IN THIS ISSUE: VOL. III NO. 22 11/15/2022
Photo: Don Eaton
Editorial: All About Us
Unlike national politics, here, we are not removed from our elected representatives. We live in a village, and they live among us. Our representatives are not talking at us about problems; they share our problems.
They live next door, pick up their mail at the post office, drive the same roads, and walk their dogs down the same woodland paths. It is easy to share our viewpoints with our reps — we know them and know how to reach them. When the cost of electricity jumps 64% at the same time that the costs of food and gas rise, and Stockbridge valuations skyrocket, they don't have to be told, they are living it.
Our best representatives do their jobs. They do all they can to identify the problems and find solutions. Even if it is controversial to broach a certain problem, even when a solution is unpopular, even if they must raise their voices to be heard, they do it. They do more than show up for the meeting. They study the issues, debate with respect, listen as well as talk, and vote in favor of what is best for Stockbridge even if it is someone else's idea. They do their jobs for a pittance or no compensation at all.
So, here's the thing: We the people of Stockbridge try to do our part. We acknowledge their hard work, forgive the snafus, roll up our sleeves, and try to help. Stockbridge Updates seeks to be part of that constructive loop. SU reports their meetings, underscores their efforts, and remembers to say thank you. Without blinking, SU reports the bad news and the good.
In Stockbridge, it is not representatives and represented; it is not reported on and reporter; there is no us and them. In Stockbridge, it is all about us.
Photo: Lionel Delevingne
A holiday season to look forward to — SU will have all the information before these exciting special events take place next month:
- The Red Lion Inn Holiday luncheon for seniors is back!! We will gather on December 13th — RSVP by 11/28
- A wonderful Light Show at St. Paul's Church December 10
- Holiday Marketplaces at the Congregational Church, December 3 and at the Berkshire Botanical Garden December 3 – 4
- Berkshire Natural Resources Council Geology Hike with expert Mark Brandriss, Hoosac Range, December 3 10am – 1pm
- The Tri-Town Connector is a new transportation option. Seniors can call and be picked up and taken where they want to go — like a taxicab. According to Tate Coleman, Metro Transit Program Director, this new service will start February 2023. SU will keep readers posted on all details — availability and cost.
Photo: Joan Gallos
SU Special Announcements
TAX CLASSIFICATION HEARING
Thursday November 17 6:30pm — come one come all
Holiday Toy Drive for Our Kids
Make a child's eyes light up. Twenty-five children from infant — fourteen years at Pine Woods. Plus — Moms and grandmoms get in touch with Stockbridge Updates if you would like to add your special child's name to the list. Toys, clothes, and gift cards can be dropped off at Town Offices or brought to a Tuesday Club meeting. If wrapped, append a card that tells what is inside. If a gift of clothes, put in a gift receipt for returns. Thank you!
Photo: Lionel Delevingne
Stockbridge Senior Center: November 16 3pm
Stockbridge Senior Center: Joshua Hall, Asst. Curator at the Stockbridge Library Museum & Archives, will speak about Stockbridge history with a Thanksgiving theme. Enjoy apple and pumpkin pie and cider along with a community sing of "Alice's Restaurant", November 16, 3pm
Berkshire Botanical Garden: Beaujolais Wine Workshop
Berkshire Botanical Garden: Beaujolais Wine Workshop, November 18; Chainsaw Skills Workshop, November 19; Plant Health Care, November 29
Austen Riggs Center with the Berkshire International Film Festival
Austen Riggs Center with the Berkshire International Film Festival presents "Shine the Light" — a film followed by conversation about youth mental illness. Sunday, November 20, 3pm – 6 pm, at Mahaiwe Performing Arts Theater, Great Barrington
Red Lion Inn Holiday Luncheon on Tuesday, December 13,
Red Lion Inn Holiday Luncheon on Tuesday, December 13, for seniors. RSVP by November 28th for up to 2 tickets by calling the Senior Center at 413-298-4170 ext.263 and leave a message
Photo: Lionel Delevingne
From the Desk of the Town Administrator
SU invited our Town Administrator to fill us in on a new process. In work sessions, not open to the public, he is seeking consensus among the boards, commissions, and committees before bringing a matter to Town Meeting (TM). SU asked about pluses and minuses and thanks the Town Administrator for taking the time to explain.
