Bernardston Town Meeting voters pass all but two articles

  • Selectboard Vice Chair Stanley Garland, at right, speaks during Annual Town Meeting on Wednesday at the Kringle Candle Events Center in Bernardston. Chair Brian Keir is seated beside him. Staff Photo/Shelby Ashline

News Editor
Published: 5/26/2022 7:21:06 PM

BERNARDSTON — Sixty-four voters made quick work of the Annual Town Meeting warrant on Wednesday, passing all but two articles in less than an hour and a half.

The last order of business, Article 32, which proposed making the Planning Board the sole authority on issuing special permits, drew the most discussion from those gathered at the Kringle Candle Events Center, and was later postponed indefinitely. Additionally, a citizen’s petition in Article 26, which requested the town pave West Road beginning at Huckle Hill Road, at least through house No. 167, was passed over without discussion.

Financial items required two amendments. Article 7, covering contracted services, pension and insurance expenses, was bumped from $486,625.84 to $505,154.89 due to an increase in insurance costs, as described by Finance Committee Chair Jane Dutcher. Upon a motion from Selectboard Vice Chair Stanley Garland, the amount appropriated for the Fire Station Building Account in Article 21 was increased from $75,000 to $130,000. With these changes, the fiscal year 2023 budget passed at just over $5.09 million compared to the current year’s $4.71 million.

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.

With the majority of articles passing unanimously, most discussion came near the end of the meeting pertaining to Article 32, which proposed making 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.

Planning Board Chair Christina Slocum-Wysk provided an example, saying that 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.

“It helps streamline what is happening with our applicants,” she said of the proposed change. “We could have done everything at one time.”

Town Counsel Donna MacNicol said which board grants special permits varies by town across the state.

“It’s not consistent,” MacNicol said. “It’s really how the town wants to design their special permit process.”

Cousins Charlie and Russell Deane both spoke against the article.

“I’m on the zoning board and I don’t support it,” Russell Deane said. “I think (some special permit applications should) still should go to the zoning board.”

“I believe this here, they’re just trying to take the power away from the Zoning Board of Appeals,” Charlie Deane added.

Following these comments, Slocum-Wysk made a motion to postpone the article indefinitely, which was approved.

“I think that’s a good idea because we need to take a better look at this,” Garland said.

Questions were also raised on Article 31 regarding dog kennels, with Slocum-Wysk noting that other animal-related bylaw changes will likely come before voters in future years, now that the town is working with regional Animal Control Officer Kyle Dragon.

“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 previously to describe the dog kennel bylaw.

The bylaw change, as well as two other changes in Articles 29, pertaining to the number of self-storage facilities allowed in town, and Article 30, bringing the Floodplain Overlay District bylaws more in line with state regulations, were both approved.

Other articles that were approved unanimously include: setting aside $40,000 to pay Capital Strategic Solutions to apply for grants on Bernardston’s behalf; transferring $45,000 from the Vehicle Stabilization Account for a new police cruiser; entering into a payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) agreement for the solar arrays behind the Falltown Grill on South Street, through which the town will receive $30,000 annually for a 20-year period; and allocating $45,000, three times the usual request, for the Renovate/Construct Town Buildings Fund.

Fifteen-year Selectboard member Bob Raymond, who did not seek re-election this year, was also honored with citations from the state House of Representatives and Senate in recognition of his service.

Reach Shelby Ashline
at 413-772-0261, ext. 270 or sashline@recorder.com.


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