Berkshire County’s smallest community held its annual town meeting Tuesday night.
Mount Washington, which calls itself “the Town Among The Clouds,” is in the southwestern corner of Massachusetts. It’s tucked into a wooded mountain range between the New York and Connecticut state lines, and has a fulltime population of around 170. As a result, its residents tend to wear many hats – which select board member, acting police chief and emergency management director Brian Tobin says is in line with Mount Washington’s character.
“Fiercely independent," he told WAMC. "That’s what I would say. And I think everybody here would agree with me on that.”
He says the community – incorporated in 1779 and today the third smallest municipality in Massachusetts – uses its size to its advantage.
“We tend to see problems and we don't wait for other people to propose solutions for them," explained Tobin. "We find the solutions ourselves. That's what we did with broadband. We were the first town in Berkshire County to have a municipally-owned fiber optic network. We've had it for four years now, and we were able to drop the price to subscribers after three years by 25% because it's financially very, very sound.”
Tuesday’s annual town meeting saw around 30 townsfolk gather in the gravel parking lot of town hall, a simple white-painted building behind the congregational church.
Board of Health Agent Ellie Lovejoy – also the solid waste coordinator for the town – explained the safety protocols for the socially distanced meeting.
“OK, for the masks tonight, if you are not sitting with the person that is in your pod or your family, in order to not wear your mask you have to be 6 feet apart," she told the assemblage. "If you wish you remove your mask, stand by. But we’re in much better shape than we were last year, so have at it.”
The 14-article warrant was dispensed with matter-of-factly, with occasional explanations from town leaders.
The town’s fiscal year 2022 budget is closer to $760,000 – an almost $100,000 increase over fiscal year 2021’s spending plan.
School committee chair Lesliann Frucht – also the town’s treasurer and librarian – explained why annual spending on schools is jumping from around $80,000 a year to almost $160,000 a year.
“So we've had more kids going to school in the last — four more," said Frucht. "So in the last few years, we had one student going to school, so we had a parent, we were paying a stipend to a parent. So this past school year, we had three more kids, so a total of four. And we went back to busing and the busing is just considerably more. We didn't want to pay four different parents to drive their kids to school for liability reasons. So anyway, we went back with the bus.”
Assessor Jeb Rong explained why Mount Washington will raise and appropriate around $93,000 for its broadband network in the coming year.
“If you look at your monthly bill from our ISP, Crocker Communications has a breakdown of the broadband fee," said Rong. "In addition, on top of that, you have whatever phone service, internet service fees and taxes. And the monthly broadband fee that that's collected comes back to the town. And that fee’s used to cover for the insurances, ongoing maintenance, and also to build up a reserve for equipment upgrade, and eventually replacement. Because hardware and whatnot, they have usually a finite lifetime. So after five to seven years, we anticipate that the switches and servers they will need to be replaced. So this fee is for all those.”
Moderator Morgan Bulkeley – a Yale graduate and painter who was raised in the town, as well as a member of the planning board – lead the meeting to a brisk conclusion after around half an hour of almost uniformly unanimous votes on the warrant.
“Thank you all for being here tonight," he said. "And I'm glad the mosquitoes weren't too bad.”