Consensus in Government
by Michael Canales
I hope we can agree that local policymaking is complex. Policymaking is often undervalued and misunderstood, yet it's a central role in any town. The policies created locally often affect everyone in the community in some way. Elected and appointed town officials have public policy-making responsibilities. They set the policies, then the employees administer the policies.
Public policy often impacts more than just one board or commission. So, the question is how do we come to an agreement? We attempt to come to agreement through a consensus of the boards and committees involved. Consensus helps to shape a vision for more effective and efficient governance. A local traditional example is the annual budget process. It begins at the department level, through various boards and commissions before ending with the Finance Committee and Select Board. Throughout the process, the various boards and committees try to come to a consensus on the budget. The decisions are far more likely to be supported if it is generated by the process of consensus-building.
The policy-making process weighs and balances public values. Often there is no single "right" choice or correct technical answer to the question at hand. That is why the policy-making process can evoke strong opinions and sometimes heated debates. Through consensus building, we can try to develop a policy or decision that can be clearly articulated to the voters.
The best policies are those driven by a strategy. What is the problem we are trying to address? What is the goal we are trying to incentivize? Finding a consensus through open and honest discussions are far more likely to be supported, even by those who might prefer a different outcome, if generated by the process of consensus building. To be honest, I did not think I was changing tradition but keeping with tradition.
Photo: Joan Gallos
Featured Artist Gallery: Lionel Delevingne
Click the image to view Lionel's Folio: Terrain
Notes from Stockbridge Bowl Stewardship Commission (SBSC), November 4, Hybrid meeting
- Roxanne McCaffrey, Chair
- Gary Kleinerman
- John Loiodice
- Sally Underwood-Miller
- Patrick White, Chair Select Board
- Michael Nathan via Zoom
- Pat Kennelly, Stockbridge Bowl Association (SBA), via Zoom
- October 7 minutes approved as written
- Harvesting: SBA had concerns about harvesting just 10 acres and met with Michael Canales.
- SBA offered money "up to a dollar amount" and offered their attorneys to write the Notice of Intent (NOI) in order to get more than 10 acres harvested.
- McCaffrey explained Stockbridge is limited to harvesting 10 acres only.
- White pointed out that Stockbridge applies for harvesting under the category — "recreational nuisance harvesting". Town may consider applying under the category — "ecological restoration" — and thereby be approved for more than 10 acres. '''
- Underwood-Miller suggested using the consultants (Fleetwood) to determine how Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) would receive the two different choices (recreation-nuisance/ecological)
- The meeting then focused on completing the read-through of the Lake Management Plan (LMP).
- Underwood-Miller took the lead first pointing out editing corrections and then substantive corrections. Editing included making the document more readable by making all abbreviations and acronyms consistent throughout
- Highlights of some substantive corrections included — Berkshire Country Day School does not have lake front property; the Shadow Brook does not dry up at times; the Bowl is a "class B waterway" because it is entirely inland.
- White mentioned that a section on climate change would be an important addition to the LMP
- When LMP is completed, there are required public education and information sessions with Q&A.
Photo: Lionel Delevingne
Notes from the Board of Assessors, November 7, Hybrid meeting
- Gary Pitney, Chair
- Doug Goudey
- Tom Stokes
- Michael Blay, Assessor
- Blay reported that November 7 was the last day of the required public disclosure and therefore he submitted the valuations to Department of Revenue (DOR) for final certification
- The law states the Tax Classification Hearing can take place 48 hours after final approval by DOR. Blay does not know exact date until formal approval (final certification) from DOR arrives. The Tax Classification Hearing — November 17.
