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Charlemont to hire TA, keep appointed town clerk

CHARLEMONT — In the first night of a two-part annual town meeting, voters OK’d a $2.89 million operating budget, which provides money for Hawlemont and Mohawk school increases, training and equipment for the fire department, and $30,000 for six months’ salary for a town administrator to oversee the town’s day-to-day operations.

The second part of annual town meeting starts Tuesday at 7 p.m. in the Hawlemont School gymnasium. Among the items to be voted on Tuesday are Planning Board proposals for a Village Center District Zoning Bylaw, a Medical Marijuana Overly District Zoning Bylaw, revising the town’s zoning map, and a general bylaw to regulate earth removal operations within town. Also coming up is a vote to provide for town recall elections.

The approved budget in this town of 1,266 residents represents a 7 percent increase, of about $183,954. It gives town employees a 1.3 percent cost-of-living raise. With all items approved, the average tax bill will rise by about $80, according to the Finance Committee.

The Mohawk Trail Regional School District assessment went up by $61,825, which is a 9.3 percent increase, and Hawlemont’s budget is up by about 6 percent. Part of the cost increase is a result of losing the Rowe Elementary School as a tenant, since the new school building in Rowe is expected to be open for the new school year.

A few residents asked why Charlemont needs a town administrator, when it already has two full-time employees: a town clerk/executive secretary, and a secretary to the boards.

Selectmen said the town needs someone to oversee daily operations, which can’t be done by volunteer board members with full-time jobs.

“It’s a position a lot of towns are taking now,” said Selectman Beth Bandy. “There are responsibilities that are beyond the capacity of volunteer town officials. ... The reality is this town can’t move forward unless there’s somebody handling these issues.”

Bandy said selectmen are “overwhelmed,” and are spending 10 to 20 hours per week handling operation details, which takes time away from the role of leadership.

“We’re one of the few towns left without a town manager or administrator,” said Selectmen’s Chairman David Cummings. He said his goal is for the cost of the administrator’s salary to come back to the town in the form of new grant funding and cost-savings that such an administrator can find.

Selectman Vaughn Tower said an administrator would be able to attend special meetings and training sessions that selectmen, who work during weekdays, cannot go to.

“The town’s budget is $3 million. Aside from part-time selectmen and a volunteer Finance Committee, there is little oversight on a day-to-day basis, on expenditures,” said Toby Gould. Show me a $3 million business with no day-to-day oversight by staff. That’s not the way to run a town.”

Now that the position has been approved, selectmen will create a job description. The $40,000 is for six-months’ salary and benefits, with the position to start Jan. 1.

The question of whether the town should return to an elected town clerk also was debated. The position was changed from an elected to an appointed position just a few years ago, so that long-time Town Clerk Linda Wagner could retire, after being re-elected by write-in votes — because no one else would run.

Those who signed a petition to return the job to an elected post said they wanted the townspeople — not the Board of Selectmen — to pick the town clerk.

Board members Bandy and Cunningham said they felt the town would be “taking a step backward” by returning to an elected town clerk, because the job has become very specialized, with a steep learning curve in the first few years. They said an appointed town clerk has some oversight by selectmen, but if an elected town clerk can’t do the job, the town has to wait three years until a new clerk could be elected.

“The concern I have about this is we would have to go back to our legislators and ask them to undo what we’ve just had done,” said Bandy, referring the special legislation that now allows the town to hire a town clerk. She said the town has other legislation concerns that are higher priorities.

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

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