Vol. II No. 05 3/1/2021
Opinion — A Challenge for the Select Board
by Jed Baumwell
This letter serves as a challenge to the Town: In the 6 years that I have lived in Stockbridge, I can't find one major public improvement initiative by the Town that has been clearly articulated to the residents, has started on schedule, and has stayed within budget.
There have been and clearly will be capital needs: there are multiple bridges that are collapsing with road closures; there is a new town garage that was mismanaged and caused significant budget problems; there is an old town hall that has ongoing repairs but no effective reuse; the Stockbridge Bowl was a contentious, costly, and unproductive battle with the Association; solutions to the intersection at the Red Lion Inn have been kicked around for over two years; the high school continues to physically deteriorate while enrollment declines; the public facilities, like the town beach and the town playground, are an embarrassment; the small commercial district seems dated, and future tenancy is uncertain. There are many more examples which those who have lived here longer are well aware.
I've asked myself why, in such a beautiful setting, is the town unable or unwilling to initiate plans and then properly implement them? I have concluded the following:
The starting point for elected officials and many others who surround Town Hall is to keep taxes low. At the moment, it appears that revenues are insufficient to properly operate a full-service town. We continue plodding along with an untrained SB when we have a capable Town Manager. Wouldn't a five person SB with a strong town manager be a better, more productive form of governance? We continue to reject possible cost savings and better services through cooperation with other towns. Do we still think that reliance on volunteer committees in lieu of paid professional staff will meet Town needs? In the 1950s this type of governance may have sufficed, but it doesn't work in the 21st century.
The demographics of the Town are working against current conditions. The future requires a commitment to improving Town facilities. In cooperation with part-time residents and business owners, a capital plan needs to be generated. This plan requires the support of both the electorate and elected officials. It must identify immediate needs, longer term needs, their attendant costs, and financing alternatives. Such a plan must start to be implemented in the coming fiscal year.