- Blay reported the "new growth" was $9,079,807. Town raised an additional $85,169.
- Next step to "nail down" tax rate. When valuations go up, the rate goes down.
- Blay reported since Town costs are approximately level, "even with Covid — we did fine".
- One element of Town costs is the amount of money necessary to put in the Overlay Account.
- Blay explained that of the $100,000 set aside last year, $64,000 remains in the account. Based on that, Blay suggested putting $50,000 — not $100,000 — in the Overlay Account this year.
- Pitney and Goudey were concerned if there would be enough in the account especially in a year when valuations went up so much
- Blay wanted to take every opportunity to cut tax rate and argued for the $50,000 pointing out that would leave $114,000 in the account — an amount we have not used in years past
- Pitney called for vote approving a $50,000 transfer to Overlay — passed unanimously
- Stokes gave a brief report on Payments in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT). Hopes to complete the work of the committee — that is, circulate survey, have discussions with nonprofits, holding public hearing and submitting their recommendations to the SB by spring
Editor's notes: 1. Tax rate is a function of what the Town needs to raise to pay its bills (sometimes called levy). 2. Overlay Account is a single account — money set aside each year — to fund abatements and exemptions of committed real and personal property taxes.
Photo: Joan Gallos
Notes from Agriculture and Forestry Commission, November 7, Hybrid meeting
- Matt Boudreau, Chair
- Lisa Bozzuto
- Erik Rasmussen
- Shelby Marshall
- Abigale Fredsall via Zoom
- Also present from ConCom: Sally Underwood-Miller, Ron Brouker, Tom LaBelle
- Minutes of the October meeting approved
- Updates for Farmer's Market and Arbor Day postponed to the end of meeting
- Welcomed ConCom members to jointly discuss diseased trees (primarily hemlocks) around Stockbridge Bowl
- Cooperation with ConCom important as ConCom has authority to require replanting if tree areremoved. The issue is complex and includes helping property owners to recognize diseased trees, but then to recommend what to do. Treating the trees so close to the lake is not advised. Removal of diseased trees can leave the shores barren of trees. ConCom is better prepared and authorized to deal with it and owners with diseased trees are encouraged to meet with ConCom.
- LaBelle thought it might be helpful to take a "tree inventory"" even using Google Maps
- Underwood-Miller concerned that losing shade trees as climate warms will negatively affect the lake — e.g. — increased cyanobacteria bloom
- Boudreau said our area will look more like the MidAtlantic in time.
- Bozzuto suggested including SBA in a meeting about the hemlocks (and ash trees) around the lake
- Underwood-Miller reminded everyone to suggest if a hemlock is diseased and removed — do not replant hemlock
- Suggestion made to invite expert to speak on the issue — invite SBA
- Arbor Day — Boudreau suggested contacting Bill Florek, a horticulture teacher at Monument Mountain High School as a good source for trees for next Arbor Day. Boudreau said, "Buy here rather than from elsewhere". Chair asked Fredsall (a former student) to meet with Florek and discuss possibilities.
- Boudreau summarized meeting with SB and with Canales. SB was supportive of Farmers' Market. Canales will write job description for Market Coordinator. The coordinator will work under Canales.
- Boudreau was hoping to have it up and running summer of 2023. Located in parking lot of Town Offices. Rasmussen, who has experience creating a farmers' market in Gloucester, MA, suggested starting with a small — a 4-5-week market.
- Briefly returned to diseased tree issue and Bozzuto interated that the trees are too close to the water and therefore should not be treated. Chair suggested they create a list of suggests for addressing diseased trees.
