Vol. IV No. 5 3/1/2023
Notes from "Coffee and Conversation", February 13, Hybrid meeting
- Patrick White, Chair Select Board and Host
- Senator Paul Mark
- Representative Smitty Pignatelli
- 51 present in person
- Approximately 20 present via Zoom
- White welcomed Mark and Pignatelli
- Mark and Pignatelli made brief opening remarks and for almost two hours, answered questions. The following topics were touched upon: housing, education, regional planning, Zoom meetings and Community Television for the South Berkshire (CTSB).
- Pignatelli is concerned that the Area Median Income (AMI) in South County is lumped with North Adams, Adams, Florida and is, therefore, not accurate. Housing programs are based on AMI and South County (SoCo) is, therefore, not qualifying for state support as it should. Smitty believes home ownership "breaks cycle of poverty" and SoCo needs more programs. He supports Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) as part of a solution.
- Sally Underwood-Miller expressed support for Pignatelli's position and said the market has driven housing prices in Stockbridge beyond the reach of many. It is sad that there are so few kids in Town and young families.
- Pignatelli — other Towns give money for down payment without necessity to repay as long as the recipient stays in the home for a certain number of years.
- Mark said Commonwealth should look for state-owned properties that can be converted to housing.
- Pignatelli said contractors are looking for 150-unit projects and five to six story buildings to convert. SoCo doesn't have them.
- Christine Rasmussen hoped there would be more money and support for Berkshire Regional Planning (BRPC) as they study, provide data, and plan for Berkshire County's future. She also expressed support for remote meetings.
- Kate Fletcher was opposed to shared services — thought they did not work and that there would be conflicts.
- Pignatelli strongly disagreed.
- White said Stockbridge was sharing services in areas such as EMS/Ambulance and Tri-Town Board of Health and was investigating other areas such as water and sewer.
- Anita Schwerner thanked our representatives for coming and asked for support for CTSB which is a community service and relies on a mandated percent of Spectrum fees for survival. However, Spectrum subscriptions are going down in face of streaming and other alternatives.
- Pignatelli agreed and said the whole county, all 30 towns and 2 cities not just 5 SoCo towns, should band together and negotiate with Spectrum.
- Ranne Warner, Chair, Affordable Housing Trust, introduced the newly formed Trust and said it would be applying to the Commonwealth for money.
- Jessica Toro said her husband works in the school system. There are many issues: the condition of Monument Mountain; the mistake of sunsetting the in-school breakfast and lunch programs, and the relationship between the cost and scarcity of housing and the small number of school children. Toro has a small business and mentioned the inconvenience of travelling to Boston for certain certifications, and problems with hiring enough staff.
- Rich Bradway, Chair, Stockbridge Land Trust, talked about the combined effort of the Land Trust, Berkshire Natural Resources Council (BNRC) and Mass Wildlife to purchase a 351-acre tract on one side of Monument Mountain.
- Denny Alsop talked about the Housatonic Watershed Organization and the efforts to "clean up" the Housatonic River (remove PCBs). The 60-acre storage area ("which is a settling pool") is too close to river and many other problems.
- Ron Brouker brought up the problem with current electric bills. His bill jumped from $200 - $500 in one month. Pignatelli asked if he had electric heat — Brouker does not. Brouker asked where to look for solution. Pignatelli said it is under control of Department of Public Utilities (DPU) and he suggested with the new Governor there is opportunity to replace commissioners who have been a "rubber stamp" for rate hike requests from utilities.
- White thanks Pignatelli and Mark who in turn thanked White.
Photo: Jay Rhind