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GB CPA Committee rejects 3 late applications, accepts 13 for review

"We are always working on multiple funding streams: grants from many sources and direct fundraising from individuals and businesses. We're an all-volunteer effort, working as a community to build a community resource. We'll keep working.” -- Great Barrington Fairgrounds Co-founder Janet Elsbach, after GBFG application was rejected for being late

Great Barrington — At its December 9 session the Community Preservation Committee stuck to its guns by refusing to accept late applications for Community Preservation Act (CPA) funding.

Committee member Jessica Dezieck made the motion for the Committee to “reaffirm the policy” that late applications — three in this year’s funding cycle — not be considered.

There was some discussion before the committee upheld the motion by an 8 to1 margin — but not much.

Sally Harris, accompanied by her daughter, Elena, answers questions about the St. James Place application for historic preservation funding.
Sally Harris, accompanied by St. James Project Manager Alexandra Lincoln, answers questions about the St. James Place application for historic preservation funding.

Suzie Fowle was willing, she said, to accept the late applications on the condition “that we accept them without setting a precedent. We never want to be in this position again. If we can send that message,” she added, she would take the late ones. “The deadlines were made crystal clear, but what will explain my vote is that the traffic is town generated and is better than, ‘I ran out of gas’.”

Fowle was referring to two applicants who, just before the 4 p.m. deadline on December 1, were foiled, they said, by snarled Main Street construction traffic. Construction usually ends at 3 p.m., but for some reason was still in full swing that afternoon, said applicants for Great Barrington Fairground (GBFG) and Project Native.

The third late application was Construct, Inc., defeated by a last minute printer snafu. A fourth application, from Flag Rock Farm, was at first thought to be late, but Flag Rock’s Ethan Culleton said by email that he had decided to apply another time because there was more work to do, and “elements we were not yet able to answer thoroughly.”

Applicants were asked to submit one electronic copy and 10 hard copies, one for each committee member and Town Planner Christopher Rembold, the committee’s Staff Liason. The strict deadline policy was written in bold on the application.

GBFG and Project Native’s hard copies arrived at Town Hall at 4:06 p.m. and 4:04 p.m., respectively.

“You don’t leave at 3:30,” said Chair Karen W. Smith. “If you’re applying for that amount of money, get your work done early. In this day and age, accountability is critical. If people are cutting it close, what happens with [their] permits…a can of worms can get large and unwieldy.”

“I feel strongly that we stay the line,” she added, “as painful as it may be for some, and I appreciate that. But how you go backwards from a precedent, I don’t know.”

Thomas Blauvelt didn’t like the idea of setting such a precedent, either. “It’s unfortunate, but it’s a learning experience,” he said.

Committee members Ed Abrahams, Kathleen Jackson, William Nappo, Martha Fick and Jessica Dezieck each said they supported the motion. Deborah Salem was the only member opposed.

Project Native Board Chairman Erik Bruun thanked the committee for considering the late submissions. “We respect your decision,” he said. Smith replied that she appreciated “the kind words of Mr. Bruun in this day and age.”

Construct, Inc. Executive Director Cara Davis wasn’t surprised by the committee’s decision. “I didn’t think they would, and I didn’t think they should,” she said. The affordable housing organization will apply again next year, since, she said, CPA funds were critical to the project. “We needed it to leverage other funding.” Construct was seeking $110,000 for a housing project. The funds were to be distributed over two years.

Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center Executive Director Beryl Jolly.
Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center Executive Director Beryl Jolly.

GBFG had sought $440,000 for historic preservation, recreation and open space work at the Fairground’s site. “Like any non profit,” GBFG Co-Founder Janet Elsbach wrote in an email, “we are always working on multiple funding streams: grants from many sources and direct fundraising from individuals and businesses. We’re an all-volunteer effort, working as a community to build a community resource. We’ll keep working.”

The committee has already scored the 13 applications that made the deadline, and spent four hours last night discussing each one and asking rigorous questions of all the applicants present. The Mahaiwe Theatre, Berkshire South Community Center and the Library Trustees’ plans for Ramsdell Library were the most closely scrutinized and questioned as to the viability of the projects and the timing of the work. A long discussion ensued about the necessity of funding the deteriorating Wetherbee vault in the Mahaiwe Cemetery, a town project.

It is unclear exactly when the committee will make their final determination about how much funding to allocate to each applicant, Smith said, but three more meetings are set for 2014: “The agenda is a moving target, and because it’s our first year we need to leave enough time for consideration.”

The next meeting is Tuesday, December 16 at 5:30 p.m. at the Fire Station, and will decide which applications go to the next level of review, Smith said. Two more meetings are set for December 18 and 30, though the process may continue into January.

But the final decision about which projects will receive CPA funds will be made at Town Meeting in May.

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