Photo: Lionel Delevingne
Notes from the Council on Aging, November 9, Hybrid meeting
- Chris McCarthy, Chair
- Jack Gremli
- Two other Board members were present but not named
- Also Present: Andrea Lindsey, Ex. Dir., Stockbridge Senior Housing
- Michael Canales, Town Administrator
- Patrick White, Chair, Select Board
- September minutes approved as corrected; October minutes approved as written
- Position of Director, Council on Aging — reviewed and approved the ad for the position. It will be posted until position filled (part-time salary — 18 hours per week — no benefits)
- Minutes of meetings legally required, therefore, Canales suggested make it part of the director'w duties in ad
- November 16th event (Josh Hall — cider and pie) plus 8 people reading Alice's Restaurant — advertised in flyers mailed
- December 13 — Red Lion Inn holiday luncheon. First in-person gathering since COVID19
- December 7 — Luncheon — soup and rolls — at the Senor Center with speaker Fire Chief Vincent Garofoli
- White announced that 'on demand" transportation will be available early next year
- The Board continues to plan events into 2023
- Gemli is working on a procedural manual to guide future planning
Photo: Lionel Delevingne
Notes from the Affordable Housing Trust, November 9, Hybrid meeting
- Ranne Warner
- Jan Ackerman
- Lis Wheeler
- Don Eaton
- Patrick White, Chair SB
- Also present: Michael Canales, Town Administrator
- Andrea Lindsey, Stockbridge Housing Authority (SHA)
- Warner was elected Chair, Ackerman Vice Chair, and Wheeler volunteered to continue taking minutes until someone could be hired
- Five members of Trust — 3 for 2 years and 2 for 1 year — in addition the Trust invited 3 people to be advisors to the trust — Jim Welch (SHA), June Wolfe (Construct/Pine Woods) and Rebecca Wendell (Riverbrook)
- The trust advises the Town — the Town makes the expenditures and owns any land/building purchased. The Town also insures the members of the Trust against legal action
- Ackerman met with Lenox representatives to discuss the Lenox Housing Production Plan (HPP).
- Stockbridge has met its mandatory 10% affordable housing and Lenox has not
- Lenox did not meet 10% requirement and is therefore required by law to build, create, more affordable housing, Stockbridge is not
- Lenox is building a large housing project on Rte. 7 north of town center (65 units — mixed use affordable and work force housing)
- Lenox is now doing a second HPP — suggested that Stockbridge coordinate somehow but two towns have little in common
- Ackerman did not recommend Lenox rep coming and speaking to Trust
- White suggested Stockbridge has more latitude — is free to focus on affordable and work force housing, Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs), as well as enlarging and improving Pine Woods and Heaton Court
- Ackerman added that Lenox funds affordable housing with seasonal receipts (food and rooms taxes) — Stockbridge collects over $600,000 in those receipts but uses income to defray taxes (lower tax rate)
- Ackerman concluded by sharing there is funding available through the Commonwealth for planning. White thought if we use Berkshire Regional Planning Commission (BRPC) for planning if it is not free to us because BRPC is the recipient of state planning grants
- Wheeler reported on Pine Woods owned and operated by Construct. Wheeler reported that June Wolfe, Director, Construct, thanked Stockbridge and the Community Preservation Committee (CPC)for past support. Wolfe also shared that Construct purchased Windflower Inn and a farm (neither in Stockbridge) for additional affordable housing.
- As the Stockbridge population changes, the needs change — the need now may be for more work force housing rather than more affordable housing
- Wheeler recommended inviting Wolfe to a future meeting
- Warner said she thought that the problem with getting funds to Pine Woods was more a matter of selling tax credits than getting federal funds. Warner felt making Pine Woods attractive to purchasers of tax credits was more important. Projects that are larger and better maintained are more attractive. (Federal grants are also more readily available to larger projects)
- Eaton reported on Heaton Court and brought representatives, Lindsey and Welch to meeting
- Eaton said funding for Heaton Court comes from Housing and Urban Development (HUD — federal funds), Department of Housing and Human Development (DHHD — state aid) and Community Preservation Committee (CPC — locally).
- Heaton Court has a 1500 person waiting list and about 3-4 openings a year. They see the desirability of building more units
- Welch argued for two-bedroom units so people can get the live-in help they need to remain in their homes and avoid nursing homes.
