IN THIS ISSUE: VOL. II NO. 02 1/15/2021
Stockbridge Updates Statement of Purpose
To inform without opinion or pressure and give readers the facts they need to make their own decisions.
To provide space for opinion, but since facts and opinions are different, to clearly mark opinion pieces, and clearly identify the opinion holder.
Stockbridge Updates is a periodic newsletter delivered through email.
Carole Owens, Managing Editor
Photo: Lionel Delevingne.
Stockbridge Lowers Flags to Half-Staff
In response to Governor Baker, the flags were lowered all over the Commonwealth to honor loss of life during incursion into the United States Capital. "Please be advised that as a sign of respect for the service and sacrifice of United States Capitol Police Officers Brian D. Sicknick and Howard Liebengood and all Capitol Police Officers and law enforcement, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker has ordered that the United States of America flag and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts flag shall be flown at half-staff at all state buildings beginning immediately until sunset on Wednesday, January 13, 2021."
The power and importance of local news is sometimes overlooked and often misconstrued. We live in a culture dedicated to the proposition that bigger is better. Ergo, national news must be more important. In Stockbridge, a village that still operates under the town-meeting form of government, an informed electorate is crucial. For the self-governed, local news is paramount.
Some misconstrue. They think because local news is overlooked by other outlets, it is an opportunity, and that is the reason to provide a local paper such as Stockbridge Updates. It is more than that.
Sociologists tell us that the smallest unit of society, the family, interprets the meaning of events for its members, and defines the possibilities. In a similar way, the smallest political unit, our locality, lends identity. Locality centers us, and in some cases, defines us. Local news lends perspective.
On the local level, we realize that each of us can make a difference. What is possible is revealed; inability and impotence are set aside. We know we can act. We know our actions matter. We understand the power and importance of the individual.
No matter your politics, there is no denying this period is fraught. Equally there is no denying the anxiety is mitigated by living where we do. Be well, keep yourself and your loved ones safe, and protect this very special village in which we live.
Carole Owens, Managing Editor
Photo: Joan Gallos.
Local Elections 2021
Stockbridge Updates will publish "Stockbridge Candidates Q & A" before election day in May 2021. We will videotape the candidates' answers or print them, whichever the candidate prefers. We invite all running to retain their seats and to those challenging them to please contact Stockbridge Updates and schedule an interview. To assure fairness, we will collect statements and answers whenever the candidate is ready and publish them all in the same issue. SU will provide space/time for an opening statement and then ask three questions of each. The "Stockbridge Candidates Q & A" will appear in the May 1 issue of Stockbridge Updates. Thank you. An informed electorate is the first priority of Stockbridge Updates.
Carole Owens, Managing Editor
Open seats in 2021
3-year terms: Moderator, Selectman, Board of Assessors, Board of Health, Tree Warden, Sewer and Water Commission
5-year terms: Planning Board, Planning Board, Housing Authority
Appointments: Finance Committee, Berkshire Regional Planning Commission — alternate
The current occupants of the seats are:
- Gary Johnston, Moderator
- Ernest (Chuckie) Cardillo, Selectman
- Gary Pitney, Chair, Board of Assessors
- Charles Kenny, Chair, Board of Health
- Peter Curtin, Tree Warden
- Donald Schneyer, Chair, Sewer and Water Commission
- Christine Rasmussen, Planning Board
- Gary Pitney, Planning Board
- James Welch, Housing Authority
- Jay Bikofsky, Chair, Finance Committee
Thank you all for your service. Good luck to you and to the contenders.
Open positions will appear on your ballot. The people currently in the seats may choose to run again or decline to run. All those wishing to run will submit nomination papers by April 28 with the requisite signatures. That earns them a place on the printed ballot.
Stockbridge votes for candidates at the voting booth and on the issues at Town Meeting.
