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By 2 votes, Buckland voters nix garage site

BUCKLAND — Buckland still needs a place to park its highway trucks.

A proposal to buy land on Route 2 and renovate a former bus building on the premises failed to get a two-thirds majority vote needed for the article at Thursday night’s special town meeting.

Out of 51 paper ballots cast, 32 voted in favor of the town’s plan to buy land on Route 2 in Charlemont for $675,000 and to borrow up to $1 million for renovations and additional highway buildings on the Charlemont site; but 34 votes were needed for a two-thirds majority.

When asked what’s next, after the meeting, Selectman Bob Dean replied, “I guess we start over.”

Earlier in the meeting, he reviewed all the steps taken by town officials to find a suitable garage site within Buckland, which have included property on Lamson & Goodnow land, across the street from the town’s obsolete and crumbling old highway garage, buying land from the Mohawk Trail Regional School District, near the high school, property near the trolley museum, and buying the old Mayhew Steel building. In 2009, town meeting voters failed to get a two-thirds vote for the town to buy the former 6.5 acre Mayer property on Route 112 for a Highway Garage.

Those who questioned the prospective property buy questioned the need for a $400,000 salt and sand shed, which was included in the construction estimate. At least two people asked why the town couldn’t use its old shed, even though it wouldn’t be at the new garage site.

They also questioned the size of the property (12.23 acres with frontage off Route 2, with 5 acres of steep land with access off North River Road) and whether Buckland would pay Charlemont property taxes. Town Administrator Andrea Llamas explained that Buckland and Charlemont selectmen had agreed to a Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) arrangement, in which Buckland would pay the tax-value equivalent of the land, which is about $9,000, according to Charlemont assessors. She said that payment would stay the same even after Buckland made improvements to the property. The purchase of both parcels was necessary so that the town could have the building in the rear parcel and frontage from Route 2.

When asked what would happen if the Conway Street garage — mostly used for storage — collapsed, Llamas said any workers inside of it would get Workers Compensation. The town could not get compensated for any damaged equipment, if the roof collapsed, because the insurance was withdrawn because of the building’s poor condition. She said the workers use it as little as possible, because the building is unstable.

“This is a bird-in-the-hand,” Selectman Cheryl L. Dukes said of the land deal. “If we do not purchase this, we’re all going back to Square 1. Even if we had property, it would take some time to build a highway garage.

“This is not just a matter of buying a piece of property outside of town, it’s a much bigger issue,” Dukes added. “A Highway Garage is critical infrastructure for this town. We’re doing the best we can with what we got. Right now, this (offer) is the best we’ve got.”

When asked how borrowing up to $1 million for the garage construction work would affect property owners’ taxes, Llamas said the cost wouldn’t come to taxpayers until 2016, but that it could be paid for within the town’s current tax levy limit. She estimated it would add about $70 to the average tax bill for someone with a home worth $200,000.

The warnings about the deteriorating condition of the old Conway Street Highway Garage started in 1989, but the garage was off limits for good in 2008, when the building inspector determined it was unsafe to park vehicles inside the crumbling concrete building. Since 2008, town vehicles have been garaged in various temporary places, and some have had to be left out in the open — even in winter. Previous study groups determined that a new garage built on the old highway garage lot would not be large enough to accommodate the town’s 11 modern vehicles.

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

(Editors note: Some information in this story has changed from an earlier version)

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