- Lindsey was concerned that the deed restricts building more on the land
- White suggested building on the dirt road behind the extant units
- Currently there is one two-bedroom, 50 one bedroom, and 2 four-bedroom units
- The discussion continued re: building more units
- Warner shifted to capital improvements including boilers and asked how much they would need
- White mentioned that the Trust should find the best way to coordinate with CPC who funds Heaton Court capital improvements every year — perhaps Trust could give small amounts for SHA to leverage against larger grants. White asked Welch, who in his professional life worked in housing, how the Trust could best coordinate with SHA, CPC and others for maximum impact.
- Chair suggested Trust invite author of housing study to a meeting and perhaps the Planning and Select Board reps (Nancy Socha and Christine Rasmussen)
From the wall of Carl Sprague's home
Notes from the Select Board (SB), November 10, Hybrid meeting
- Patrick White, Chair
- Jamie Minacci
- Chuck Cardillo
- Michael Canales, Town Administrator
- In honor of Veteran's Day, November 11, Harold French led the Pledge of Alliance to the Flag and Merrill Sanderson read the poem "The Noble and the Brave" by Joanna Fuchs
- Special Permit — Jim Finnerty, One Goodrich Street, to add a porch. As it is no more nonconforming that previously, approved
- One day entertainment license for St Paul's Church — December 10th, 6pm — 7:30pm. Rich Bradway described the musical program and light show planned. There will be a charge for musical program inside the church. The light show, designed by Joey Wheaton, on the exterior of the church, is free to the public. License approved
- On November 16th at the Senior Center there will be pie, a program on Stockbridge history presented by Joshua Hall, and a reading of Alice's Restaurant.
- On December 13 lunch at Red Lion — 88 seats available — RSVP by November 28
- Hugh Page discussed the road paving projects. There is $400,000 available for paving. The work has begun and will continue next spring and fall. Some roads marked for repaving are Hawthorne and Rte. 183
- Budget process overview
- Canales said the process will start in January with meetings with department heads to discuss their budget requests for the year. There is a work sheet showing previous years and current request
- White wanted to be sure that his colleagues on the SB had the software to read it
- In addition to operating expenses there are three large capital projects including dredging, Curtisville Bridge, and the walkway from Pine Woods into Town
- White explained the tax rate is based on the budget — meeting the costs of running the Town.
- Canales said "we are strong", that is, Stockbridge has cash put aside in "free cash" (between $1 & $2 million) and three "stabilization funds" (money put aside for special purposes and never used ($2,450,000)
- White said we can lower the tax rate by deferring maintenance and by assuming 80% — 85% of actuals (expenses and income) and thereby soften impact on individual taxpayers of the sky-high valuations
- White explained — since raised rate from 4-6% on rooms and meals tax — can reduce actuals. Also, we can "strategically use" reserves (free cash and stabilization funds) to fund capital projects. However, he pointed out, the reserves may be needed as school costs escalate.
- White and Canales described the Community Electric Aggregation Program (CEA). It is a program Canales put in place while in North Adams. It is intended to lower electric costs for Stockbridge users through collective bargaining.
- White pointed out that acknowledging inflation and higher valuations, they are doing all they can to lower all costs for Stockbridge residents
- Canales said they will put CEA in place as soon as possible. It will strengthen the ability of Stockbridge to negotiate rates.
- Those who joined a few years ago did not have a rate hike while Stockbridge's rate went up 64%. That is because a negotiation with CEA results in fixed rate for 3-5 years and a level rate over a year (not higher in winter, lower in summer). Stockbridge did not join then but will now.
- White mentioned in closing that decisions made should be in light of the anticipated higher school costs and interest rates that will affect future spending.
