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All articles pass at Stockbridge’s annual Town Meeting — but not without hearty discussion

The town operating and education budgets both increased from last year. Without education, there was an increase of 6.71 percent from fiscal year 2024.

Stockbridge — For two hours on May 20, over 150 Stockbridge residents passed by a wide margin all of the articles before them at the annual Town Meeting, though some measures garnered hearty discussion.

The town operating and education budgets both increased from last year. Without education, there was an increase of 6.71 percent from fiscal year 2024. Taken together, the total budget was $12.27 million, an increase of 4.9 percent, or $583,346, over fiscal 2024.

The Public Works and Facilities category represented the largest increase, the Select Board explained in response to a question about where the largest expenditures existed. This encompasses the highway, water, and sewer departments, as well as the transfer station. The 26.75 percent increase, or $435,679, was due to a rise in salaries and cost of living, as well as the costs of contract negotiation. The transfer station budget increased significantly, both in expenses and salaries.

General Government expenditures actually decreased by 2.1 percent. Human Services increased by 11.27 percent, largely for the Tri-Town Health Officer, due to a rise in health expenses. The $300,000 library budget was an increase of 17 percent, representing the cost of both salaries and technologies.

Henry Kirchdorfer asked a number of questions regarding the necessity of various expenditures. Photo by Kateri Kosek.

In response to a question about revenues, the Select Board insisted, “We’re not spending more than we’re making.” The total tax levy was projected to be about $9 million, an increase of 7.68 percent, or $240 on the average tax bill.

The Education budget increased by 2.92 percent, or $109,564, mostly due to the operating budget, which includes salaries, technology, transportation, and benefits. This passed 131 to 16, after a question from someone who had heard that the budget included a “fairly substantial raise” for the superintendent. In light of the book-banning situation and accusations against teachers, she wondered if that was true, what the rationale for it was, and asked if we should be discussing that. The question received scattered applause, but the Select Board couldn’t provide an answer, as they only vote on the single number, without a breakdown of individual expenses.

Article 7 asked to amend the bylaws to change the terms “Selectman” to “Select Board Member” and “Board of Selectmen” to “Select Board.” One resident, Richard Jackson, lodged a complaint, saying he knew it was “probably an uphill battle,” though it “certainly is the trend.” He feared it would be “another arrow in the quiver full of grievances that the right wing has,” and said that the “fixation with little things like gender and pronouns … only serves to polarize …” The amendment passed 134 to 20, to applause.

Residents also voted 103 to 47 to change the speed limit to 25 miles per hour “in thickly settled or business districts” within the town. It was clarified that Routes 7, 102, and 183 would not be changed.

The article to fund water projects included $50,000 for a geological survey of Lake Averic. In response to a question about why this was necessary, Water Superintendent Michael Buffoni said the town is trying to pin down how much water is actually available from this “single water supply for our town.” He clarified that the money was available in the reserve fund and would not affect the tax rate.

Article 9, to fund various projects from free cash, passed easily, though the provision to appropriate $500,000 for bridge reconstruction prompted a question about the Glendale Bridge status. Select Board member Patrick White said it had been assessed and they awaited a final report. Even if nothing happened until next voting season, they could move forward with construction drawings.

The article, which passed 142 to 9, also included $75,000 to plan and permit the Stockbridge Bowl Dredging Project. A resident wondered if that was the total cost. White said the town had applied for a $300,000 grant from the state which it will hopefully get, and the whole project would cost $1.45 million for the actual construction. The Community Preservation Committee (CPC) would also allocate funds from the three percent excise tax voted in by Stockbridge 20 years ago, which is matched by the state.

These funds were the source of some controversy in Article 12, which asked the town to approve the project recommendations of the CPC. It passed easily except for discussion of several hold items.

Sally Underwood-Miller, of the town’s Preservation Committee, spoke up on several issues at the Town Meeting. Photo by Kateri Kosek.

Concerning the appropriation of $151,175 to Berkshire Waldorf High School for historic restoration of the Old Town Hall, one resident expressed concern about using taxpayer money to fund a nonprofit. Sally Underwood-Miller countered that the historic building was an “albatross for the town,” the space would be available for public meetings and gatherings, and the “popular private school” would attract families with children to the town, adding “god knows we need that.” The audience applauded, and the measure passed 126 to 26.

Three sections concerned allocating relatively small sums from CPC funds to support open space and preservation through the removal of invasive species at Gould Meadows, Kripalu, and Bullard Woods. Someone asked if Kripalu still gave donations to the town in lieu of taxes. When White said they have not since nearly ceasing operations during COVID, a business owner said that he really struggled during COVID too and never received any taxpayer money.

“This has nothing to do with COVID,” White said, which angered the business owner. “I want to address what I think is a misperception tonight,” said White. “All the other articles have to do with government spending. The CPC was adopted 20 years ago with the specific intent to fund historic preservation, open space, or housing projects. Almost all of those projects are third-party organizations. There is nothing untoward about this money going to those organizations; it’s exactly what it’s there for.”

Brad Fitzgerald expressed a different concern: that by removing invasive species and ground cover, we would be sculpting the landscape “not unlike Central Park” and creating a preserve “perfect for humans,” contributing to the “dearth of wild animals” over the last 20 years.

Sally Underwood-Miller said Mass Audubon was consulted when they developed the mowing for Gould Meadows, and that open space was important and rare for ground-nesting birds, while mowed paths contained people walking there. The funding for Kripalu passed 106 to 25, Gould Meadows 116 to 17, and Bullard Woods 121 to 21.

Article 14 put to the voters a Resolution on Climate Change, as many other towns have already endorsed, to work toward Net Zero carbon emissions by 2050. The owner of Stockbridge Gas Company spoke against the measure, saying we were “being sold a bill of goods,” and he didn’t think the grid could replace the BTUs that we’re consuming. He asked how many people present drove a gas car. The resolution passed with the narrowest margin of any vote, 96 to 37.

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