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Ashfield Selectboard reorganizes

ASHFIELD — Within the first five minutes of this week’s Selectboard meeting, newly elected member Thomas Carter was made chairman by his two fellow board members who have been at odds in recent weeks.

“This is an honor,” said Carter. On the table in front of him was his iPad and stainless steel mug that said “Don’t be a Pin-Head.”

“I appreciate all the support from the town, and from those who came out on Saturday to vote for me,” he said. Carter joked that he should be called a “recycled selectman,” because of his years on the board in the 1990s.

Carter came forward after former Selectboard Chairman Douglas Field resigned, citing health reasons but expressing frustration with an impasse in ongoing discussions about housing conditions and management of the Ashfield House over the past 18 months as a factor in his resignation. During the fall, the board had several heated discussions about conduct during the meetings and about how the meetings were run.

“Selectboard meetings are to do the business of the town,” Carter said Wednesday. “It’s an open meeting, but not a public hearing. Unless someone is on the agenda, it will be rare that I will take a person, unless it’s at the end of the meeting (during a public comment period).”

The other board members said letting residents give information during some of their meetings has been useful. Carter said there will probably be exceptions to the rule, but “I just don’t want things to get in the way” of addressing agenda items.

“I don’t want there to be a lot of surprises, he said. “We’ve got a lot of work to do.”

Member Paullette Leukhardt was appointed to serve as the board’s vice-chair and clerk. The third member is Ron Coler.

Carter proposed meeting Monday nights, so that the board could sign warrants to pay bills and discuss any questions in open meeting. Until now, the board members get an email on Fridays, saying the warrants are ready for signing. They individually come to Town Hall during the weekend to sign the warrants, so that payment can go out on Mondays. If any bill is questioned, it is put aside until the next Selectboard meeting.

Carter felt the board was more likely to raise questions if warrants are signed during the meetings.

Also, for the next two months, the board will meet Monday nights for routine meetings and Wednesday nights for budget discussions with the Finance Committee, the Selectboard agreed.

In other business, Mohawk Trail Regional School Committee member Emily Robertson told the Selectboard and Finance Committee that the town may see a $95,000 school assessment increase from Mohawk. Robertson said the overall budget increase for the eight-town district is 2.5 percent, but that a state spending formula determines how much of the total budget should be borne by each town, based in part by property values. For the past three years, Ashfield saw level-funded or slightly decreased assessments. Robertson said the school district has used its “excess and deficiency” revenues to lower assessments to towns, but cannot do that indefinitely.

Carter, who formerly served on the Finance Committee, remarked that the town’s entire 2.5 percent growth in tax revenues for the coming year is only about $77,000. The Selectboard and Finance Committee are planning to attend Mohawk’s public hearing for the school budget, on Feb. 20.

The board also discussed how to improve its electronic record management, to comply with state regulations concerning backup copies of electronic data and e-mail management. That discussion is to continue during the board’s next meeting on Feb. 18.

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

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