Boards and Committees
Notes from the Stockbridge Community Preservation Committee
Meeting Friday, Jan. 8, 2021 6:00pm
CPC Committee members are representatives from other town commissions, boards, and committees as follows:
Planning Board: Gary Pitney
Finance Committee Representative: Jay Bikofsky
Parks & Recreation Representative: Steve Knopf
Historical Commission Representative: Linda Jackson
Conservation Representative: Sally Underwood-Miller — Chair
Select Board Representatives: Jessica Meagher and Dr. Carole Owens
Board of Assessors Representative: Tom Stokes
Sally Underwood-Miller, chair
Also present, Selectman Patrick White
- On behalf of Naumkeag, Mark Wilson discussed application to restore and place a 10' statue given to Joseph Hodges Choate by architect Stanford White.
- Arthur Dutil, Ron Brouker and Tim Minkler will apply for funds to continue their work on the 80-acre Gould Meadows. Tasks will include building a raised walkway, removal of invasive species and trees (including stump grinding).
- Bonney Hartley and Rick Wilcox will request funds for GIS mapping of the Field Arboretum.
Editor's note: GIS stands for Geographic Information System. It is ground penetrating. It gathers, manages, and analyzes data, and organizes it into a visualization form — maps and 3D scenes.
- Town Administrator reported on the Children's Chime Tower. The cost to restore the tower may be as much as $330,000 — more than the total budget of CPC estimated at $250,000. Canales added the town may not, therefore, submit a proposal to the CPC. However, Canales said a letter of support from CPC and/or a small match would be helpful. Canales also reported on progress with restoration of the Soldier's monument. The cost may be as high as $50,000.
- India Spartz, who replaced Barbara Allen as curator of the Stockbridge Library Museum & Archives, described the failure of the HVAC in the library archives. The amount of money is probably beyond CPC's ability to grant. It was suggested that the library seek federal funds.
- Laurie Norton Moffatt, on behalf of the Norman Rockwell Museum, discussed an historic structures report on Linwood — an administrative building on the grounds of the museum.
- Sarah Del Signor and Dr. Joyce Butler, on behalf of Riverbrook, are seeking over $300,000 for an elevator and sprinkler system.
- Kate Fletcher and Carl Sprague, on behalf of the Cat and Dog Fountain restoration, reported progress. The money is already set aside.
- On behalf of Heaton Hall, Sarah Del Signor requested funds to repair or replace the historic sign blown away during a storm. She also mentioned water seeping under boards on the siding.
- On behalf of Parks and Recreation, Steve Knopf proposed replacing the tennis court surface and nets at Pine Street.
- Jay Bikofsky presented a proposal for establishing a Housing Trust Fund. It would provide funds to off-set the cost of a down payment to first-time home buyers purchasing a primary residence. There would also be a fund for home repairs. The funds granted from both trusts would be in the form of a loan.
Those wishing to apply, must submit ten hard copies of the final proposals in the Selectman's Office by January 22 at NOON. One digital copy is due to the Committee via e-mail. This is a hard deadline, and no application will be accepted after noon on January 22, 2021. The CPC will meet February 19 - 5pm to discuss and vote on the eligible applications.
Photo: Joan Gallos.
Notes from the Board of Assessors
Meeting Monday, Jan. 11, 2021 9:00 am
Gary Pitney, Chair
Doug Goudy, and Tom Stokes members
Michael Blay, Town Assessor
Patrick White, Select Board member
- The Board conducted its regular business which included tax exemptions, for example from property tax if the owner is a second homeowner or a renter, and tax abatements for homeowners with economic troubles.
- Evaluating the worth of our utilities is now made mandatory by the Commonwealth. That would include evaluating National Grid, Berkshire Gas, Eversource and more. Blay was not certain how to proceed. For example, can Stockbridge accept the business's own full market value or must Stockbridge find a formula to determine it?
- Board to review & sign FY21 Real & Personal Abatement Applications; however, abatements must be considered in an Executive Session. Blay will determine how to create an Executive Session in a Zoom meeting.
- Balance of meeting was a discussion of the Residential Tax Exemption. Questions were raised and opinions were shared. A process for determining how Residential Tax Exemption would work in Stockbridge was agreed upon. The suggestion that a committee be formed with representatives of town residents, second homeowners, the select board and the assessors, was set aside. Instead, the Board approved Michael Blay collecting information for presentation at the next meeting.
