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Dalton Special Town Meeting Passes Renovation, Road Warrants
By Sabrina Damms, iBerkshires Staff
04:48AM / Tuesday, August 30, 2022
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Voters passed all three articles on the special town meeting warrant but amended one to take out $5,000 that would have gone toward the police detail account.


Forty-five voters attended Monday's special town meeting.
DALTON, Mass. — A special town meeting on Monday voted to pass an amended Article 1 to raise and appropriate an additional $130,874 for various expenses that were not anticipated during the town meeting or a prior special town meeting. 
 
The previous amount requested was $135,874 but was amended to not include $5,000 for the revolving police detail.
 
The initial reason for the $5,000 was to ensure that officers get paid during their next pay period. According to Town Manager Tom Hutcheson, it is currently taking two to three weeks for the officers to get paid for their work detailing for private companies. 
 
"What happens is our officers work and then they don't know when they're getting paid. Typically, they get paid in their pay period but then sometimes they don't," Police Chief Deanna Strout said. 
 
"And I have a very young department with a lot of young families, and they're working extra to have extra money. It's school shopping time right now. And they didn't get their piece on it last week. I have a lot of upset officers right now. And rightfully so."
 
The payment for working as a police detail is in addition to their wages as public officers. The town gets 10 percent of the detail. The town has received $25,000 in the last four years from police detail.
 
The revolving police detail is supplemented by outside bills but the amount would have assured the officers get paid the quarter of the service. 
 
The revenue account is paid up to $15,000 and is drained substantially when a large number of details happen. It stays drained until it is replenished by the private entities' payment. 
 
It was initially noted that this would not cost the taxpayers any money because it was moving money from one account to another, however, both Town Accountant Sandra Albano and Finance Committee Chair William Drosehn disagreed. 
 
Albano said she heard four or five years ago that the Select Board voted to transfer money into the outside detail fund and questioned if this went before the taxpayers and if a request for transfer was ever made because she does not have any transfer requests. 
 
The cause of this confusion is that at that time there was a lapse in administration. Hutcheson said he will review the meeting minutes to find the correct accounts, 
 
"Here's the weird part about this is, they want the people, the taxpayers of the town of Dalton to fund this so they get paid more quickly. Meanwhile, the taxpayers are paying on that money," Drosehn said following the meeting. 
 
Drosehn has been on the Finance Committee for about 27 years and he does not remember anything coming before the committee for a transfer to a different account. If that is the case, they need to send that information over to Finance to review, he said. 
 
"The question I have for all of you is, what account are we going to take it out of? And if it's from the operating budget, any part of the operating budget that will indeed land on the taxes," Drosehn said during the Select Board meeting a half hour prior to the special town meeting. 
 
"That's the question. That's the concern here. The money is put into the town's accounts by the taxpayers. This particular detail, proposition, and whatever it is that we're about to do. This is being put aside with offsetting funds coming in from contractors and thus and such. So you have to come up with an account to take it from."
 
The board voted to amend Article 1 to not include the $5,000. 
 
Of the approved amount, $124,724 would go toward the Transfer Station and $6,150 to the cost of the Bardin property appraisal. 
 
"Because the operation of the transfer station is within the town's operating budget. The town is by law and required to appropriate all the funds necessary to operate the transfer station. This was the case even though those expenses will be offset by the revenues received from car permits, bags, stickers bulky waste disposal, and any other transfer station revenues at the time we set the tax rate," Hutcheson said. 
 
"This means that although we expect to receive about $180,000, from transfer station operations, we can only offset those expenses when we set the tax rate when they are counted as estimated revenue and serve to reduce the tax rate at that point."
 
The expenses would be offset by the transfer station revenue when the tax rate is set. 
 
Article 2 passed 31-14 and authorized the town to borrow an additional $162,477 to $200,427 for the Town Hall renovation.
 
The plaster in the opera house (the attic) is not structurally sound and has a large amount of asbestos requiring it to be treated as a hazardous material. 
 
The additional costs are based on an estimate for asbestos removal, reconstruction of the second-floor ceiling, and abating asbestos-containing plaster in two third-floor offices in the 19th-century structure.
 
"So the current plan is now the bare bones of an asbestos abatement project. The cost we are presenting is we believe a high enough estimate to cover a reasonable bid, it is entirely possible that the competitive bid process will result in a cost which is lower than the authorization we're requesting," Hutcheson said.
 
"Of course, we hope this is the case. But we need to prepare for the possibility that we're moving the majority of asbestos-containing material from the third floor of the town hall will be as expensive as the estimate. So we ask for your authorization to borrow the maximum amount we believe may be necessary."
 
Some residents raised concerns regarding how this amount would affect the tax rate and asked if there was some other way to cover the added costs of the renovations and recommended using alternative funds to maintain the tax rate. 
 
Hutcheson said they had planned to use the federal American Rescue Plan Act funds for roads and sewers and if some of the monies were used for the renovation, they would not be able to repave some roads. 
 
Select Board Chair Joseph Diver said the board is willing to review ARPA spending during its next meeting so that the town can see why they chose to take the debt financing route for the Town Hall rather than using the ARPA funds. 
 
"The most important thing in this process is your voice and how you think we should spend these dollars likely we should make those decisions. We certainly can't make them alone," Diver said.
 
"So again, thank you for your comments, I thought I'd just add ... a members perspective, not as the chair, but just as a member of what we've gone through the last several months thinking about these different issues."
 
There was discussion about using the Capital or Stabilization accounts to offset the amount but the accounts have to be substantial enough to do that. 
 
This amount will affect the tax rate and will be paid off over the course of many years. 
 
"This will not be paid for all at once. The treasurer will determine the most cost-effective way of paying off the debt and taking into account debt service and things like that. So this is something that will be paid off over a number of years," Hutcheson said.
 
Lastly, the special town meeting voted to approve a transfer of $146,100 from the General Stabilization Fund to supplement the borrowing authorization passed by the town for the Division Road reconstruction. 
 
This project was funded four years ago and went out for bid recently but came back $146,100 more than the estimated amount.
 
The bid for professional engineering services for Dalton Division Road was awarded to an engineering and planning firm in Springfield, Fuss & O'Neill, for $946,100. The official start date is Oct. 17 for engineering. 
 
The original vote for this was a debt exclusion vote that required both a town meeting vote and a ballot vote. Voters elected to use the General Stabilization fund to move this project expeditiously. Officials say they do intend to replenish the account at the next annual town meeting. 
 
ARPA funds will be used to regrade Division Road as a temporary solution until 2027 or 2028 when the town can get Transportation Improvement Program funding for a reconstruction.
 
"We won't know how much we have to spend on right-of-way activity until after the engineering is complete. So probably a year from this coming town meeting, we'll have another article asking for funding for right-of-way activity. So this isn't the last spending on this project. But the town is required to do that work in order for the state to pick up the $11 million," Hutcheson said.
 
One resident asked why this was not done five years ago and expressed their concern that the town is paying for a project that should have been already completed. 
 
The reason the town has to wait another five years is that it was not ready with the engineering and the state Department of Transportation and Berkshire Regional Planning Commission decided to push this project off for others that were shovel ready. 
 
"It's that prior leadership did not take appropriate action to move that ball forward, for whatever reasons, and then certainly COVID, but there's a lot of that not moving the ball forward at that time," Diver said.
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