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Sunderland selectman candidates speak on issues

SUNDERLAND — On Tuesday, incumbent Selectman David Pierce will vie for re-election against challenger Peter Murphy for a second three-year term.

The annual town election also coincides with the special Senate primary.

David Pierce

Pierce is the most-recently elected selectman on the board.

“I’ve always believed it is important to do public service,” said Pierce as he reflected on the past three years. “The (Board of Selectmen) is close to everything that goes on. It’s a big time commitment.”

He also said that the position has a learning curve that he has just overcome.

Before serving on the board, Pierce served for nine years on the town’s Conservation Commission.

When making decisions, Pierce said he considers all townspeople and departments.

“I think it is good to not come at it from just one perspective,” Pierce said. “You’ve got to look at all the different aspects of the town — all the different groups and try to represent everybody.”

If re-elected, Pierce sees the development of a master plan and an upgrade of the town’s technology as some priorities. He already launched a new town website this month.

Working as a financial services professional by day, Pierce says he brings knowledge to the budget table.

He was first elected a year after the town passed a Proposition 2½ override to make up for an expected $200,000 shortfall in 2009.

Over the past three years, Pierce said he and fellow selectmen Scott Bergeron and Thomas Fydenkevez have contended with a tough budget cycle.

“We’ve been working to get us out of a hole,” Pierce said. “We’ve managed to restore some cuts and keep taxes low.”

Peter Murphy

Pierce’s challenger, Murphy, is a newcomer to town politics. He ran and lost a bid for town assessor last year. He has lived in Sunderland for more than 20 years.

“I wanted to get into town politics. I think I’m ready for the big picture. There has to be a change. I don’t see it happening,” Murphy said.

The 64-year-old considers himself conservative and “wants what is best for the town and what we can afford. We have to find a way to do that.”

Murphy worked at the University of Massachusetts for 42 years as facilities manager before retiring in 2010.

“I love the town,” Murphy said. “I am retired. What the town needs is someone who can be available during the week and not just on Monday nights. A lot of people can’t go to meetings.”

Murphy hopes to bring new ideas to the table if elected.

A pivotal part to Murphy’s approach would be communication.

“I think someone has to go out and talk to people. There are a lot of different facets in town,” he said.

If elected, Murphy would reach out to UMass students to volunteer in the town.

He suggested students could volunteer for the EMS department. And he indicated support for a regional EMS service with Deerfield and Whately. As a retiree with limited income, he believes he can connect with financial issues facing both students and senior citizens.

At the university, Murphy supervised 31 employees represented by three different unions. He said he learned that mediation is a useful technique in resolving issues.

Murphy believes he can bring insight into town finances with his experience handling multi-million dollar budgets with the university. He plans to thoroughly review town budgets to avoid another tax cap override.

“You have to learn to do more with less. I have experience with that,” Murphy said.

He also spent three years on the South Deerfield Personnel Board in the early 1970s where he instituted a new classification system for town employees.

The issues

Both candidates see business as essential to the town.

“I want to market the town. We have a great location and still have a rural character,” Pierce said. “There’s no magic silver bullet, but we have to think through all the different methods toward marketing ourselves.”

Pierce sees the Massachusetts Berkshires Boston Bicycle Tour in September as an opportunity to show tourists what Sunderland has to offer.

Murphy, on the other hand, proposes reaching out to local businesses to find out what makes them stay and how the town could improve.

Whoever is elected will immediately be faced with Frontier Regional School talks. The School Committee is hosting a joint meeting in September with the four partner towns to discuss the regional school agreement, school capital projects and budget.

“I think it’ll be good to get everyone to the same table,” said Pierce. “I’d like to see more communication in all groups and how we approach the issue. If we get the school committee and the selectboards together we can get more done.”

The four Frontier towns — Sunderland, Deerfield, Whately and Conway — have been debating how to fund the school budget.

Another hot button issue for the town is affordable housing.

The town has been stuck at a 0.4 percent affordable housing rate, falling below the state’s 10 percent recommendation. And with the recent state high court upholding a permit for a proposed 150 apartment complex on Plumtree Road known as Sugarbush Meadows, the question of how the town can increase its housing stock is likely to crop up again.

Though Pierce could not speak on specific details of the Plumtree Road plans because the town is currently in negotiations with the new property owners, he said one of the board’s goals is to get more affordable housing in town. He said the town is working to get housing that actually is used for affordable and senior living and not just another set of apartments.

“Next to Boston, we have the most apartments per head in the community. It makes us unique and is a challenge for us,” Pierce said.

Murphy, on the other hand, disapproves of how the town has dealt with the Sugarbush proposal over the past six years. He believes the town lost a huge revenue source when it did not purchase the 67-acre property.

All the other incumbents in town will have uncontested races. Those seeking re-election are Town Clerk Wendy Houle, Town Assessor Jim Kowaleck, Town Park Trustee Ken Kushi, Board of Health member Caitlyn Rock, and Library Trustees Beth Berry and Lisa Tripp. Moderator Bob Duby, Planning Board members Sara Snyder and Dan Murphy, and Elementary School Committee member Douglas Fulton were also nominated. Mike Wissemann was nominated for Cemetery Trustee. Traci Sackrey was nominated to represent the elementary school committee to the town park. Judy Pierce and Lyn Roberts were nominated to run for Frontier Regional School Committee.

You can reach Kathleen McKiernan at:
or 413-772-0261 ext. 268.

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