- SB approved one-day liquor licenses
Editor's Note: The idea of postponing capital projects, specifically dredging, to lower tax rate was raised at the last Finance Committee meeting. Deferring/delaying expenses to lower tax rate was a process engaged many times in years past. The result, we learned this year, makes the cost of the maintenance ten-fold. Lowering the tax rate, especially in a year when valuations rose precipitously, thus relieving taxpayers, is desirable. HOW it is done is very important. The immediate and long-term effects as well as tradeoffs should be taken into account. If it were a choice between delaying dredging (once again) or second homeowners paying more in taxes — which would the second homeowners choose?
Photo: Lionel Delevingne
THE LAST WORD
Reader to Reader
To the Editor:
Select Board Chair Patrick White's request that the Assessors treat his home as a second home (his siblings, effective co-owners, aren't residents) suggests a way both to support the RTE, and, as we both wish, to avoid community division. Can we find a way to enlist other residents who can readily afford to pay their full assessments (whatever they may be under the reduced rate we are about to see) to support the town they live in year-round at the same level as their second home neighbors?
Unfortunately, as it is written, the RTE is not limited to residents who have trouble affording their tax bills. Giving residents who don't need it a subsidy that excuses them from a just element of community support makes no sense at all to me, and is destructive of our community. As it is, I suppose, second homeowners with fancy houses or Bowl frontage will dominate the top half of the assessment table, and thus pay higher than average taxes. If residents who can readily afford to pay the regular tax would pledge not to apply for the RTE, as I would and Select Board Chair White effectively has, then adopting the RTE would be a no-brainer. Without that, it is unjust and divisive — as the petition to the Select Board from about 300 second homeowners makes clear.
You can publish this as a letter to the editor, but given your consistent, praiseworthy efforts to preserve our community's values, I hope you will give this idea editorial support and help me in making this happen. It will not be hard to identify residents whose assessments exceed the town average (the most likely candidates for this effort); other residents, too, might be willing to join in a campaign whose results would be that they pay no more tax than their similarly assessed second home neighbor, and that the rate adjustment caused by the RTE would be lower.
Thank you for your letter. You ask SU to publish it and that is our pleasure. You also ask that SU to support a call for those who can afford it "not to apply for RTE", and that SU respectfully declines.
First, no one applies for RTE. If it is made law, it is a calculation that results in our tax bills. We each must pay the calculated amount. Stockbridge is a village of generous people — always has been. Those who can always give willingly, and that is their decision, not ours.
As we have discussed, SU has an obligation to correct factual errors. I am sure you come from a good place and mean to make your point without misinforming, however, there were not 300 signatures on a petition opposing RTE. There were zero — 0 — signatures on the petition. That is why Town Offices could not accept it. It was unsigned with a typed list of 200+ names appended. It may be that each of those named was opposed to RTE, but that is an unknown since it was unsigned, and therefore, not a legal petition.
Photo: Lionel Delevingne
Stockbridge Updates Statement of Purpose
To inform without opinion or pressure and give the people of Stockbridge the facts they need to make informed 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
Stockbridge Updates Policy with Respect to Submissions
SU welcomes your letters and other submissions on all Stockbridge subjects, history and current events, news and human interest, whatever is on your mind. As with articles and opinion pieces, letters are 400 words or less, no personal attacks, and always attach your name. SU does not include personal information and will delete telephone numbers, email addresses, post office boxes, and street addresses. Limit one submission per month.
Carole Owens, Managing Editor
Stockbridge Updates: Format
SU is attempting to present a consistent format for readers. SU begins with its Table of Contents. The SU Editorial is next and then the News. News is divided between one-time events, such as the election and events around town, and recurring reporting, such as the Notes from... section. It is called Notes from... because SU attends the town meetings, takes notes, and reports what happened. If SU has a comment or question, it is at the end of the meeting identified as Editor's Comment or Editor's Question. The next section is Contributors. Under contributors, you may find Stockbridge history, opinion pieces, or information from a Committee Chair or elected official. Our final section is Reader to Reader, our letter section. The issue closes with the SU Statement of Purpose and Policy for Contributors. We welcome all letter writers and contributors; deadline on the 10th for the issue posted on the 15th of the month and on the 26th for the issue posted on the first.
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