Hadley TM votes to withdraw from Hampshire Council of Governments

Staff Writer
Friday, October 06, 2017

HADLEY — By a near unanimous vote, voters at a special Town Meeting Thursday agreed to withdraw from the Hampshire Council of Governments effective July 1, 2019.

“This is a business decision we’re trying to make,” said Select Board Chairwoman Molly Keegan in advocating for Town Meeting to put HCG on notice.

But the 132-1 vote doesn’t bring an immediate end to the town’s membership, as Keegan said there is still time for the council to develop its revenue streams, improve its service and dispel some of the cloud caused by recent bonuses for its employees, despite an audit indicating there are structural issues that can’t be overcome.

“What we’re really looking for is performance here,” Keegan said.

In addition, the town is required to give HCG more than a year’s notice before it can withdraw from the organization.

Seth Isman of Middle Street asked whether there was risk to Hadley staying in the council. Keegan said the risk is not having the option to leave, noting that Hadley can participate in other purchasing programs, including that of the Franklin Council of Governments.

Select Board member Donald Pipczynski, who serves as representative to HCG, said Hadley doesn’t need to be a member to take advantage of the council’s programs.

Hadley joined HCG in 2010 and pays a little over $3,000 in dues annually, according to Keegan.

No representatives from HCG spoke, though a two-sided sheet was handed out to residents as they entered Hopkins Academy providing 18 reasons the town should remain, including the $524,969 spent by the town and schools in the HCG Purchasing Co-op, the 51 private businesses that use Hampshire Power and the Tobacco Free Partnership that worked with the Hadley Housing Authority to go smoke-free.

Budget issues

Meantime, residents dealt with two contentious issues, one the revised fiscal year 2018 budget that will allow Hadley to bring on three new firefighters starting Jan. 1, adding $82,052 to the $291,429 in salaries approved at annual Town Meeting, the other the site for the new North Hadley fire substation.

With certified free cash at $863,364, or more than $300,000 higher than anticipated, the Select Board created an $18 million budget that would have maintained stipends for various board members and kept $50,000 in reserves. But this budget also used more free cash.

The Finance Committee objected to this, staying firm in needing to trim about $45,000 in spending in this year’s budget to set the stage for maintaining the new firefighter positions in next year’s budget.

“Going into fiscal ’19 we are going to need to tighten our belts hard,” said Finance Committee member Gabriel Owen.

The Select Board’s plan was defeated, with 83 against and 54 in favor. The Finance Committee’s budget, which used $555,612 in free cash to balance it, passed 127-7.

Residents spent considerable time debating whether they should amend last October’s vote for the $2.9 million North Hadley fire substation to be built on the ballfield next to the North Hadley Hall.

Town Administrator David Nixon explained that the town is not legally allowed to use recreational land for such a project.

But Andy Morris-Friedman of Roosevelt Street said this appears to give carte blanche to the Select Board to find another site, and he would prefer to have Town Meeting maintain control over the site.

But his argument didn’t carry the day, and the change to allow town officials to choose a new site was eventually approved by a 126-10 vote.

Keegan said the likely site for the substation is a 9-acre parcel at the corner of Stockbridge St. and River Drive that the town bought following a vote at the August Town Meeting.

Town Meeting easily approved three Community Preservation Act spending projects, with $190,000 for the third phase of renovations to Zatyrka Park, $35,000 for constructing a pavilion near the Hadley Elementary School playground and $400,000 for creating new playing fields at Hopkins Academy.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.