- Residential Tax Exemption (RTE) is a state initiative. Enacted in 1979, the RTE is an option under the property tax classification that shifts the tax burden within the residential class from owners of moderately-valued residential properties to the owners of vacation homes, higher-valued homes and residential properties not occupied by the owner, including apartments and vacant lands. (To read more go to: Mass General Law: C 59, sec. 5C )
- It is important to note, therefore, that the Select Board could enact RTE without discussion or public involvement; however, the current Stockbridge Select Board values input and may choose to bring it to Town Meeting.
- There was discussion about how to decide who is a resident; however, the definition of a resident is state law: "A resident is a person who maintains a permanent place of abode in Massachusetts and spends more than 183 days of the taxable year in Massachusetts. Whether a person maintains a permanent place of abode in Massachusetts is a factual determination." (Mass General Law: TIR 95 - 7)
Notes from the Planning Board
Meeting Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2021 6:00 pm
William Vogt, Chair
Introduction of and presentation by a new consultant, Jeff Lacey was the majority of the meeting time. Lacey is one of two new planning consultants. The two were hired after two others: Joel Russell who presented a full review and report, and Randall Arnedt who made a presentation. The Russell reports and Arendt presentation are available on the town web site.
Lacey is hired to write an Open Space Residential Design and Natural Resource Preservation Bylaw that includes Historic Estate Preservation and Development. It is interesting to note that he made a point of stating his respect for consultant, Joel Russell, and his intention to work from Russell's reports.
Another issue addressed was the sign bylaw. At one point it sounded as if the PB would take over sign review and approval. If that was accurately stated and correctly heard, then it is not at the discretion of the PB.
Editor's note: If an approval function is to be moved from under the purview of the Select Board to the PB, then there is a formal process to follow. What a select board does is a matter of law. Under the Mass General Laws: "The select board performs three functions: legislative (enacts local ordinances, regulations and policies); administrative (prepares and presents the budget, oversees all town expenditures, supervises personnel and controls town buildings and property); and has a quasi-judicial role determining private rights in certain areas." Read more under the General Laws available online.
Notes from the Finance Committee
Meeting Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2021 6:15pm
- Reserve fund transfer discussion and approval for Town Hall A/C repair
- Discussion of the FY22 Operating Budget process
- Public Safety: Police, Fire and Ambulance
- Public Works: Highway, Transfer Station, Water & Sewer
- Development of a 5 Year Capital Budget
- Development of a Town Capital Equipment Inventory
- Project Status:
- Larrywaug Bridge
- Averic Bridge
- Curtisville Bridge
- Park Street Pump Station
Editor's note: Please compare the items on the Finance Committee agenda with the duties of the select board, are some of these items beyond the purview of the Finance Committee? Thank you all for your dedication, your time, and enthusiasm, and please take the time to consider the answer.
Photo: Joan Gallos.
Notes from Board of Selectmen
Meeting Thusday, Jan. 14, 6:30pm
Ernest (Chuck) Cardillo, Select Board Chair
Roxanne McCaffrey, Select Board Member
Patrick White, Select Board member
Also present - Michael Canales, Town Administrator
Since SU publications dates are the 1 and 15th of each month — the January 14th meeting will be covered in the next issue
Editor's note: In a prior meeting, the Select Board approved the process to qualify for the MVP program. MVP is the Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness grant program. MVP offers funding to municipalities that wish to assess their vulnerability to and prepare for climate change impacts, build community resilience, and receive designation from the MA Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs (EEA) as certified MVP communities that are eligible for MVP Action Grant funding and other opportunities.
The program helps communities to:
- Define climate related hazards
- Understand how they may be impacted by climate change utilizing the latest science and data at http://www.resilientma.org/
- Identify existing and future climate vulnerabilities and strengths
- Identify opportunities to take action to reduce risk and build resilience
- Implement priority actions identified through the planning process
COVID Update from the Stockbridge Board of Health
by Charles Kenny MD, Chair
Since the beginning of the New Year, 20 new cases of Covid-19 have been identified in Stockbridge, most of which were in two locations. Yes, 2020 was a tough year, but there is light at the end of the tunnel! Vaccinations have begun in Berkshire County.
