Buckland OKs  meal tax, pays down storm debt

Recorder Staff
Published: 5/10/2018 8:52:28 PM

BUCKLAND — With revenue growth flat-lining in recent years, the town asked for — and got — Annual Town Meeting approval for a 1.5 percent increase for town expenditures in the coming fiscal year.

But voters also supported measures to boost town revenues, including passage of a 3 percent sales tax on retail marijuana and a less-than 1 percent local option meals and beverage tax that would stay in town.

Expenditures that the town supported include:

$1,825,805 operating budget for the town.

$2,295,046 for the Mohawk school district operating assessment (a $97,829 increase) and $80,802 for its capital district assessment.

$103,582 for the Franklin County Technical School assessment (a $28,933 decrease).

Voters also backed Mohawk’s borrowing of $230,000 to finish asbestos abatement and other repairs at Buckland Shelburne Elementary School, a shared cost with Shelburne, in which each town will repay $115,000 for the work.

Buckland also became the third and final town to allocate $15,000 for a Senior Center Capital Fund, to help the center find a new site where it can either build or renovate a space for a larger senior center, serving Buckland, Ashfield and Shelburne.

The town will use up to $140,000 of its General Stabilization Account to pay down a debt generated by repairs for Tropical Storm Irene damages in 2011. Town Administrator Andrea Llamas said that, if the $500,000 in reimbursement money for the work is approved in this year’s state budget, Buckland could pay off the debt. But the town allocation will at least ensure the debt is being paid down. FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Act) delays in processing paperwork for flood repairs delayed state reimbursement for a portion of emergency repairs.

Buckland will spend $140,000 from its Highway Stabilization Account to replace a 30-year-old highway truck that did not pass its most recent inspection. Highway Superintendent Steve Daby said the department would need to spend up to $20,000 to repair it, and would “still have an unsafe, unreliable vehicle.”

As with other Mohawk member towns, Buckland voted down a plan to move sixth-graders from the elementary schools into the middle school wing at Mohawk. However, the measure failed by a narrow margin, with 33 in favor of the plan, 36 opposed. The other Mohawk district agreement changes, for vocational transportation and to remove the Rowe tuition formula from the regional agreement, were unanimously approved.

Although Buckland hasn’t received any applications from prospective marijuana-related businesses, it unanimously supported levying a 3 percent retail sales tax for any product purchased in town. Town officials said it’s best to have the tax in place before such a business comes to town.

The local options meal tax of less than 1 cent for each dollar spent raised concerns from resident Raymond Lanza-Weil that the tax would make Buckland’s five restaurants less competitive with Shelburne’s seven restaurants, which don’t have this tax.

“Buckland has had no growth in revenues,” Selectwoman Dena Willmore said. “This 0.75 percent would not bring in a lot of money, but for us, it would bring in $20,000. That, for us, would make a difference. I would be very surprised if anybody knew that the three-fourths of one cent was there.”

Town Tax Collector/Treasurer Lisa Blackmer said the local meals tax comes to 75 cents for every $100 spent.

“In North Adams, everybody said it would hurt businesses. But people don’t make a cognitive choice (based) on that,” she said.

Michael McCusker said he spoke with local restaurateurs who told him they didn’t mind the tax and would be glad to help out the town.

In other business, the town approved an article requiring pet owners to pick up their dog’s poop from private or public property, or face a $25 fine for each offense, after much conversation. Some argued that the pooper-scooper law was appropriate for town center but not for rural places, where dogs might not be on leashes.


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