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Dalton Tackles Recycling, Debt Reduction In Special Town Meeting

A sign reads "Entering Dalton" against a backdrop of green leaves and trees

The Berkshire County town of Dalton, Massachusetts, settled some business at a special town meeting Monday night.

Almost two months after its regular annual town meeting, Dalton’s special town meeting at Nessacus Regional Middle School was dispensed at a brisk pace. All 12 articles on the warrant – including bargaining agreements with the town’s patrol officers, highway and cemetery workers, and dispatchers – were passed by a handful of Dalton residents from the town of 6,500 people within 45 minutes.

Article 3 saw Dalton vote to use over $140,000 from its capital stabilization fund for a trio of projects. Finance committee chairman William Drosehn III broke down the expenses.

“$54,000 for a new police cruiser and related equipment. $86,652 for a new one-ton plow truck and related equipment, and further, that the remainder of the $15,000 appropriated at the special town meeting of June 26, 2017 for plans, specifications, and estimates for an insulation project at the town hall be also expressly authorized for plans, specifications, and estimates for improving handicapped accessibility at the town hall or any other purpose for improving the town hall as approved by the select board.”

Town manager Kenneth Walto explained why the previously appropriated money was still on the books.

“Subsequent to this $15,000 appropriation, the town received a grant for $12,000 from the state. The actual cost of the architectural engineering study was $13,000, so there’s $14,000 remaining and handicapped accessibility remains a priority for trying to improve the town hall.”

A notable item was article 6: Dalton greatly expanded its recycling bylaws by offering a more specific definition of whom they apply to.

“We extended our existing mandatory recycling regulation to include all residents, including those in apartment buildings, and we’re also requiring commercial generators to recycle.”

Jenny Gitlitz is a member of the Green Dalton Committee. In her presentation, she estimated that 75 percent of the town currently does not recycle. The new bylaw also extends the town’s ability to enforce recycling codes.

“There is an enforcement provision that’s been on the books for a while, hasn’t been abided by – but we hope to get some state money that will help us do that, to get some money to provide education and enforcement.”

The bylaw revision is among a number of the committee’s undertakings.

“We have replaced all the streetlights with LEDs, so we just heard about how much energy has been saved. We’re working to retrofit the senior center and the town hall to do better lighting and insulation to save the town energy.”

Article 11 was a proposal to raise over $667,000 in taxes to pay off town debt, along with using over $40,000 in free cash for revised departmental appropriations. It prompted protest from a few of the gathered voters. Walto explained the move.

“The town issued bonds 10 years ago for repair of the town hall and for some other expenses, and we want to pay those bonds off early, saving over $600,000, and we wanted to accelerate the payment for the demolition of the old Dalton High School.”

Financial advisor David Eisenthal – of Unibank Fiscal Advisory Services – explained that the plan was to lower Dalton’s debt with higher taxes in 2020 to pay it off between then and 2028, before the cost of the new $72 million dollar plus Wahconah High School project hit taxpayers.

“You’re reducing something like $30 on the average homeowner in those years. It’s not – compared with the $500-$600 – it’s not huge, but it does reduce that impact in those later years, and it produces an overall savings of over $100,000 in total debt service.”

Despite a few defiant no votes, the motion carried.

Josh Landes has been WAMC's Berkshire Bureau Chief since February 2018, following stints at WBGO Newark and WFMU East Orange. A passionate advocate for Western Massachusetts, Landes was raised in Pittsfield and attended Hampshire College in Amherst, receiving his bachelor's in Ethnomusicology and Radio Production. His free time is spent with his cat Harry, experimental electronic music, and exploring the woods.
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