Healthcare workers dealing with Covid-19 patients and nursing home residents have already been vaccinated as part of the first-tier group. First-responders are scheduled to get theirs beginning the week of January 11. The logic underlying this prioritization scheme is the following: Healthcare workers and first responders are at high risk for getting the disease because they are routinely in close contact for extended periods with people ill with the virus, often in circumstances where the Covid-19 victims cannot where a mask. Furthermore, healthcare workers and first responders who get Covid, by virtue of their work, can spread the disease to non-Covid patients with serious illnesses, such as heart attacks, who have special vulnerabilities to the virus. Finally, if such workers cannot work because they are ill, who will take care of the rest of us? Nursing home residents are the infirm elderly who are especially vulnerable.
The next tier will be older people who are known to be more likely than younger people to become seriously ill and die from Covid.
These vaccination clinics will be posted publicly when the dates and locations become known. PLEASE, respect the logic of the system and do not try to sign up for a vaccination clinic for which you are not scheduled.
COVID Update from Tri-Town Health
James J. Wilusz, RS, Executive Director, Tri-Town Health District, Lee, Lenox, and Stockbridge
Tri-Town Health District, its staff and employees are working alongside board of health members and community stakeholders across the entire county to continue to combat COVID-19.
As the holiday season is now in the rearview mirror, we wanted to provide the community at large updates on vaccine distribution. There are many questions surrounding the status and the goings on with vaccines, clinics, and where and when this will all happen.
While we do not have all the answers today, we can assure you that as vaccines become available, we WILL get these vaccines out to the community. There are several agencies in the county, from regional boards of health, BHS leadership, County Ambulance, fire and police chiefs, emergency management directors, and many others meeting multiple times a week to prepare and deliver as fast as we can. As of this update we are mostly through the first round of First Responder clinics.
We ask that as we work through each priority group, there are requirements that are set by the DPH and must be met prior to receiving your vaccination. To avoid confusion, we ask that you not register until you qualify within the current priority group. Please refer to the Priority group chart and check your local and state websites if you have questions. Congregate care facilities and home health care agencies are forthcoming and we anticipate that as vaccines come, we should transition into next priority level very soon thereafter as fast as we can.
Leadership around the county is advocating hard and in direct contact with the Berkshire Delegation and others to ensure the voices of the Berkshires are heard. We want to assure you that the Berkshires is very prepared to take this large effort on. We still must rely on state and federal supplies as they come in.
In the meantime, we ask that you continue to practice universal precautions including social distancing, masking, washing hands and limiting exposure/travel to large gatherings outside of your family bubble and check local and state websites. We promise you will be notified with instructions, dates, and times from a wide array of media outlets and communication which groups are next by priority level set by the Commonwealth. We hear your voices, and you are not forgotten! Public Health officials and others are tirelessly advocating for you every day and we are laser focused to end this pandemic and get you access to the vaccine. We know it's a hard ask but we ask you to bear with us a bit longer as we move through this unprecedented situation. Here is some links you can access for more information on the vaccine.
We also provide several links on the Tri-Town site: https://www.tritownhealth.org.
On behalf of the Tri-Town Health District, we thank you for your continued fight and your patience as well continue to move forward to ending this pandemic.
Photo: Kate Fletcher.
Openings and Closings in the Time of COVID
- Elm Street Market closed for a few days during the week of January 2-8
- Williams and Sons Country Store and Once Upon a Table are closed
All three closures were due to employees or relatives of employees testing positive for COVID. Thank you all for being so responsible and protective of our village. Very nice to see Elm Street Market reopen and hope the others will be soon.
- Town Hall continues to be closed. Staff is working inside but the public is encouraged to call ahead and make arrangements for pick up or delivery at the door.
- Norman Rockwell Museum is closed January — February 3 for a new installation.
