LANESBOROUGH, Mass. — Lanesborough voters approved every warrant item at their town meeting on Tuesday night except the last one, which would have approved having the town join the Berkshire County Mosquito Control Project.
Only 74 out of the town's 2,223 registered voters came out to the meeting, with fewer still left in their seats by the time the vote was called on the mosquito article, which voters narrowly rejected.
Concerns over the cost and scope of the program, as well as over the health of residents and visitors and well-being of wildlife, dominated the discussion leading up to the vote. The Board of Selectmen had recommended passage of the article, which asked if the town wanted to be a member of the Berkshire County Mosquito Control Project for a five-year period, with no other details.
Town Manager Paul Sieloff said no cost had been added to fiscal 2017 budget that already had been passed by voters earlier in the evening, but he said his estimate was $15,000 a year moving forward. Sieloff said the money would be deducted annually from aid typically sent to the town from the state for “general revenue” items like the Berkshire Regional Transit Authority bus.
Sieloff said eight or nine other towns in Berkshire County already are part of the project. According to the state website, those towns are: Clarksburg, Hinsdale, Otis, Pittsfield, Richmond, Sheffield, Stockbridge and Tyringham.
"This is a very professional group," he said.
Selectman Robert Ericson said that during the first year, the project sends experts to map out what parts of town see infestations of mosquitoes, which typically are not recreational areas like lakes because of the presence of natural predators like fish and frogs.
"The biggest problem is little drainage holes by the sides of the roads,” he said. "There are no natural predators there so the mosquitoes live and breed there.”
The project studies the mosquitoes to see what type they are and what diseases they may carry, and in future years, can begin treatment in targeted areas early in the season.
Ray Jones, a member of the Finance Committee who holds a pest control license, said he supported joining the project, saying he thought the money was worth it despite his reputation as someone who doesn’t like to spend money.
"If you get bit, you’re gonna wish the town spent $15,000 on this," he said. "This year, I think it’s a good expenditure."
Town meeting voters narrowly disagreed, rejecting the article in a close show-of-hands vote.
"Without more information for how this affects the whole ecosystem … this is a challenge to vote for something with so many unknowns," resident Sheila Parks said right before the vote was called.
Every other article on the warrant, however, received approval from town meeting voters, though not without some spirited debate.
The town budget of $10,911,976 passed with only one change: taking $10,000 from the Landfill Monitoring line item (money that Sieloff said the town can get by without) and giving it to the Fire Department Officers' Stipends after a motion by John Goerlach, chairman of the Selectmen. The money would be used to pay a small stipend to the town's volunteer firefighters.
Al Terranova, chairman of the Finance Committee, said his committee was wary of the stipend for this year because of a lack of clear procedure in allocating it to the firefighters.
"We didn’t know quite how to handle it,” he said. "There’s too many questions about how we’re going to administer it.”
Town meeting voters agreed, however, with the simple plan of giving $250 to each of the town's 40 firefighters and approved the switch in funds. Voters also asked a few questions about the line items relating to the Mount Greylock Regional School budget but ultimately approved the entire town budget.
The other two articles that sparked discussion before they ultimately passed involved allocating $8,000 to split the costs of a study and grant application for a possible water system upgrade at Berkshire Village and approving the levying of fines on residents and businesses whose fire and security alarms falsely summon emergency personnel.
Sieloff explained that the $8,000 for Berkshire Village was simply to split the costs of the study and that any action taken after the study would be funded by residents of the village through their cooperative. The town is involved, he said, because even though the village's water system is private, the source of its water belongs to the town.
The Selectmen recommended passage of the article but the Finance Committee did not offer a recommendation on it. FinComm member Ronald Tinkham said he struggled with using town funds in conjunction with a private development.
"Where do you draw the line? You have other water districts. Where do we support and where don’t we support?” said Tinkham, whose comments were echoed by Jones. "It’s a difficult decision.”
But several residents of Berkshire Village spoke in favor of the article, saying the town had "an obligation" to help its residents solve this water issue. Lori DiLego, president of the Berkshire Village Cooperative, said the village owns the water system and pays for its repairs but needs some help now.
"Our system is old, and it needs to be fixed or upgraded,” she said.
The last warrant article to receive extra attention Tuesday night involved the fire and security alarm regulations. Ericson explained that the fire alarm portion of the article is similar to one approved a couple years ago but needed to be tweaked to exclude alarms by state-mandated smoke and carbon monoxide alarms.
"This adds penalties for multiple false smoke alarms within a year,” he said.
A change was made on the floor to the security alarm portion of the article, with voters wanting to change the word "renewals" to "modifications or upgrades" in reference to when a second $25 fee would be levied when a permit to install such a system was sought. That change was approved and then the amended warrant article was approved as well.
Voters on Tuesday also approved changing the position of cemetery commissioner to appointed instead of elected, approved money to purchase a highway truck, a police vehicle and a snowmobile for the Fire Department, authorized the sale of alcohol between 10 and noon on Sundays, the last Monday in May and on Christmas Day, and authorized the town to acquire any land needed to facilitate the extension of the Ashuwillticook Rail Trail to Pittsfield.
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