Buckland amends school budget, changes Town Meeting and election dates

  • Moderator Phoebe Walker speaks during Buckland's Special Town Meeting at Mohawk Trail Regional School on Saturday. For the Recorder/Talia Godfrey

  • Resident Janice Sorensen speaks during Buckland's Special Town Meeting at Mohawk Trail Regional School on Saturday. For the Recorder/Talia Godfrey

  • Residents stayed in their vehicles during Buckland's drive-in Special Town Meeting on Saturday at Mohawk Trail Regional School, with the exception of taking turns at the microphone. For the Recorder/Talia Godfrey

For the Recorder
Published: 9/27/2020 2:44:27 PM

BUCKLAND — Voters at Special Town Meeting on Saturday approved seven out of the eight articles on the warrant, including one to increase the town’s contribution to the Mohawk Trail Regional School District budget and another to change the dates of Town Meetings and elections.

The drive-in meeting in the Mohawk Trail Regional School parking lot was attended by 57 voters who socially distanced in alternating parking spots, raising cards to cast their votes and only leaving their spots to speak at a sanitized microphone.

The revised Mohawk Trail Regional School District budget assessment was approved in a non-unanimous vote, calling for $164,169 more than what was previously appropriated by the town in June.

“The Town Meeting approved a budget in June with the understanding that we would hold a Special Town Meeting to make adjustments as more information became known,” said Finance Committee Chair Larry Langford. According to Langford, while the School Committee has still not received revenue numbers from the state, sufficient guidance was received in August to prepare a budget.

The new budget of about $20.8 million is 0.33 percent higher than the fiscal year 2020 budget. According to School Committee Chair Martha Thurber, this is $613,773 less than the initially proposed 2021 budget, which equated to more than 10 full-time positions lost.

Reduction of reimbursements from the state for transportation, special education and rural school aid — likely due to pandemic-related budget cuts — are just a few components that led Buckland’s assessment to increase. Thurber said less money from revolving funds, including athletic fees and preschool tuition as well as increased enrollment, are also factors in raising the assessment.

The town voted to move Annual Town Meetings from Wednesdays to Saturdays and town elections to Tuesdays. In response to questions raised about the motivation for these changes, Selectboard member Dena Willmore said, “We’re searching for ways to increase participation, and Wednesday night participation has been going down. If you’re a family with kids or have a full-time job, doing a Wednesday night meeting can be difficult.”

Article 6 sought to allow bylaws to be amended at Special Town Meetings, not only during Annual Town Meetings, through a clarification of language. This sparked discussion, drawing a mix of concern and support voiced by a dozen community members.

John Gould, Planning Board co-chair, raised the point that a public hearing — an important space for questions and discussion — is required for any bylaw changes before Annual Town Meetings.

“Where there is no public forum required, the first time you’ll see that is when you have to vote on it,” he said.

When others voiced the same concern, Finance Committee member Paula Consolo moved to amend the article, adding that a public hearing must be held to discuss any bylaws that would be voted on during a Special Town Meeting. Voters approved the amendment.

Another concern raised by several residents was the lower participation rates in Special Town Meetings compared to Annual Town Meetings.

“This potentially allows an unpopular motion to pass because we don’t get the same support at Special Town Meetings as we do at Annual Town Meetings,” said Town Clerk Elizabeth Cerone.

Ultimately, the vote was unanimously tabled for Annual Town Meeting, when a greater portion of the community would be present.

In other financial business, voters approved allocating $15,000 to the winter roads general expense budget, leveling it with last year’s, and adding $10,000 to the “Salaries and Wages” line item of the Wastewater Treatment Facility’s budget, a cost that would be shared with Shelburne.

Town zoning bylaws will replace the title “Board of Selectmen” with “Select Board,” and in unanimous votes, articles 4 and 5 were approved to pay town bills and move free cash into the general stabilization account.

Greenfield Recorder

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