Leverett Town Meeting voters will decide cease-fire call, budgets, town elections

Residents will gather for Town Meeting at 9 a.m. Saturday at the Leverett Elementary School.

Residents will gather for Town Meeting at 9 a.m. Saturday at the Leverett Elementary School. FILE PHOTO

By SCOTT MERZBACH

Staff Writer

Published: 04-22-2024 12:24 PM

LEVERETT — Money for continued restoration of the North Leverett Sawmill, a citizen petition calling for a permanent cease-fire in Gaza, and a $7.56 million budget for fiscal year 2025, which adds a fourth police officer to the Police Department, are being brought to annual Town Meeting Saturday.

Residents will be presented the 28-article warrant starting at 9 a.m. at the Leverett Elementary School, with the first order of business, a custom unique to Leverett, being the election of candidates for municipal office from the floor of Town Meeting.

Like the other three towns that make up the Amherst Pelham Regional School District, another decision will be adopting a formula for determining the community’s assessment. To meet the Regional School Committee’s $35.75 million school budget for the middle and high schools, about $1 million higher than earlier guidance and aimed at protecting the schools from eliminating 15 teachers and other student-facing staff, each town is facing an 8.2% increase.

For Leverett, the town’s assessment would increase by $126,361, from $1.54 million to $1.67 million. That is $64,721 higher than the initial $61,640 projected increase. The warrant includes a separate article to deal with that higher amount. Last weekend, though, at a four-towns meeting, a possible compromise was offered by Leverett and Shutesbury officials in which the assessment for each town would only go up by 6%, reducing Leverett’s increase by $33,901.

It’s uncertain whether the Regional School Committee would accept the 6% assessment increases, which could lead to about $460,000 in cuts.

Leverett’s town budget, if the highest assessment is approved, would be $393,062, or 5.5% higher, than this year’s $7.17 million fiscal year budget, and includes a $93,979, or 4.4% increase, to the elementary school budget. That budget would be $2.25 million, continuing to meet educational needs and continued mental health challenges for students related to the pandemic.

The town budget also includes 4% salary increases for employees, with one new employee being the $55,613 to add a fourth full-time police officer. Leverett continues to provide public safety service for Wendell, so the added officer will mean additional coverage, a reduced administrative burden and a two-hour overlap on shifts.

That spending is offset by reductions in the reserve officer and training line item. Other additions in the budget include $16,640 for a new part-time summer position for the Highway Department and $17,160 for a new programming librarian at the Leverett Library.

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Should the highest budget prevail, the tax rate of $15.72 per $1,000 would go up to $16.58 per $1,000 valuation, adding around 86 cents per $1,000 valuation, or $430.78, to the tax bill for a $500,000 home. Last year, an average home, assessed at $432,532, had an average tax bill of $6,661.

The petition for a permanent cease-fire would send a resolution to President Joe Biden, stating it is necessary “in order to end the killing of innocents, and to provide for the basic needs of the people of Gaza. While recognizing the right of Israel to defend itself and to exist in safety, we wish to support the creation of an alternative to further decimation of the Gazan people.”

The resolution notes that people in Gaza lack access to food and clean drinking water, that more than 30,000 residents have been killed, including children, 60% of homes have been destroyed and 1.9 million people are displaced. “In the presence of such great harm that is being enacted toward a people as a whole, we feel compelled to take a stand and say that these actions are against life itself, and against the furtherance of life for the Palestinian people.”

From the Community Preservation Act account, $24,500 would be directed to Friends of the North Leverett Sawmill for creation of an industrial history museum in the Slarrow Mill, the sawmill built before the American Revolution and the town’s 1774 founding. This is part of an ongoing project to rehabilitate the building and the area surrounding it along the Sawmill River, acquired by the nonprofit in 2022.

Last year, voters approved a request for $82,082 in CPA money to develop the Heritage Park and Nature Trail, and in December Greenfield Cooperative Bank pledged a $20,000 multiyear grant for the project.

Other spending includes transferring $85,000 from the stabilization account to refurbish the Highway Department’s 2001 KW 10-wheel dump truck; and a series of free cash transfers, such as $41,000 to fund the capital plan, $11,000 for completing mosquito control activities and $6,500 to buy new assessing software and enhancing the online information for property ownership information. There is also $5,930 from free cash to install new rain gutters at the library, $5,000 to buy a new copier for Town Hall, and $4,500 for the Historical Commission to assess preservation work done at North, Moore’s Corner and Mount Hope/Chestnut Hill cemeteries.

Election

Leverett’s town election will be done from the floor of Town Meeting, unless there are more nominees than slots to fill, which would then lead to paper ballots being distributed to those in attendance. No contests are expected, based on election information printed in the town’s April newsletter.

With Select Board member Melissa Colbert opting against running for a second term, the lone announced candidate for that seat is Jed Proujansky, a four-year member of the Finance Committee who previously served for three years on the Northfield Select Board.

Marnie Genre, a Leverett resident since 2020 after moving from her husband’s hometown of New Orleans, is running for one of two open three-year seats on the School Committee. Genre works as a grant writer and telehealth optometrist. Both incumbent School Committee members, Jessica Rocheleau and Becky Tew, are not running again.

For the Planning Board, incumbent Tom Ewing is running for another five-year term; while newcomer Kimberly VanWagner, a landscape architect who served for eight years on the Maynard Planning Board, is seeking the other five-year term.

Others running for office include incumbent Jim Staros for a three-year term on the Board of Assessors; incumbents John Hillman and Alan Goodman for three- and one-year terms on the Board of Health; incumbent Brian Emond for a three-year term as constable; incumbent Nancy Grossman for a three-year term on Finance Committee; and incumbents Lisa Sullivan-Werner and Rachel Flint for three-year terms as library trustees.

Town moderator Larry Farber hadn’t announced whether he would be seeking to stay on in that role.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.