Bernardston Town Meeting topics include zoning changes, $40K to apply for grants

News Editor
Published: 5/23/2022 3:13:41 PM

BERNARDSTON — A series of zoning bylaw changes and a proposal to appropriate $40,000 to hire a company that would apply for grants on the town’s behalf are among the topics coming before Annual Town Meeting voters on Wednesday.

The meeting will be held at 7 p.m. at the Kringle Candle Events Center, located at 219 South St. The full 32-article warrant can be viewed at

Article 22, which would set aside $40,000 to pay Capital Strategic Solutions to apply for grants on Bernardston’s behalf, comes following a well-attended April Selectboard meeting in which Planning Board members voiced issues to address, qualities of the town to preserve and grants to pursue that would both help attract visitors and maintain quality of life for residents. Attendees voiced support regarding the prospect of adding an economic developer, and comments about securing more grant funding were continuously met with applause.

After considering residents’ requests, Selectboard Vice Chair Stanley Garland said during a meeting earlier this month that the board does not feel like the town could afford to hire someone. However, hiring Capital Strategic Solutions may serve as a more cost-effective alternative.

“Capital Strategic Solutions is a company that will do the grant writing,” Garland explained. “They’ll look for grants, send them out to us to see if we want to pursue ’em. We need to have money up front so we can pay for that service when we need it. We’re not saying we’re going to use all of (the $40,000), but as we need it, we need to have the money up front.”

Town Coordinator Lou Bordeaux said Capital Strategic Solutions’ hourly rate is $160. Should the town need five hours of grant work per month, this would cost $9,600 over the course of a year. Ten hours per month would cost $19,200 per year.

“To look at the potential in the warrant article, I think that definitely errs on the side of caution,” Bordeaux said. “It leaves us enough leeway where, if there’s suddenly an avalanche of grants that look like it’s going to be really good business for Bernardston, we’re going to be able to take advantage of that. … Quite frankly, I’m pretty excited about the potential I hear.”

Many articles on the warrant are considered annually, such as cemetery maintenance costs and property revaluation, or biannually, such as transferring $45,000 from the vehicle stabilization account for a new police cruiser. Other financial items include appropriating $75,000 to put toward the cost of an architect and project manager for the Fire Station addition, and entering into a payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) agreement for the solar arrays behind the Falltown Grill on South Street. Under the agreement, set to go into effect on July 1, the town will receive $30,000 annually for a 20-year period, 100% of which will be put into the stabilization fund.

The proposed fiscal year 2023 budget, according to Finance Committee Chair Jane Dutcher, is nearly $5.04 million, an increase of $325,683 over fiscal year 2022’s $4.71 million budget. Increases relate to adding a fourth full-time police officer, raising the snow and ice budget, cost-of-living adjustments and health insurance costs.

“We did not increase stipends for all employees,” Garland clarified. “When we talk cost of living, it’s for our salaried, hourly employees only.”

The town clerk’s budget will increase from $28,158 in FY22 to $41,161 in FY23 due to the greater number of elections this year, and to accommodate two additional hours for both the town clerk and assistant town clerk each week, as explained by Selectboard Chair Brian Keir. One employee was also moved from the Town Hall account to the Highway Department, which shows up on the budget as an increase to the Highway Department payroll line item. The total Highway Department budget is up from $358,370 to $426,420, with the snow and ice budget increasing from $64,800 to $82,290.

“The cost of salt has gone up a crazy amount of money,” Keir noted.

“The thing that we need to keep in mind is the last two winters, we haven’t seen a lot of snow, but we’ve seen a lot of ice,” Garland added. “We’re doing the best we can, but that’s one of those items where you just don’t know where it’s going to come in at. And it could change by next winter.”

Education expenses amount to nearly $3.42 million, between Bernardston’s assessments to the Pioneer Valley Regional School District and Franklin County Technical School. Pioneer’s assessment is up from nearly $2.99 million in FY22 to roughly $3.08 million in FY23. Meanwhile, the assessment to Franklin Tech decreased by $108,000 due to a decline in Bernardston students attending the school.

The Planning Board is also bringing forward four articles related to zoning changes, all of which require a two-thirds majority vote.

Both Article 30, pertaining to the Floodplain Overlay District, and Article 31, regarding dog kennels, will be brought more in line with state regulations, according to Planning Board Chair Christina Slocum-Wysk.

“That’s just to make it clear that if people aren’t doing it for a business, they don’t have to come to us for a special permit,” she said of the dog kennel bylaw. “If the person has more than four dogs, they still have to have an inspection (by the animal control officer), but they don’t need to come for a special permit.”

If approved, Article 32 would make the Planning Board the sole authority on issuing special permits. Currently, permits are issued by either the Planning Board or the Zoning Board of Appeals, depending on their nature. For example, Slocum-Wysk said, in the case of Dollar General, the applicant came to the Planning Board for building approval, but to the Zoning Board of Appeals for sign approval.

“I think it would just make it easier for applicants,” she noted.

Lastly, Article 29 would amend the bylaw on self-storage facilities, following the Planning Board’s recent approval of a special permit for a second self-storage facility in town, to be operated by Patriot Holdings LLC between Dollar General and The Heirloom Collective marijuana grow facility on Route 10.

“We just feel that two is probably enough for the town of Bernardston, so we want to not allow any more in any district,” Slocum-Wysk said.

A citizen’s petition, in Article 26, requests that the town pave West Road beginning at Huckle Hill Road, at least through house No. 167, and incorporate any additional area Highway Superintendent Brian Miner deems necessary. However, Keir said the Selectboard and Finance Committee do not support the citizen’s petition.

Reach Shelby Ashline
at 413-772-0261, ext. 270 or


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