend $2,500 per year on hauling that wastewater.

“The last time we bought a garage, it was a used garage from Standard Oil,” he said of the town’s condemned garage, which is falling down. “This garage has hot-air blowing out from the ceiling, a flat roof, fiberglass insulation of a minimum amount. We’re going to wind up putting as much in this old garage as we would in a better-built, tight garage,” Hillman said. He and others said radiant heat coming up from the floor would be more efficient, but the concrete floor would have to be dug up to do that. “When we’re done, all we’re going to have of the original building is the foundation, site and steel frame,” he said. “It’s not going to be the simple solution everybody thinks it is. I think this is a huge mistake to wind up with another used garage. And it’s never going to come back into town once we move it out there.”

Resident Kim Klein pointed out that, on a 17-acre site, perhaps the town could use the existing garage for now, and build a new, energy-efficient one later.

The pros and cons of other sites within town borders were discussed, including the Mayhew Steel Co. property and Lamson & Goodnow property, across from the closed Conway Street highway garage.

“The issue with the town garage is that we don’t have one,” said Selectman Cheryl L. Dukes. “The Highway Department has been working out of a condemned building, which they shouldn’t have been doing, and are not doing any more. We don’t have a plan for a safe working environment for our staff. ... We don’t have a place to store our very expensive equipment. Why would we continue to buy expensive highway equipment when we don’t have a place to put it?”

She pointed out that the Highway Department is part of the town’s public safety team, and provided invaluable service to the town during the flooding of Tropical Storm Irene and its aftermath.

The Charlemont land purchase and money for garage renovation was defeated by a vote of 38 “yes” to 71 “no.”

Since Shelburne and Colrain town meeting voters defeated the borrowing for a five-year capital improvement project at Mohawk, that issue was passed over. Also, capital plans for the Buckland Shelburne Elementary School have been postponed for now, while there are discussions about using some of the school’s unoccupied space for a senior center for Buckland, Shelburne and Ashfield residents.

This year’s assessment from the Mohawk Trail Regional School District was $1.9 million — a 5.6 percent increase. When asked why selectmen didn’t support the assessment, Selectman Kevin Fox said that, seven years ago, the town had asked the school administration to “come back to us with a consolidation plan. I cannot recommend we pass a budget until we get some leadership from them, and they come back with a consolidation plan.”

“I’ve heard from other towns saying they can’t afford it,” Selectman Robert Dean said. “I’m a supporter of our school, but if it’s not affordable for all our towns, then I’m not in favor of voting for this budget.” Residents defeated Mohawk’s budget request by a 42-49 vote.

To get approval for a budget that serves eight member towns, the school district must get a majority vote by its towns, of at least 10 weighted points. Each town’s voting share is based on its student enrollment and on whether it is a full Mohawk member, like Buckland and Shelburne, or a middle- and high-school member, like Hawley and Charlemont. So far, Mohawk has nine weighted votes in favor of the budget, from Ashfield, Hawley, Plainfield and Shelburne. Heath and Charlemont have yet to vote.

A request for residents to raise and appropriate a $10,000 donation to help the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 8503 with a $100,000 building improvement project was defeated.

Items approved by town meeting voters included:

∎ $44,924 for elected officials’ salaries and a town operating budget of $1,744,021.

∎ $117,747 for the town’s assessment to the Franklin County Technical School, which is a decrease from this year’s assessment, due to lower enrollment from Buckland.

∎ $1,000 for the WiredWest communications initiative, despite recommendations from the Finance Committee and Board of Selectmen not to approve it.

∎ $10,500 for a technology stabilization account for telephone upgrades and technology in the Town Hall and Police Station.

∎ $10,000 for legal fees, consulting fees, engineering or construction fees related to a new highway garage.

∎ $45,000 for a new Highway Department steel drum roller and trailer. The town currently rents a drum roller, and selectmen said the rental rate is expensive.

∎ $8,000 for new voting equipment.

∎ $30,000 for town road repairs and paving.

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

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