Charlemont candidates address town money woes



Staff Writer
Published: 11/1/2018 4:49:36 PM

CHARLEMONT — Money — and how to raise town revenue — was the main concern of residents who addressed Selectboard candidates Charles Ricko III and Jonathan Healy at this week’s candidates night.

Both men are vying for a one-year unexpired term on the Selectboard, in a special town election that takes place Nov. 6, the same date as the state general election. The polls will be open that day from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. at the Hawlemont Regional School.

Ricko, 46, was a police officer for 21 years. He retired from the Charlemont Police Department, as a police detective, in June, after serving that department for 12 years. He has been a town resident for about 12 years and is owner of the Overwatch Outpost Outfitters sporting goods store. Sarah, his wife, teaches at the Hawlemont Regional School, and the couple have five children.

“One goal I want to focus on: the taxes are outrageous here,” he told voters. I have a few ideas that I would like to get feedback on. I would like to cultivate streams of revenue that would benefit the town.” Ricko said he drives to other small, picturesque towns like Stockbridge and Woodstock, where streets are filled with people and wonders “why can’t we have a community like that.”

One idea for increasing revenue, Ricko said, would be to charge an overnight fee to groups that rent the Charlemont Fairgrounds for special events, but also camp overnight there, instead of going to the town’s commercial campgrounds. He said if that fee cost more than the commercial campgrounds charge, it would encourage people to stay at the commercial campgrounds, or at least generate more money for the town from such overnight stays.

Jonathan “Jay” Healy has lived most of his life in Charlemont and has spent about 40 years working in government. He became the local state representative in 1970 and served in the Legislature for 22 years before becoming the state Commissioner of Agriculture in 1992. He was commissioner for 12 years before joining the U.S. Department of Agriculture as its regional director of the Rural Development program. He and his wife, Bunny, raised two children in town and Healy, 73, currently farms at the Hall Tavern Farm.

Healy said the town would have more revenue if it could have “a bigger share of the pie,” when it comes to the distribution of tax dollars statewide.

For instance, the Mohawk and Hawlemont school districts pay twice as much for rural school bus transportation than school districts in larger population areas; but they are not reimbursed 100 percent for school bus transportation, as was written into state law for regional school districts. Getting the state to pay the promised 100 percent could add hundreds of thousands of dollars more in state aid to the school districts, lowering the costs to local taxpayers.

Here are their answers to some questions voters asked:

What do you think of the recreation tax?

Ricko said he is in favor of “some aspects” of the recreation tax, but also has concerns, because the 3 percent recreation tax would apply to guided fishing trips provided through Overwatch Outpost. He said he was not alerted about it when the recreation tax was proposed and felt the 3 percent local tax would “double-tax” out-of-state fishermen whose Massachusetts fishing license already includes a $5 “fishing stamp” fee.

Healy said he favors Charlemont’s 3 percent recreation tax because visitors who use the river would be helping the town cover the additional costs of ambulances, police services and river patrols needed because of the influx of visitors. He said visitors spending $100 on a kayaking or fishing trip would not be deterred by a $3 tax.

Where do you stand on regionalizing emergency services?

Healy said he didn’t think regionalizing emergency services is a good idea, because of the distances and length of time it would take for regional fire and ambulance services to travel to and from rural towns to the hospitals in Greenfield and North Adams.

Ricko said he thinks regional fire and ambulance services should be “looked into,” but that law enforcement should be kept local.

Where do you see Charlemont in 10 or 15 years from now?

Both candidates believe that broadband will provide more residents with the opportunity to work from home, and both candidates said Charlemont should capitalize on its “natural beauty.”

“If we become Route 9 between Amherst and Hadley, I think we would have killed the goose that lays the golden egg,” said Healy. “I’m not sure our housing stock of 50- to 100-year-old homes and lodging are what people want who come up and spend a few hundred dollars for weekend rafting.”

Ricko said he believes outdoor recreation will be good for the town. He said the Deerfield River is one of the top fly-fishing rivers in the country and that it will be “billed as a world-class river in five years. People are going to be coming, and they’re going to be looking for restaurants and lodging,” he said.

Healy said, when he was growing up, people couldn’t swim in that river, because raw sewage was discharged into it.

“One of my first acts as a state rep was to get that sewer district,” he said. “Now its really clean.”

Bringing in people for recreation would benefit businesses more than it benefits the townspeople. What would you do to help senior citizens to stay in their homes?

Healy said local businesses provide employment for local residents. He added that he is living on a fixed income, like others.

“Our income, this side of (Interstate) 495 is about one-third of theirs,” he said. “They get a bigger chunk of money for their schools than we do. We get the shorter end of the stick when it comes to Boston.”

He said he would like to “educate Boston” about the concerns of a small rural town.

Ricko said town taxes are too high, especially for those on fixed incomes.

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