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Sandisfield voters nix purchase of new truck, ambulance, reject glamping zoning bylaw amendment at town meeting

The Sandisfield Arts Center in Sandisfield, Massachusetts.
The Sandisfield Arts Center in Sandisfield, Massachusetts.

Residents of Sandisfield, Massachusetts met at the fire house for the annual town meeting on Saturday. The sparsely populated municipality of around 1,000 is the largest by land mass in Berkshire County, taking up 53 largely rural square miles in the region’s southeast corner on the Connecticut border. The 14-article warrant put before voters included a $4 million operating budget for fiscal year 2025 – up over $230,000 of 6% from the year prior – and amendments to Sandisfield’s zoning ordinances that would regulate tent camping and glamping. Town clerk Douglas Miner says the meeting featured lively debate, close votes, controversial budget cuts, and more. He spoke with WAMC.

MINER: There were some large ticket items including a Freightliner truck and an ambulance, both in the $300,000 range, that were proposed to use free cash to purchase. The town voted to amend those articles and instead voted for much smaller maintenance appropriation for each vehicle. Each vote, each one of those votes, however, was- The Freightliner vote was 31 to 29, and the ambulance, I think, was 21 to 19. They were both very, very close votes. But it was about a, close to, I think it was $600,000 around proposed in free cash to be spent, and they were close votes.

WAMC: What were some other major sources of conversation? Were there other amendments made mid-meeting to the warrant items?

The initial discussion, lengthy discussion, the select board members, all three had initially opted to forego their annual stipend for the three of them that amounted to $13,000. One of the first motions of the meeting was to restore that. Everybody appreciated the sentiment of the select board members and they're still free to return it, but it was ultimately decided that you know, if one of them goes away and we have to bring in a new select board member, the stipend should not be set at zero. Additionally, we're one of the lower stipends, I believe, at least in Southern Berkshire County.

Now, one of the big questions was this zoning bylaw ordinance to regulate tent camping and glamping in Sandisfield- How did the community decide on that? I know it required a two-thirds majority to pass it.

Yeah, it required a two-thirds majority, and it was the last article. So, by the time we voted on it, the vote was 21 against, 20 in favor. So, nowhere near the two thirds requirements. It was- Yeah, I think, ultimately, people were not entirely clear as to the long-term benefit to the town or if there was even a demand for something like that. That's what the discussion revolved around.

So, that's a lot of tight votes at this meeting- How would you describe the tenor? Was it sort of a good faith, good spirited conversation? Was it a tense meeting? Tell us about that.

I think- I would say as, as the town clerk and somebody who tries to stay neutral, I would say, I would say overall, the meeting was, I think, overall, people were happy. I think the ambulance was a was a bit of a shock. The Freightliner truck is a 2017 truck, so it made sense to sort of, I think – I'm talking about the people, I'm not talking about my personal opinion – it seems like people thought it made more sense to just do maintenance for the year and see what turns out. The ambulance is a 2012, so it's 13 years old, it's our only one. I personally was surprised that didn't get voted for. And I think like any meeting, even though I think overall it was it was smooth, I think there's people who were very happy and there were some people who were very upset.

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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