In The Arena

In the Arena: Greenfield's poppin'

Here’s a lot of political news popping in Greenfield on this April Fools week, and, as usual, not a lot of it is good.

Winn loss?

The town took a body blow when it was revealed that Fire Chief Michael Winn had been offered an opportunity to become chief of the Centerville-Osterville-Marston Mills department on Cape Cod.

The operative word in that sentence is “offered,” because even though he was the lone finalist plucked from 53 applicants in a nationwide search, Winn still hasn’t decided whether to take the job, as I write this.

“There is a lot to consider,” Winn said. “At this point, it is only an offer. I haven’t accepted anything.”

Assuming all of the logistical issues get ironed out, I can’t imagine why Winn wouldn’t pursue this opportunity, especially given all of the fiscal and managerial drama surrounding Greenfield’s public safety departments these days.

Keep that eraser handy

I hope Greenfield School Superintendent Susan Hollins’ final draft budget wasn’t written in permanent ink.

House and Senate leaders this week pretty much guaranteed that Greenfield school budget writers will have to go back to the drawing board when they shot a big hole in Gov. Deval Patrick’s budget plan for next year.

Patrick, as you may recall, proposed $2 billion in new taxes, including a 1 percent increase in the income tax, to cover a variety of new transportation and education initiatives. House Speaker Robert DeLeo and Senate President Therese Murray effectively blew that out of the water with a scaled-down, $500 million transportation plan funded largely by tobacco and gas tax increases.

The killer for Greenfield, however, is that the DeLeo-Murray plan contains no funding for Patrick’s education initiatives, including a big bump in Chapter 70 aid that Greenfield was counting on to fund Hollins’ proposed 8.5 percent budget increase.

Voter apathy?

Greenfield residents must be pretty happy with their current government, because there are exactly zero competitive races on this year’s town election ballot.

Assistant Town Clerk Deborah Tuttle this week said all nomination papers have been returned and there are no races for Town Council, School Committee, or any other elected office — negating the need for a preliminary election on April 30 during the special U.S. Senate primary election.

“In fact, we have vacancies on the ballot for trustees of the Jennie L. Bascom and A.K. Warner funds,” Tuttle said.

This lack of races is likely to keep voters away. I expect just 7 to 10 percent of voters showing up at the polls this year at the Guiding Star Grange because of ongoing renovations at the high school.

K-12 to Lunt?

Greenfield Mayor Bill Martin certainly isn’t wasting any time on the attracting new tenants for the former Lunt property on Federal Street.

Martin confirmed during a recent Greenfield Town Council meeting that he is in talks with K-12 Inc. to move into the former Lunt Design Center and Marketplace, a deal that His Honor stressed is only in the preliminary stages.

“There’s been a discussion I’ve had with K-12 that if they are going to have a partial presence in Massachusetts, they’d like it to be in Greenfield,” Martin said. “I suggested that property because we can rent it quickly and derive some income while we’re still working on a site plan and finishing out back with the demolition.”

K-12 is the private company that has been helping run Greenfield’s Virtual Academy for the past four years, and may play a role in operating Greenfield’s “commonwealth virtual school”; the request for such a proposal is due at the Massachusetts Department of Education later this month. Martin also said there is a possibility that the Greenfield Recreation Department could get some space in the design center, that may also be used as temporary polling place for the town, in addition to the Grange.

That’s quite a bit of attention and activity for a property that the town, technically, doesn’t even own yet.

Split tax back

One thing which could bring voters out to the polls in June is a non-binding referendum question on the split tax rate issue.

The Town Council is expected, this spring, to debate whether to put the issue on the ballot, an effort that could be buoyed by a report this week in the Boston Business Journal, that lists Greenfield’s tax rate as third on the list of towns with the highest residential tax rates in the commonwealth.

Conversely, Greenfield’s $20.72 rate ranks 85th on the list of town commercial and industrial tax burdens. This will only serve to bolster the argument to split the rates that the council has to vote on each year, with or without the cover of an Election Day straw poll.

Chris Collins is the Franklin County News Bureau Chief for WHAI, WPVQ and WHMP Radio. He is a former staff reporter for The Recorder, and is a Greenfield native.

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