Participating in woodlands partnership tops Hawley Special Town Meeting warrant

For the Recorder
Published: 10/16/2020 3:27:31 PM

HAWLEY — Voters will be asked to consider a seven-article warrant at Special Town Meeting on Monday, including one article seeking approval to join the Mohawk Trail Woodlands Partnership.

The meeting will take place under fire truck equipment lighting in the Town Office parking lot starting at 7 p.m. Masks are strongly recommended and social distancing is required. Folding chairs will be available and vehicles, other than for handicap parking, are directed to park along Pudding Hollow Road.

Discussions on whether to join the Mohawk Trail Woodlands Partnership first began last fall. Although the decision to join the program can be made by either a Selectboard vote or a Town Meeting vote, Selectboard Chair Hussain Hamdan explained that when the issue proved to be quite contentious, the Selectboard decided to put it to a Town Meeting vote.

“I’m not sure everybody is aware that the platform and goals of the partnership have changed,” Hamdan said. “A national forest is no longer part of the mission, but a lot of opposition is still there.”

The Western Massachusetts grassroots effort works to conserve forest land and enhance land-based economic development opportunities such as recreational tourism and sustainable forestry, with the purpose of promoting healthier forests and aiding in economic development for member towns. It is a channel through which member towns can obtain grants to further those goals.

Hamdan explained that past opposition toward the program was largely centered on the national forest agenda, as protected land generates less tax revenue for towns.

“Approximately half of the town’s land area is already protected,” he said. “The fact is, it would be very detrimental for the tax base to have any more land put on any more restrictions at this time.”

Now, for Hawley, the benefits of joining the Mohawk Trail Woodlands Partnership would come from access to grants and in the mission to promote a clean forest economy.

Although the vote on Hawley’s participation in the Woodlands Partnership Program was initially scheduled for Annual Town Meeting in June, the Selectboard came to a consensus that Annual Town Meeting would only vote on essential items that weren’t likely to generate a large turnout or lots of discussion for COVID-19-related safety.

It’s possible, however, that Monday’s vote could be a moot point. With the Mohawk Trail Woodlands Partnership’s membership deadline having passed in August, the agency has restricted Hawley from joining for three years.

The Selectboard is pushing back, though.

“Hawley doesn’t think that is an appropriate interpretation of the deadline,” Hamdan said. “We’re going to vote it, and it might just be a symbolic vote, that ball is in their court, but with everybody pushing back deadlines in this different reality, we don’t see any reason why this should be any different.”

According to Hamdan, the article may be passed over or counted as a “symbolic vote” if the program does not provide Hawley an extension.

In other business, Article 6 seeks to transfer $5,000 from the Fire Equipment Stabilization Fund to cover costs for a radio upgrade installation. The installation is related to a proposal from the Franklin Regional Council of Governments (FRCOG) and the state Executive Office of Public Safety and Security to migrate Franklin County’s emergency radio system to the state’s 800 megahertz system.

“We have some alternatives with better technology with lower frequency and that travels further, but regardless of where we proceed on radio equipment, we need to have interoperability with Franklin County partners,” Hamdan said. While the cost of the radios are covered by the state, this money would cover other expenses for installation, antennae and programming.

In a joint decision with Charlemont, attendees will vote on whether to allocate an additional $262,041 to the Hawlemont Regional School District. Although a higher assessment than that proposed at Annual Town Meeting, the school budget is still lower than fiscal year 2020’s budget due to cuts in revenue sources including state aid, transportation and tuition.

“We reduced it as much as we possibly could,” he said. “If we reduced it any more the feeling of the entire School Committee was that it would be catastrophic.”

A vote on the Mohawk Trail Regional School District budget re-assessment will be “a largely symbolic vote to signal how we feel,” Hamdan continued, as the budget has already received the votes needed to pass from other towns.

According to School Committee Chair Martha Thurber, Hawley’s total assessment is $184,533, which is an increase of $331 compared to the district’s previously proposed fiscal year 2021 budget, and a decrease of $13,711 compared to Hawley’s fiscal year 2020 assessment.

Article 5 authorizes the appropriation of $1,000 toward expenses for the Tri-Town Landfill, including a gate replacement and an inspection for contamination in peripheral wells.

Additionally, the town seeks approval to cover the $1,410 interest fee for the paving of West Hawley Road in Article 4. While the state covered project costs, the town had to borrow to front the expenses in the short term.

Article 1 involves the correction of a typographical error made during Annual Town Meeting, concerning vocational tuition. There will be no change in the budget.

The full warrant can be found at bit.ly/3nNoE7k.

An earlier version of this story contained inaccurate Mohawk Trail Regional School District budget information.




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