New Salem passes $3M budget, reduced Mahar assessment

  • Fifty-one voters showed up behind New Salem Town Hall on Tuesday afternoon for Annual Town Meeting. It was held outdoors, with people spaced at least 6 feet apart. Staff Photo/Domenic Poli

  • Moderator Cameron Dunbar speaks at the New Salem Annual Town Meeting, held behind Town Hall on Tuesday afternoon. Finance Committee Chair Gabriele Voelker is to his right. Staff Photo/Domenic Poli

Staff Writer
Published: 6/24/2020 5:37:56 PM
Modified: 6/24/2020 5:37:51 PM

NEW SALEM — Voters at Tuesday’s Annual Town Meeting adopted a $630,316 assessment for Ralph C. Mahar Regional School, a $123,680 reduction from what was originally proposed.

The Mahar assessment was part of an adopted $3 million omnibus budget, with $2.9 million to be raised and appropriated and $77,006 to be transferred from free cash. An amendment to reduce the assessment figure was made on the floor.

“This was a very difficult budget year,” Finance Committee Chair Gabriele Voelker explained.

This year’s Town Meeting was unique from other years in that it was held behind Town Hall, with people wearing masks and sitting 6 feet apart from non-household members as a safety precaution against the novel coronavirus. According to Constable Alfred Ohlson, 51 of the town’s roughly 600 registered voters attended the meeting.

The budget also includes $890,708 for the town’s assessment for Swift River School, $107,270 for its assessment for Franklin County Technical School in Turners Falls, $177,438 for Swift River Transportation and $1,762 for debt service for Mahar.

The roughly $1.2 million non-school budget includes $189,357 for Highway Department salaries and $67,750 for its expenses, as well as $117,625 in total insurance costs. In addition, it includes $81,707 for Police Department salaries and $34,990 for department expenses. There is also $52,525 for Fire Department salaries and $47,590 for department expenses.

Separately, voters agreed to appropriate $57,000 to be used by the Highway Department for snow removal and winter road maintenance, and $6,000 to replace all police and fire department radios and add-on equipment for vehicles and stations.

At the suggestion of Swift River School Principal Kelley Sullivan, the amount to be transferred from capital stabilization for carpeting at the elementary school was amended from $10,000 to $5,000 because the lower figure will suffice for this year due to the school’s current renovations taking priority.

A confusing moment came toward the end of the meeting, when residents were asked to vote on an article pertaining to transferring from capital stabilization $16,478 for repairs to the old academy building. The call to vote received 26 votes in the affirmative, nine “No” votes and 10 abstentions.

Moderator Cameron Dunbar initially declared the article received the two-thirds majority needed to pass, but someone called into question how abstentions should be counted. He took a moment to refer to his moderator’s handbooks but then told the crowd that did not fill him with confidence because they are both decades old. He said the town will ask the Department of Revenue when it sends the warrant to be certified.

“So we’re going to take that under advisement,” he said.

Dunbar said townspeople will be notified about the article’s fate, possibly through the town newsletter.

One resident made a motion to take a revote, but Dunbar denied it.

Reach Domenic Poli at: dpoli@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 262.


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