COLRAIN – Annual town meeting voters on Tuesday, May 6 agreed to enact one-year moratoria on wind farms and medical marijuana dispensaries and approved a $1,356,109 operating budget for fiscal year 2015 that represents a 9.5 percent increase to this year’s budget.
Voters passed the Franklin County Technical School operating assessment of $273,547 without discussion.
However, the Finance Committee was not in support of the Mohawk Trail Regional School District of $1,655,789 operating assessment, although voters ultimately passed it after some conversation, 35-28.
“You can’t afford to spend this much money year after year on the school budget. Sixty-three cents is going to the school budget,” Doug MacLeay, Finance Committee chair. “We need to have a discussion on this.”
“We are in agreement that school budgets are unsustainable but … there is no easy answer here. If we vote down the school budget, it will end up costing us as much or more,” said Mohawk School Committee representative Joe Kurland, adding that some school committee members and a few students had recently presented the problems facing the District to members of the state legislature, including Sen. Stan Rosenberg and Representatives Steve Kulik and Paul Mark.
Several in attendance noted that school buildings are currently not at nearly full capacity and that the regional agreement won’t allow a school closure unless all towns agree, which hasn’t happened in the two times in the past the question has been brought to towns. Both times the vote was 6-2 for,but it must be unanimous.
Kurland noted there’s been talk about co-use of school buildings, but that needs permission from the state. Kurland said legislators told the Mohawk contingent they’re reviewing the state school funding formula to make it “adequate and equitable.”
“I don’t guarantee they’ll do that,” said Kurland. “We need to pressure them to do that.”
The town is currently looking at a 90-cent per $1,000 of valuation increase to the tax rate.
Two articles to allow the Mohawk District to borrow moneyto repair the high/middle school and elementary schools over five years starting in 2016 were also not supported by the Finance Committee, although most members voted for them in the end. Questions to do so for the Colrain Central School and the high school both passed at the ballot box on Monday, May 5.
As proposed, Colrain would be assessed $19,419 per year for the next five years for the capital plan for the high school building. As a debt exclusion-contingent override, the extra money on the tax rate will only be on the towns’ tax rates for the life of the loan, which the District will assume, not the towns.
The proposal passed, 40-23.
For the Colrain Central School capital project plan, the town would be assessed $9,044 per year for five years, again starting in 2016. The town owns the school building.
This vote also passed, contingent on a debt exclusion override to the Proposition 2½ tax cap, 47-18.
Voters agreed to pay the $28,000 tuition and busing assessment from the Smith Vocational School – the cost for one Colrain resident to attend the school (tuition is $18,200; the rest is the busing cost).
Voters also agreed to spend $150,000 to buy a “glider kit” and associated equipment to give the highway department a nearly new, lO-wheeler truck with a rebuilt engine, and to buy a new dump truck body for about $15,000.
“A glider kit is a new truck, but it’s in parts,” says Highway Superintendent Scott Sullivan.
“Like mine?” quipped Tim Slowinski.
Voters passed a new bylaw governing large-scale, ground-mounted photovoltaic systems – those of 0.1 acre or larger. Under the new law, any proposed system up to one acre will require site plan review, 50-foot, setbacks, vegetative screening and lighting must be directed downward and be designed so as not to increase ambient sound level by more than 10 decibels. Other restrictions also apply. Installations of a footprint greater than one acre will require a special permit from the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA). Any installation greater than one acre is not permitted within the village.
The original article proposed the minimum for special permit be .25 acres, but ZBA Chair Jim Siowinski amended it to 0.1 acre (4,400 square feet) from .25 (size of the Colrain Central School parking lot) on town meeting floor, and voters ultimately agreed.
“I think that is more than enough to go without review.
It’s your own personal use,” said Slowinski, adding he thought that was what the Solar Committee had decided upon in the end, although he had missed the last meeting. “To me it’s excess when you go over 25 kilowatts.”
Haynes Turkle spoke, saying that .25 acres produces about 60 kilowatts of energy, and was the “perfect” size for farms and small-offices or “small, community-owned solar” installations.
Turkle noted that the Department of Energy Resources has defined large-scale at 250 kilowatts.
“The purpose of having a bylaw like this … is to have good zoning in place for large-scale, but on the other hand we have to be sensitive that there are needs in the community, farms,” he said.
“They’re not very pretty, but I like looking at it and knowing that energy is local,” said Solar Committee member Betsy Corner of the view of a solar array, and arguing that O.l-acre was too small a stipulation.
The vote to amend to the O.1-acre minimum for a special permit passed 34-26.
As other towns have done in the past two years, Colrain voters approved enacting a wind turbine installation moratorium until May 6, 2015 to give the Planning Board time to develop a considered bylaw.
“For the most part Colrain is not a good wind-siting town, but our committee felt we cannot get blind-sided,” said Planning Board Chair Joan Rockwell.
Anything less than 35 kilowatts is not regulated and not considered large-scale wind.
Voters also agreed to enact a temporary moratorium until May 6, 2015 on opening a medical marijuana treatment facility in town for the same reason.
And they passed new bylaws related to commercial campgrounds that offer definitions and parameters. Prior to passage, the town had no zoning bylaw governing campgrounds at all.
Copies of the new bylaws governing solar installations and campgrounds are available at the town office.
Voters also agreed to spend $4,000 to start a technology fund, $11,985 for library air-conditioning, $3,900 to maintain the Pitt House, $3,000 for library smoke and heat detection units, and $10,500 to pay for engineering and grant writing.
Seventy-five of the town’s 1,107 registered voters attended annual town meeting.
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