Bernardston sets special town meeting for Sept. 22

BERNARDSTON — School funding, zoning changes and new energy-efficient construction requirements are scheduled to be decided at a September special town meeting.

The meeting is tentatively set for 7 p.m. on Sept. 22 in Bernardston Elementary School.

The only funding article will seek $130,530.60 to cover the gap between the town’s approved share of the Pioneer Valley Regional School District budget and its actual assessment.

In May, annual town meeting voters approved $2.45 million for its share of the district budget, a 4 percent increase. The Selectboard and Finance Committee initially recommended $2.41 million, a 2.5 percent increase, but increased their recommendation to $2.45 million. The district had originally sought $2.61 million.

With a Northfield Proposition 2 1/ 2 override vote affirming that town’s approval of its full share, and the approval of Leyden and Warwick’s full shares, Bernardston became liable for the full amount.

The school district later revised its assessments, shaving $100,000 off towns’ shares due to higher School Choice revenues and state transportation reimbursement than previously expected.

This cut $32,4200 from Bernardston’s share.

At Wednesday’s Board of Selectmen meeting, former Finance Committee member Frank Ribiero asked the board to consider tapping into the town’s stabilization fund to pay at least a portion of the $130,530 to offset the effect on property taxes.

“It seems like we never use our stabilization funds,” Ribiero said. “I think we’re all interested in keeping the tax rate low.”

Ribiero pointed out that the annual town meeting approved the transfer of $85,000 of unused prior year funds to the stabilization account. He asked that the board think about using at least that $85,000 to offset the school budget.

Board of Selectmen Chairman Robert Raymond said the board will discuss the proposal with the Finance Committee. If the money were to be taken from stabilization, it would require approval from two-thirds of town meeting voters.

Zoning changes

In addition to the funding question, five zoning articles will focus on making a part of South Street more business-friendly.

The articles would expand the town’s “center village” district to areas of South Street between Cross Street and the Greenfield line. The zoning designation allows a mix of residential and business uses.

Two-family homes are currently allowed by special permit in residential zones, and by-right in the center village zone. New multi-family homes are not allowed in residential zones, but are allowed in center village by special permit. The center village zone also allows boarding houses and other “non-family acommodations” by-right, and they require a special permit in residential zones.

Private commercial campgrounds, allowed by special permit in the residential and residential/agricultural zones are not allowed in center village, nor is a “commercial piggery on 5 acres or less.”

Hotels and motels may be built in center village with a special permit, as are gas stations, auto shops, business and professional offices and retail stores less than 5,000 square feet.

The town has made several attempts to extend the center village zone down South Street, and the Planning Board broke the proposal into sections to give voters more control.

Stretch code

Voters will be asked again to adopt the “stretch building code,” a set of energy-efficient regulations for new construction and certain large-scale renovations.

The stretch code requires more insulation and more energy-efficient windows than the current regulations, as well as other energy-saving measures.

These regulations were defeated at a 2010 special town meeting.

Opponents have said that the regulations add too much to the cost of new construction and renovations, while proponents said homeowners would save money in the long run due to lower energy costs.

The adoption of the stretch code is one of five criteria towns need to qualify for state “green community” designation. Green communities are eligible for benefits including grants for future energy-saving town projects.

The town has completed two other green community criteria, and is working toward the requirement that the town establish a municipal energy use baseline and formulate a plan to reduce it by 20 percent over five years.

The final criterion would be a bylaw requiring the town to purchase fuel-efficient vehicles, with emergency vehicles exempt.

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

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