Photo: Joan Gallos.
by Robert Jones
It has been said that a New England Town meeting is the purest form of democracy that ensures that all policy decisions are in the public interest since no intermediaries are placed between the voters and the public decisions. Of course, on a daily basis, this is thoroughly impractical. Our solution is to elect or appoint representatives to manage the day-to-day business of the Town: the employees, overseeing expenditures, looking for the best deal on insurance... The list goes on and on. The big decisions are made at Town Meeting. By the voters. Items like zoning changes, the annual budget, major expenditures... These are decided upon by the voters. You know. You've been there.
Representative government has been hijacked recently, in a very big way. Boards of Selectmen and/or their representatives three years ago entered into closed door negotiations with the EPA and the GE corporation to craft a "solution" for the PCB contamination of our Housatonic River. This includes the towns of Sheffield, Great Barrington, Stockbridge, Lee, Lenox and the City of Pittsfield. This was done without your knowledge, your input, your right to question and void of any disclosure of details. When it was done, all the towns made money, the Town of Lee was the Grand Prize winner for $25,000,000 and a proposed toxic waste dump in a residential neighborhood. The "binding decision" was made public about a year ago, with great fanfare and celebration. But, not by all. Certainly not the residents of Lenox and Lee.
In the end, this plan ensures only that GE will pay a lot less and do a lot less to remediate the river and remove the waste than what they agreed to in the past. This was facilitated by a highly politicized, weaponized, corporate friendly EPA. This EPA, for the last four years, has overturned hundreds of environment protection laws. The damage will take decades to repair. And, they have foisted a toxic waste dump, full of cancer-causing carcinogens, a few feet from the Housatonic River, on the residents of Lee and the citizens of Berkshire County. It won't end here. Attorneys have been hired, both in Boston and here to fight this outrage. But you still have an opportunity to have a say.
Call your Selectmen. Challenge them to justify their actions, which took place behind your backs. Don't take no for an answer. You were not represented in this action. You were ruled. That doesn't fly in New England.
Photo: Joan Gallos.
Reader to Reader — We Got Mail
From Harold French
The Selectmen may want to reconsider the waste of money putting in a raised structure at the Main St. South St. intersection. There are many loads of sheds and barns and hay coming thru that intersection every day, those all have a high center of gravity and it does.t take much to roll them over especially when you place a raised structure on the inside of their turn. Instead of trying to change things go back to what worked in the past with a police officer on duty in the Main Street Elm Street area, go back to no U turn and 2-hour parking. One roll over and what was thought to be gained will be lost.
Many residents of Stockbridge have echoed your opinion and miss the police presence at Red Lion corner.
The countervailing argument is that it is unsafe. However, there has always been a Stockbridge policeman on that corner during heavy traffic times and only one accident between a car and policeman occurred in since 1946 — almost 75 years - and none before 1946.
Dear Dr. Owens,
On behalf of our neighborhood on Emerson Lane and surrounding streets, we want to thank you for calling attention to the short-term rental property at 7 Hawthorne Rd., in the Eagle.
As you know, this property's absentee owner has created a tremendous problem for the neighboring homes. This house is advertised in Airbnb and VRBO as a 15+ person rental. It has a 3-bedroom septic rating which allows for only 6 people to reside there. Last summer, due to the unbearable noise, we could not enjoy our own backyards. The police were called multiple times at night due to noise.
The constant noise, the smell of septic, and the sight of multiple garbage dumpsters is a blight on our community. In spite of the fact that the owner had been advised by the town regulators to correct the Airbnb ads, he continues to defy the request. As evidenced by this past weekend 6 cars were parked in the driveway! During the pandemic when numbers are spiking here and everywhere, this must be in violation.
We are at our wits end.
Thank you so much for taking the time to read this.
Stephen Stern, Isabel Rose, Ben Liptzin, Loretta Scheel, Robert Bujalski, Ken Krentsa, Maureen O'Hanlon, Edi Pasalis, Candace Currie
Thank you for writing. I am sorry if are prevented from enjoying their property, but this is a much larger issue. The housing stock in our village is approximately 1700 homes. Of that number, "Airbnb properties", properties used for short-term rental wherein the owner is not a resident, is currently estimated at 100 homes and growing. Other Berkshire towns have worked hard to develop and pass regulations of these properties. It is probably time Stockbridge does the same.
Photo: Joan Gallos.
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