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Shutesbury approves raises for town officials

Nearly 100 people turned out Saturday in the gym of the Shutesbury Elementary School to debate the budget and cast their votes for Select Board, School Committee and other town offices.

Moderator Penelope G. Kim opened with a short speech that quoted a civil invocation used in town meetings in Vermont.

“Let us remember that our neighbors, with whom we may disagree, are good people,” said Kim, “and that in the end, caring for each other in this community is of far greater importance than any difference we may have.”

Though residents debated aspects of the budget, which increased by 0.45 percent from 2013, the session went smoothly with few major disagreements.

One of the biggest changes in the budget was a proposed increase in salaries of municipal officers such as town clerk and town administrator, which increased the budget by approximately $15,000.

This change came in response to a report from the Shutesbury Personnel Board, which found that municipal workers in Shutesbury were making less than those in neighboring towns like Amherst and Leverett.

“We’re asking that the town bring wages for town officials into line with market value,” said J. April Stein, chair of the Personnel Board and a member of the town Select Board.

This proposal was opposed by some residents. Mike Vinsky proposed amending the budget to take away the $15,000 increase. The amendment was not voted on, however, due to the fact that it would have required re-calculating salaries of each individual town official. Vinksy dropped that matter and the increase in town officials’ salaries was passed as part of the budget for 2014.

Another point of contention was a proposal to move $116,306 into the town’s Capital Stabilization Fund.

Town Administrator Becky Torres said that money in the fund can be used, with a two-thirds vote, for any capital item. This includes equipment for the police and fire department or repairs to school buildings.

“The goal is to maintain the ability in the future to respond to capital requests,” she said. The transfer passed as part of the budget.

The meeting offered a chance for committees to brief residents on work done over the past year.

Elaine Puleo updated residents on talks to create a regional elementary school district among Leverett, Pelham and Amherst. Shutesbury was originally in talks to be part of this region, but backed out.

“We decided not to go forward with the process because in 1993, when we got to the point of a town vote, the other three towns voted yes, and Shutesbury voted no,” said Puleo. “And the whole process died. The interest in the other three towns was very high, and if Shutesbury stayed in the process it could jeopardize their chances for a three-town region.”

The town has the option of joining the region later, if residents are in favor of it.

If the town does decide to be involved, the new region will take effect in July 2014.

As residents and officials debated budget issues, voters drifted in and out of the meeting. The ringing of the ballot box could be heard from the back of the room. The ballot box has been in use since 1937.

Town elections went smoothly, with no contested races or unfilled positions. Turnout was 13 percent, with 190 of Shutesbury’s registered voters showing up at the polls. This is an average turnout for uncontested elections, said Town Clerk Leslie Bracebridge.

Elected town officials this year include: Catherine Hilton, for a three-year term on the Board of Health; Norene Pease, for a one-year term on the Board of Health; Marilyn E. Tibbetts, both for the Cemetery Commission and town constable; Michele Regan-Ladd and Gail R. Fleischaker for the Library Trustees; Penelope G. Kim for moderator; Linda C. Feduik-Rotondi and Jeffrey R. Lacy for the Planning Board; Sean Timothy Woodard-MnNiff for the School Committee; and J. April Stein for the Select Board.

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