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Bernardston annual town meeting Wednesday

BERNARDSTON — Residents will have two chances to vote on the Pioneer Valley Regional School District budget at Tuesday’s annual town meeting. The town’s share of the district’s proposed budget is $2.63 million, an increase of $257,274 10.9 percent from this year’s budget.

The Selectboard and Finance Committee urge the town to approve a lower share of $2.42 million, which would be a $58,952, or 2.5 percent, increase.

The district petitioned the town to have its request listed as a separate article on the warrant, rather than relying on voters to fully fund it by amending the original article.

Northfield and Warwick officials also recommended that their towns pay less than the district requested, but voters approved the full requested amount after amending the articles on the floor. Northfield’s approval is contingent on a future Proposition 2 1⁄ 2 override vote, which has not yet been scheduled.

Leyden’s town meeting is Saturday, and town officials have supported the district’s full request. Though it only takes three of the four towns to approve a budget, a “yes” vote in Leyden won’t necessarily mean the budget is set in stone.

If Bernardston approves less than the district’s request, and Northfield’s override vote fails, a reduced budget could stand.

Bernardston voters will also be asked to approve a $400,000 district-wide computer and equipment upgrade and replacement plan. The district plans to borrow $400,000 for the job, and pay it back over five years, beginning in fiscal year 2016.

The Finance Committee and Selectboard have both recommended that voters deny the district permission to borrow the money.

The borrowing doesn’t need any town’s approval, but towns can vote to deny the borrowing. It only takes one town’s disapproval to defeat the idea. Northfield voters approved the borrowing, while Warwick’s town meeting passed over the matter.

School money

A handful of school projects are also on the warrant.

Voters will be asked whether to pay $15,695 for its share of carpet replacement, painting, and parking lot and driveway repairs at Pioneer.

Another article asks that $45,000 from a prior year project be used to conduct a study of the feasibility of repair or replacement of the three buildings used by the district as administrative offices. The money was approved by the 2011 annual town meeting for heating and cooling work at the offices.

The Police Department has asked for $35,000 to buy a new cruiser. The money would come from a vehicle replacement stabilization account, rather than taxation, and requires approval of two-thirds of voters at the meeting. Another article asks voters to put $40,000 into that stabilization account.

The town could petition the state legislature to waive the prevailing wage requirements on Bernardston projects under $50,000 if another article passes. The state’s prevailing wage law has often been blamed for inflating the price of town projects in Bernardston and other county towns.

The town seeks $10,000 to begin crafting a new master plan.

A bridge repair fund could be established with an initial deposit of $30,000 from free cash. Though bridges in town are not yet structurally deficient, two bridges are in need of cosmetic repairs. Selectmen have said it would be wise to set aside money for preventative maintenance bridge work to avoid more costly repairs and road closures later.

Zoning measures

Several zoning changes will also be decided at the meeting.

Medical marijuana treatment centers would be allowed in the expedited permitting district by a Planning Board special permit if one zoning proposal is adopted.

Renewable energy manufacturing and research and development facilities could be allowed by special permit in the business, industrial, and expedited permitting zones upon passage of another article. The article also proposes that solar electric plants be allowed by special permit in all of the town’s zoning districts.

Several zoning articles deal with lodging houses of all sizes.

One would add inns “up to 8 rooms” to the list of businesses approved by-right in the business district, and by special permit in the center village, industrial, and expedited permitting districts.

Another would allow bed and breakfasts in the town’s residential/agricultural, residential 1, and center village districts by special permit.

A third would bar hotels and motels from locating in the center village zone, where they are currently allowed by special permit, and allow them in the expedited permitting district by site plan review. Hotels and motels are currently allowed in that zone with a special permit from the Planning Board.

Walk-up or drive-through kiosks for banking, movie rental, sales and other uses are the subject of another zoning proposal. Kiosks would be allowed in the business, industrial and expedited permitting districts by special permit, and walk-up only kiosks would be allowed by special permit in the center village zone.

The meeting will start at 7 p.m. Wednesday in Pioneer Valley Regional School.

You can reach David Rainville at: drainville@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 279 @RecorderRain

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