Ashfield voters support senior services district, table solar bylaw changes

  • Ashfield officials lead Annual Town Meeting proceedings on Saturday at Town Hall. For the Recorder/Diane Broncaccio

For the Recorder
Published: 5/8/2022 12:58:47 PM
Modified: 5/8/2022 12:57:06 PM

ASHFIELD — Annual Town Meeting voters approved 32 warrant articles on Saturday, backing a $7.4 million town budget, adopting proposed Mohawk Trail Regional School District charter changes and agreeing to form a new West County Senior Services District.

The last article on the warrant, however, which would have made changes to the town’s solar bylaw, was tabled after several revisions were introduced on the Town Meeting floor. The Planning Board is tasked with bringing a revised proposal to a future Town Meeting.

Budget

Although the town’s budget for fiscal year 2023 is $1 million more than the current year’s, $792,681 of that will be raised from the following sources: $97,112 from free cash; $646,053 from broadband and wastewater treatment enterprise funds; and $49,516 from estimated state aid and local receipts. The town’s tax rate, of $17.97 per $1,000 valuation, is likely to drop by at least 2 cents, according to the Finance Committee.

The combined operating and capital assessments for the Mohawk Trail Regional School District of nearly $2.46 million was slightly less than this fiscal year’s assessment, because of a drop in the capital assessment and a drop in Ashfield enrollment.

The proposed Mohawk Trail charter agreement changes only affect how Colrain and Heath will share Colrain Central School and its related costs, now that Heath’s elementary school students will be educated there instead of Hawlemont Regional School. However, all Mohawk Trail member towns are required to vote on such changes, under charter rules.

Senior services

On Saturday, both Buckland and Ashfield approved the plan to create a shared West County Senior Services District. Shelburne — the third member town — is to vote on June 11.

The plan calls for each of the three towns to appoint two residents to a six-member board of managers that will be authorized to apply for state and government grants, raise donations and accept contributions. They would also have the right to set fees.

The district cannot incur debt for either a new Senior Center or expanded capital projects without first getting approval through a majority vote by each town’s Selectboard, then a two-thirds vote of approval at all three Annual Town Meetings. With approval, the district would be authorized to incur debt to acquire land, construct or reconstruct buildings for senior services, or lease, mortgage or transfer property.

The towns would pay for annual operating services not covered by fees or grants based on the percentage of town residents using those senior services during the most recent five years. For instance, if 40% of the seniors served by district programs are from one town, then that town would pay 40% of any uncompensated operating costs.

The three towns now rent the first floor of the Masonic building at 7 Main St. in Shelburne Falls, but have outgrown the space, as more residents are now over age 60. The goal of creating a new senior services district is to give the towns an equal voice in how such services can best benefit their oldest residents. Also, proponents believe the new regional district will be more likely to secure state aid and regional grants.

Citizen’s petitions

Two non-binding resolutions on the warrant came from citizen’s petitions.

With little discussion, Ashfield unanimously backed putting the Fair Share Amendment on the state ballot. If approved, the bill would create a “millionaire’s tax” of 4% for anyone with an annual income of at least $1 million. The new tax would be used for public education and colleges, as well as for the repair and maintenance of roads, bridges and public transportation.

Secondly, voters unanimously supported a “Pollinator Resolution,” to protect bees, butterflies and natural habitat by minimizing the use of insecticides.

Solar bylaw amendment

The last article on the warrant — a solar bylaw amendment spelling out new requirements for large-scale, ground-mounted photovoltaic facilities — was tabled after several revisions were introduced on the Town Meeting floor.

The original amendment would set building permit, setback and dimensional requirements for ground-mounted solar arrays that take up between 1.5 acres and 10 acres of land. It would not affect solar panels attached to rooftops on homes or barns.

Medium- and large-scale ground-mounted structures would go through expanded application processes, with larger setbacks, minimal lighting and a sign identifying the owner or operator, along with a 24-hour telephone contact. The amendment includes a decommissioning procedure and surety to be set by the Planning Board to cover costs of removal and site restoration in the event that a facility is decommissioned.

Planning Board member Alan Rice said the existing, 10-year-old bylaw is “too broad” and needs more criteria governing the placement of large-scale solar facilities with minimal impact on landscape, scenic views and neighboring properties. A sheet of amendments to be approved at Town Meeting was handed out, but some amendments raised questions from the floor.

Selectboard member Todd Olanyk proposed tabling the article and asked the Planning Board to bring a revised bylaw proposal — with revisions written into the text — back for a future Town Meeting vote.

Election

Nearly 8% of the town’s 1,422 registered voters came out Saturday to fill town offices that were up for election or re-election this spring.

With no contests on the ballot, the 110 voters selected the following candidates on Saturday. All are for three-year terms unless otherwise noted:

Moderator (one year), Stewart “Buz” Eisenberg; Selectboard, Thomas Carter; tree warden (one year), Thomas Poissant; Board of Assessors, Faye Whitney-Lussier; Board of Health, Evelyn Resh; Finance Committee, Bennett Markens and Mark Burton; Sewer Commission, Richard Taylor; Park Commission, Karen Jones (two years) and Judith Haupt (three years); constable, Elizabeth Lesure; Planning Board, Kenneth Miller (four years) and Richard Chandler (five years); and library trustee (five years), Nicole Williams.


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