Despite school controversy, Shelburne voters pass $4.92M budget

  • Shelburne’s Annual Town Meeting was held at Buckland-Shelburne Elementary School on Saturday. STAFF PHOTO/BELLA LEVAVI

  • Shelburne’s Annual Town Meeting was held under a tent on the grounds of Buckland-Shelburne Elementary School on Saturday. STAFF PHOTO/BELLA LEVAVI

Staff Writer
Published: 6/13/2022 3:35:25 PM

SHELBURNE — Residents spoke out against the rising Mohawk Trail Regional School District budget and declining school enrollment for more than an hour and a half during Saturday’s Annual Town Meeting, although the fiscal year 2023 omnibus budget of roughly $4.92 million ultimately passed.

The meeting was held under a tent on the grounds of Buckland-Shelburne Elementary School. The entire meeting lasted approximately five hours. There were 83 residents in attendance.

With the exception of Articles 15 and 34, all 34 articles on Saturday’s warrant were approved. Article 15 called to transfer $22,500 from the Stabilization Account to buy a solar-powered LED messaging board. This board was instead bought with a state grant.

Article 34 would have created a committee for the Community Preservation Act. The town will have to approve this change on the ballot before a committee can be made.

School budget

The omnibus budget was discussed in Article 7, with residents having the ability to approve or reject individual line items. Four lines were discussed at the meeting: emergency management expenses, the Bridge of Flowers, the Shelburne Falls Village Partnership and the Mohawk Trail school district assessment.

Residents quickly got into a heated discussion about the Mohawk Trail budget, starting with a statement from Finance Committee member John Redeker, who said the committee does not recommend this line in the budget. He explained more than half of the town’s tax revenue supports the school district and only 274 students are enrolled. The Finance Committee recommended using last year’s Mohawk Trail assessment for Shelburne instead, which would have been $2.45 million — about $146,300 less than this year’s assessment.

“The FY 2023 budget has programs in line with the town’s strategic plan,” noted Mohawk Trail and Hawlemont regional school districts’ Superintendent Sheryl Stanton. “All of the additional funding is meant to keep students enrolled in the school.”

Shelburne resident Maria Kingsley argued that School Committee members are “not doing their due diligence to increase enrollment.”

School Committee member Jason Cusimano said “the whole point of the budget is to make the school more attractive to get kids to stay. Cutting the budget doesn’t do that.”

According to Cusimano, 17 Shelburne students attend Four Rivers Charter Public School in Greenfield, which reflects nearly $500,000 in the Mohawk Trail budget.

School Committee member Julie Dubreuil made a motion to vote on the Mohawk Trail line item separately. Due to confusion regarding whether that would lead to problems in the budget, however, the motion was withdrawn and replaced with a straw poll of how residents felt about the current school budget.

Thirty-nine people voted in support of the school budget, 37 people voted against it and five people abstained.

“The fact that it was just about a 50/50 vote spoke volumes that we have nearly 50% of those in attendance, and I would speculate higher as a whole town, who are not satisfied with the budget process about how Mohawk is moving forward,” Selectboard member Robert Manners said. “I think that is invaluable.”

After the discussion concluded, the roughly $4.92 million omnibus budget passed.

For more budget information from the school district, visit bit.ly/3MP0kgz.

Senior services

Article 32, creating a West County Senior Services District among Shelburne, Buckland and Ashfield, received 49 “yes” votes, 10 “no” votes and one abstention. The same verbiage was presented at the Buckland and Ashfield Town Meetings, and passed at both.

In a subsequent phone interview, Manners spoke about the interim needs for the seniors of Shelburne.

“I spoke to the concerns of the vast unknown and a lack of plans to address the immediate needs of seniors,” he said. Manners explained there is a lack of handicap-accessible toilets in the rented Senior Center in the Masonic building at 7 Main St. He said there is also a need for office space.

For the past several years, study groups have explored new sites for a possible Senior Center expansion. But the new district will not have the authority to rent, buy or build any future Senior Center building unless it has Town Meeting approval from all three member towns.

“The regionalization concept is something that will benefit the elders of West County,” Manners said. “There are issues at hand that we are not addressing and we need to focus on those.”

Community Preservation Act

Following the approval of Article 33, the town will put a question about enacting the Community Preservation Act (CPA) on its ballot for consideration in November. The concept involves adding a 3% surcharge on property taxes that, coupled with a state match, can be used to build and rehabilitate parks, playgrounds and recreational fields; protect open space; support local affordable housing development; and preserve historic buildings and resources.

During a lengthy discussion, the article was amended to clarify exemptions from the surcharge. The first $100,000 of property values is exempt. Low- and moderate-income seniors, as well as those who qualify as low-income property owners, can be exempt from the surcharge as well. Renters would not have to pay the surcharge because the CPA tax is a property tax.

The proposal to adopt the Community Preservation Act will now be placed on the November ballot.

“We have a number of projects in the four categories that will benefit from CPA,” Selectboard member Andrew Baker said in a subsequent phone interview.

Baker noted that if the town were to set the CPA surcharge at less than 3%, the state would not provide a dollar-for-dollar match. He said 3% is “where the real bang for the buck comes in for doing these projects at half the cost we would normally pay.”

Other articles

Article 16, a proposal to use $100,000 to construct a three-sided pole barn to store Highway Department equipment, passed with five abstentions.

Article 22, a proposition to lease a green space at 19 Bridge St. from Ancient Glacier LLC, passed with 42 affirmative votes, 18 negative votes and six abstentions. The language of the article was amended from saying “as an outdoor dining area” to say, “as an outdoor dining area and other purposes.”

The article was passed without the town having the lease in hand from the landowners. The article simply raised the $3,500 to cover the first year of the lease.

Contact Bella Levavi
at 413-930-4579 or
blevavi@recorder.com.


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