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Sunderland residents come together for balanced budget

SUNDERLAND —In just over two hours, 83 townspeople approved a $7,075,662 total budget at the annual town meeting Friday night with little debate.

But before they delved into town finances, they stood in silence, facing the American flag, to remember the victims of the Boston Marathon bombings on April 15.

His voice overcome with emotion, Town Moderator Robert Duby, said “(The crimes) served to unite us. The fact that we are gathered this evening to participate in town meeting provides further proof to our dedication to our traditions and way of life.”

It was the first balanced budget voters approved since the failed override in 2010 led to cuts in town departments. In all, voters unanimously approved almost all 24 articles. Of the total $398,527 surplus or “free cash,” the town will use $119,558 in Fiscal Year 2014. The operating budget amounted to $6,032,595, up 1.5 percent.

Though the Frontier Regional School operating budget has drawn much criticism from Sunderland’s neighbors across the Connecticut River in Conway and Deerfield, the budget request passed quickly in the town. Sunderland’s share is $1,666,469, an increase of $15,133 or 0.9 percent. The overall budget is $9,465,693 — decreased by $119,395 over the course of the budget process.

“This has been a very interesting year,” said Selectman Chairman Thomas Fydenkevez. “Two towns across the river are having the trouble we have four years ago. It took the towns four years to get to where Sunderland is now. The only good thing about all of this is we finally got the towns in a position where we can come together and talk. That’s what we’ve been asking for.”

The Frontier School Committee will meet with its the four towns — Deerfield, Sunderland, Conway and Whately — in September to discuss the regional agreement and budget.

Fydenkevez warned he did not know whether the town would have to return in the summer to vote on a new Frontier budget if other towns vote it down. Deerfield and Conway have demanded cuts to decrease the budget increase by 3 percent and 2.5 percent, respectively. With a decreasing percentage share, Whately has recommended the budget.

Swiftly, the town approved the $2,085,732 budget for the elementary school, an increase of $34,446 or 1.7 percent. The assessment for the Franklin County Technical School actually decreased by $21,488 to $198,446.

A second heated Frontier request — the capital improvement requests — also passed easily. The town approved $17,759,25 for its share of the $67,500 for school building safety and security updates and axed the requests for $5,750 in electrical improvements, $30,000 for a maintenance truck and $30,000 for a student transport van, which lost its brakes earlier in the day.

The motion will carry only if the other Frontier towns support their shares of the safety and security improvements, explained Town Administrator Margaret Nartowicz. Town counsel has advised that the town is not required to fund the capital projects because they were not included in the operating budget, which it is required to fund.

Frontier Principal and next superintendent, Martha Barrett, said she hopes Deerfield will reconsider its school capital recommendation and fund at least its portion of the safety projects. Deerfield is only paying part of its share.

Selectman candidate Peter Murphy requested the town to increase the police department budget by $16,500, but no one backed the motion. The budget was funded at $352,254, an increase of $10,403 from the current year.

Murphy — whose one campaign goal is to put money back into town departments that suffered cuts after 2010 — wanted to fund the part-time officers at the level they were in 2009.

The Fire Department budget was funded at $174,375, which is a $1,998 increase. Fydenkevez took the opportunity to remind the townspeople that next time they vote on money for the fire department, it would be for a regional paramedic service with Deerfield and perhaps Whately. The goal is to get the upgraded service running by January.

The residents also moved one step closer to paying off a 10-year-old bond from the Massachusetts School Building Authority used to build the Sunderland Elementary School. It will pay $2,121,000 and have two more payments left.

“You all deserve credit for taking a hard stance and rebuilding the school,” said Selectman Scott Bergernon.

The town approved $124,050 for nine capital projects for next year. It includes $3,761,50 for a new fence around the Sunderland Public Library parking lot, $3,200 for mobile data terminals, $1,050 for taser guns for the Police Department, $77,000 to replace the 1999 small dump truck, $2,226 for the installation of salt shed siding and $30,000 for pre-engineering for North Main Street reconstruction.

At the request of the selectmen and Police Department, residents withdrew Articles 10 and 11 concerning the state Police Educational Incentive Program or the Quinn Bill.

The 1970 Quinn Bill rewards police with a 10 percent raise from their base salary for an associate’s degree and a 20 percent salary increase for a bachelor’s degree, and 25 percent for a master’s degree.

This year the state Legislature voted to stop funding its share of the education benefits. The selectmen and Police Department wanted to discuss how the town will pay the benefits in negotiations rather than at a public town meeting.

The town authorized $22,000 in Community Preservation Fund money to repair and restore the Graves Memorial Library building windows and $20,000 to pay for the Town Office building restoration project. It also supported $3,900 for a Geographic Information System to make property records, maps and permit data available online.

It also approved $4,878, to pay for highway snow and ice wages due to the small amount of snow this year. To pay off old bills, the town authorized $9,122.42.

The man behind every town meeting broadcast on cable, Tom Zimnowski, received the Spirit of Sunderland award. The town report was dedicated to Marion Markwell, a former Planning Board member and business owner.

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

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