May 24, 2016

Clarksburg voters to weigh 4.4 percent spending hike, turbine restrictions

By Adam Shanks | Berkshire Eagle | 05/23/2016 |

CLARKSBURG – Residents will be asked to approve a $4.33 million budget for fiscal 2017 on Wednesday and weigh in on a proposed bylaw that would restrict wind energy development.

At the 2016 annual town meeting, which begins at 6:30 p.m. in Clarksburg Elementary School at 777 West Cross Road, voters will be asked to approve a total 24 articles in a lengthy town meeting warrant.

The new wind energy zoning restrictions, which have the support of both the Select Board and Planning Board, would prohibit the construction of wind turbines more than 100 feet tall in Clarksburg and that generate more than 10 kilowatts of electricity. Smaller-scale residential wind energy would be allowed by special permit under the proposal.

“If nothing else, Clarksburg is quite a scenic town, and we’re going to try to protect that,” Town Administrator Carl McKinney said.

Another proposed zoning bylaw would require a special permit for the construction of a wireless service tower in any zone.

The overall town budget is a roughly $183,000 increase, or 4.4 percent, over the previous year’s spending plan.

Among the noteworthy investments this year are several appropriations for town infrastructure paid for with a five-year loan totaling about $300,000. The work will include major reconstruction of Horrigan Road, which along with West Road is a town priority. The yearly payments, including interest, will begin in fiscal 2017 and equal about $65,000.

Town staff, which consists of six full-time employees, also will be seeing pay raises this year under the proposed budget backed by the Select Board and Finance Committee. The raises include an increase of $6,282 to an administrative clerk salary, $1,500 to the town clerk, $2,466 to the chief of police, $12,179 in Department of Public Works wages, and $5,880 in the library assistant salary.

After years of freezes and inconsistency, the board asked McKinney to re-examine the town’s pay scale “because they did not feel it was meeting the needs of the town as well as the employees,” he said. What McKinney found by studying other similarly sized towns was that Clarksburg’s employees are comparatively underpaid, and these raises will still leave them below average.

“The level of compensation for the employees was lower than low,” McKinney said.

The increase in salaries is backed by a proposed $17,217 transfer from the maintenance and operation of the sewer system account.

One notable reduction in the town’s budget is a roughly $9,000 drop in health insurance costs, which is due to a new plan that will see retirees pay more for their health care costs in copayments.

McKinney said the town worked to find employees the best coverage possible under its fiscal constraints. It will seek to strike the same agreement with current town employees, including those under the teachers union, to further save on health care costs.

Article 16 on the warrant asks that residents OK the use of $79,995 to pay off the remaining balance of a loan taken out for improvements to the town’s library. The town had 21 years left of the 30 year loan, but the appropriation would take the loan off of its books.

A separate article requests the use of an additional $28,500 to replace half of the Highway Department’s roof with thick Styrofoam and a membrane that should allow it to become more energy efficient, a prevailing theme in the town’s investments throughout the budget and other initiatives.

Article 18 requests an appropriation of $51,401 for the purchase of a new tractor for the Highway Department that will replace a 1980 vehicle.

Finally, the town hopes to use $8,690 from free cash to offset the tax rate.

The warrant includes a proposal to appropriate $24,900 to the town’s stabilization account, or reserve account. The proposal requires two-thirds approval to pass.

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