Belchertown Town Meeting delays decision on HCOG withdrawal

By Chance Viles

For the Gazette

Published: 05-09-2017 1:04 AM

Belchertown — Despite approving many articles at annual Town Meeting Monday night, one of the most anticipated proposals — a potential withdrawal from the Hampshire Council of Governments — was shelved until next month due to a technical snafu.

Following months of debate over whether HCOG is beneficial to Belchertown, the decision whether to pull out of the quasi-government agency was postponed due to a failure “to follow the specific notification requirements to withdraw or present an article to withdraw to the council of governments,” Town Administrator Gary Brougham told voters.

Recognizing that there may be a “technical flaw” in the town’s intent to move the article forward Monday, town officials opted to follow the advice of town counsel and delay the discussion and possible vote until a special Town Meeting on June 19.

By then, “we will have served many notices of our intent,” Brougham said. “It was perhaps my mistake and I will take full responsibility.”

Belchertown residents have voted on the topic of HCOG four times in the past 12 years. Twice — in 2006 and 2010 — the town voted to continue membership at a lower membership cost. On two other occasions, in 2005 and 2014, the town voted to take no action on motions to withdraw.

Voters were split on the issue.

“I think we should stay in (HCOG) because for the amount we get such exponentially better benefits. We also discussed this at the Planning Board meeting briefly last time and I think all or most of us is in an agreement that this is a responsible thing to stay in,” said Planning Board member Sierra Pelletier, who is running for a position on that board.

Resident Tom Barry was skeptical.

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“I don’t think anybody has a good feeling for how much we really get out of it. What does the saving number compare to? If they say they are saving money on say paper, I want to know where it came from… It is not fair to say ‘we saved you ten dollars on a ream of paper’, not if you are pricing it at a high end store.”

Other business

In other business Monday, voters gave the Select Board approval to buy 86 acres to create the “Mader Town Forest.”

The forest will be Belchertown’s first town forest, and will become a town conservation area.

This will also be the first time that Belchertown will use timber value to offset the costs of the acquisition.

A citizen petition calling for monthly summaries of the school budget was postponed until the June 19 special Town Meeting.

Town officials argued that the citizen petition is vaguely worded and that the school board is doing everything in their power to efficiently use its funds.

Some voters, however, voiced concern over the $28.2 million to be allotted to the School Department for fiscal 2018, noting that teacher contracts have been in the works for over a year and that the school budget itself had not been finalized.

Town officials argued that the budget would be easier to work out if they had the amount of allotted money finalized at Town Meeting.

“I was on the School Committee, and we would never come to a Town Meeting without a detailed budget… We always came prepared and there is no excuse,” said Belchertown resident Sharon Barnett, addressing the town.

Voters also approved a citizen petition calling for the circle on Center Street to become a one-way for safety reasons following numerous near-head-on collisions.

Residents voted to reallocate $96,000 in Community Preservation Act funds as a grant to the Belchertown Housing Authority in order to replace the windows that are no longer weather tight at 48 different state apartment buildings.

State funds had already been spent replacing the windows of other housing units. Some voters disagreed with having to pay for the replacement of windows with tax money when it was a state building, while other residents appealed to a more humanitarian cause.

One resident noted that there are elderly people with their curtains blowing in the winter, imploring people to not give up on the people that need the town’s help.

Voters approved numerous other CPA articles, including $18,000 to replace the scoreboard and make other improvements to the Chestnut Hill Community School recreation complex.