Great Barrington annual town meeting preview

When: 6 p.m. Monday Where: Monument Mountain Regional High School parking lot, 600 Stockbridge Rd.

Before the pandemic, the town had planned a second night of voting due to lengthy meetings last year. Social distancing rules have forced one outdoor meeting for the essentials, and a request that residents vote to table zoning and citizens petitions until a later special town meeting. Legally, the items have to be on the warrant.

But some voters already say they object to a delay, and some say they object to holding the meeting under current constraints. They say the complexity of a drive-in meeting might threaten democracy through low participation. The meeting will be conducted by outdoor sound system, as well as an FM broadcast, with microphones stationed in the parking lot.

Budget raisers: While this year's increase to the town's operating budget alone is the lowest since 2014, rising school costs have again sent it upward, as have other costs including an expected increase in union and nonunion worker benefits and the payment of interest and principal for a fiscal 2020 bond. While tax revenue appeared stable when evaluated last month, town officials worry that the effect of the pandemic lockdown on town coffers will eventually force painful budget cuts. School spending: Great Barrington's assessment to the Berkshire Hills Regional School District is a roughly 5 percent increase over last year.

The overall school budget increased 4.7 percent over last year, and it includes £23.1 million in operating spending and £677,900 in capital expenses. But that is a budget cut back from an initial 9 percent hike, and one without everything educators say they want and need for students, particularly in an aging high school building. Those cuts included removing, by attrition, one aide from Muddy Brook Regional Elementary School, half an English teacher position, two aides from Monument High School.

Operating revenue and a shrinking capital budget helped lower it further. Wastewater treatment: Increases that include electricity costs and worker insurance drove up this department's budget by 113,374. The Wastewater Enterprise Fund pays for capital projects, and the department will ask voters for £690,000 for two projects and a £90,000 new service truck with a crane and plow.

One is £200,000 toward EPA-mandated work to analyze the collection system for pollutants before the water is discharged. Another is £400,000 to replace the sewer main under Main Street from Taconic Avenue to the Route 7/23 intersection. Vocational tuition and busing

Article Continues After Roughly £123,000 would pay for two Great Barrington students to get vocational training at Taconic High School in Pittsfield. Since South County districts do not have vocational programs, the state says towns must pay for their students to attend other schools.

The cost would include £37,726.50 to the South County Vocational Training Trust Scholarship Program. This covers tuition, textbooks and student health insurance. The cost of transportation is estimated at ££84,324.56.

South County towns plan to work together to share these costs for vocational students in future. BUDGET

Article Continues After These Ads

Fiscal 2021: £32,113,819 Increase: 5.2 percent

LINE ITEMS £17,567,344: Berkshire Hills Regional School District assessment Article Continues After

£4,318,500 for capital expenses including improvements to the wastewater treatment plant, as well as town streets, bridges and buildings £230,000: Dump truck with plow/sander £127,000: Two police cruisers

£123,000: Tuition and transportation costs for out of district vocational education £42,000: Support of Southern Berkshire Ambulance Squad -- Heather Bellow

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