Shutesbury voters approve spending for new library in a landslide 

  • Hundreds of residents attended Shutesbury’s Annual Town Meeting Saturday behind Town Hall. STAFF PHOTO/CHRIS LARABEE

  • State Rep. Natalie Blais, D-Sunderland, presents an official recognition from the state Legislature for Fire Chief Walter Tibbetts, who has served the town for 45 years. Tibbetts was unable to attend Annual Town Meeting on Saturday as he is at home recovering from a broken leg. STAFF PHOTO/CHRIS LARABEE

  • M.N. Spear Memorial Library Director Mary Anne Antonellis speaks to Annual Town Meeting voters on Saturday about the proposed new library. STAFF PHOTO/CHRIS LARABEE

  • Shutesbury Town Clerk Grace Bannasch collects ballots as a secret ballot was used to conduct the vote for approving the transfer and borrowing of money for the proposed new M.N. Spear Memorial Library. STAFF PHOTO/CHRIS LARABEE

Staff Writer
Published: 5/21/2022 10:07:10 PM

SHUTESBURY — A decade after voters failed to provide support for a new library to replace the century-old M.N. Spear Memorial Library, hundreds of residents on Saturday overwhelmingly approved spending nearly $1.3 million and borrowing up to $1.17 million for a new library by a vote of 422-85.

The more than 500 residents who attended Annual Town Meeting behind Town Hall on Saturday discussed the need for the new 5,490-square-foot library, which comes with an estimated price tag of $6.4 million. The town was selected for the statewide Small Library Pilot Project, meaning the town will have to cover one-quarter of eligible costs, and all of the ineligible costs, which combined are estimated at $2.44 million.

In approving the library spending, residents transferred $250,000 from free cash, $238,000 from the capital stabilization fund, $150,000 from the stabilization fund, $252,700 from the town’s library capital building fund, $323,854 from the library gift fund and $57,528 as a credit for the assessed value of town land.

Library Director Mary Anne Antonellis said the M.N. Spear Memorial Library, which lacks running water, fails to meet the needs of the community and this project, which will not require any additional staffing, is “economical,” “efficient” and “flexible.”

“This will create the community center so many of us crave,” Antonellis said. “It will be ours and a gift to the next generation.”

Finance Committee member Jim Hemingway spoke against the library, calling it an “extremely expensive” project “on a huge scale like never seen before.”

Resident Leslie Luchonok also spoke against the library and said it would affect the “affordability of everyone in town.” Luchonok introduced an amendment that proposed striking the transfers from free cash, and the capital stabilization and stabilization funds — thus increasing the amount needed to be borrowed to $1.8 million — in the interest of saving these funds for “other expenditures.”

“I think these reserves should not be used for the library,” he said before filing his amendment. “If we want this new library, we should go for the full boat.”

Voters shot down the amendment.

Numerous residents spoke in favor of the project before the question was called, as they said the costs of the library were worth the additional resources it could provide for the community.

“I very much understand the concern about cost of living,” said Suzanne Palmer, noting she is a single parent of three children. “The benefits the library brings to us as a community are incalculable. … I really, really hope people can come together and see this as something we all do for each other.”

Votes were tallied by secret ballot, as the project was approved 422-85. The announcement of the approval was met with thunderous applause and whistling from residents. The next step, Moderator Paul Lyons said, is for voters to return to the ballot box to approve a Proposition 2½ override vote. The election is expected to be held on June 28.

Elementary school roof

Voters were less enthusiastic, however, about transferring $700,000 from free cash to fund the design/engineering study and replacement of the asphalt section of the Shutesbury Elementary School roof, which was brought forward as a citizen’s petition.

Several members of the Finance Committee said the town is not in the position to set this type of money aside for a project that will be pursued in the fall anyway with better financial standing, according to committee member George Arvanitis.

“We will be in a much better position in the fall to fund this,” Arvanitis said. “It’s a cash-flow game. … Today’s articles that we’ve approved have already brought our free cash down to a lower level than we’re used to.”

Earlier in the meeting, however, in Article 11, residents did approve spending $60,000 on the design and engineering portion of the roof project. Town Administrator Rebecca Torres described undergoing an engineering phase before appropriating repair money as being the more typical process, allowing the town to have a better understanding of construction costs.

Other articles

In other business, residents approved a nearly $6.7 million budget, which is $72,139, or 11% higher, than this year’s $6.63 million budget. Increases in the budget include wages for several town positions. The budget was approved by a majority, but two Finance Committee members voted against it.

Residents also authorized borrowing up to $225,000 for a new dump truck for the Highway Department. Equipment operator David Grenier said a new vehicle is much-needed with the deteriorating condition of the current truck.

“The original one has so many patches on it now,” he said, “it could cause safety problems in the future.”

Voters also approved spending $54,000 and $45,000 for a police cruiser and an SUV for the Fire Department, respectively.

In addition, voters approved the following articles, among others:

■Reworking the Building Committee’s charge bylaw, which now sets out the committee’s role and responsibility in clearer terms.

■Several Community Preservation Act appropriations that include the restoration of the historic mile guideboard on the town common and $22,000 to support the Kestrel Land Trust’s improvements to Ames Pond.

■Approval of two citizen’s petitions to support a state bill establishing a single-payer health care system and to support the Fair Share Amendment.

At the beginning of the meeting, state Rep. Natalie Blais, D-Sunderland, presented the town with an official recognition from the Legislature for Fire Chief Walter Tibbetts, who is retiring in June after serving Shutesbury for 45 years. Tibbetts was unable to accept the recognition at the meeting because he stayed home while recovering from a broken leg.

Election results

Shutesbury’s election was held the same day as Town Meeting as 458 voters cast their ballots, making for a voter turnout of 30%. Selectboard member Melissa Makepeace-O’Neil was re-elected to the Selectboard with 275 votes over Donald Wakoluk’s 170.

The rest of the results are as follows:

■Constable — Christine Robinson, 373 votes.

■Board of Health — Catherine Hilton, 354 votes.

■Library trustees, two seats — Bradley Foster and Michele Regan-Ladd, 349 and 361 votes, respectively.

■Moderator — Paul Lyons, 390 votes.

■Municipal Light Plant — James Hemingway, 365 votes.

■Planning Board, two seats with three-year terms — Jeffrey Lacy and Robert Raymond, 301 and 319 votes, respectively.

■Planning Board, two-year term — Jeff Weston, 348 votes.

■School Committee, two seats — Julie Martel and Jennifer Taylor, 353 and 338 votes, respectively.

Chris Larabee can be reached at clarabee@recorder.com or 413-930-4081.


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