Updated: Sunderland headed for tax override vote; senior housing moves forward


For the Gazette

Published: 04-28-2017 11:18 PM

SUNDERLAND — The town’s voters approved its budget and set the stage for a Proposition 2½ override at the town’s elections next week.

On top of a chance to see a potential tax hike in Sunderland, the town also voted to help move forward a project for affordable senior housing, which is pending state funding.

The town also voted to instruct their members of Congress to advocate against corporate money in elections, in a push to try to overturn landmark Supreme Court decision “Citizens United.”

The town will head to the polls May 6 for its annual election — while celebrating its 300th year — to vote on whether to approve the tax override question, which would hike the town’s tax rate by an estimated 86 cents per $1,000 property valuation.

This comes after the town voted to approve its budget on Friday night at Sunderland Elementary School.

The budget was unanimously approved bringing the town’s budget to a total of $7,578,569, a 4 percent increase from last year. The proposed numbers in the budget are contingent on the override being voted in favor.

Despite the uncontested vote on Sunderland’s budget, there was nearly an hour of discussion regarding it line by line. The conversation centered mostly around the school’s budget.

The elementary school’s now-approved budget will be about $2.5 million, a roughly 5 percent increase from last year.

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When pressed to why the elementary school’s budget is set to increase by $124,148, the school’s business manager indicated an increase in enrollment in pre-K and in special needs children, particularly those who are autistic.

Chairman of the Board of Selectmen Thomas Fydenkevez addressed the town following questions regarding the budget and the money going to the schools.

“The Frontier baseball team goes into the senior center to help out and clean up the yard. Man, I’m proud of those kids,” Fydenkevez said. “That’s what these schools are teaching our kids.”

The vote that will now follow on May 6 heads a heated debate over a Proposition 2½ override — designed to expand potential tax revenue by about $300,000 per year.

An override vote is required by state law any time town officials want to raise the tax limit above 2.5 percent per year.

Affordable senior housing

Affordable senior housing is closer to coming to Sunderland, following voters at the annual town meeting agreeing to allocate sufficient funds to help the project.

The unanimous vote allows the project, which would build a likely 34 affordable senior residences at 120 North Main St., to be competitive to receive state funding.

Without the $100,000 funding approved by town voters, coming from the Community Preservation Act, it would have made the project unlikely to happen, those involved with the project said.

Rural Development Inc. Executive Director Frances Pheeny explained to the town that with this funding it would show the state that at the local level people are passionate for this project.

“We are thrilled that the town is even considering that kind of support,” Pheeny said to the town.

Chair of the advisory committee for the project, Lorin Starr spoke of its importance to the community.

“This is also a step toward the affordable housing problem we have in town,” Starr said. “These units will all qualify for that.”

Some residents questioned whether the affordable housing project would be similar to the recently approved construction for senior housing in South Deerfield, at the base of Sugarloaf Mountain.

“This is extremely different than the project proposed in South Deerfield,” Pheeny said.

She continued: “This is 100 percent affordable for residents in Sunderland.”

The senior housing in South Deerfield will be condominiums built that will lean toward the upper range of pricing in the area.

The affordable senior housing project in Sunderland is expected to cost at different ranges of the median income of the town, including 30 and 50 percent of the median income.

The project will enter a competitive round to receive state funding, though Pheeny said this makes it more likely to be approved.

It is roughly a $10 million project, primarily funded by the state, though directly reliant on federal funding for affordable housing.

Warrant highlights

Sunderland passed a motion to instruct their members of Congress to advocate against corporate money in elections. This pushes against the landmark Supreme Court decision known as “Citizens United.”

The group lobbying against the decision is Represent Us and will have an informational session Saturday, May 13 from 1 to 2:30 p.m. at the Jones Library in Amherst.

The effort is a regional movement.

The town also voted to approve spending $105,000 on its 300th anniversary celebration.

“I haven’t been a supporter of spending a ($105,000) for a party, but I tremendously respect the people who are organizing it,” moderator Robert Duby said after the motion was passed.

Sunderland approved to allow the town to lower the speed limit to 25 mph on roads that are thickly settled or in the business district, following people often exceeding some of the current posted speed limits of 30 and 35 mph.