Sunderland gets green light to purchase fire truck, override looms

For the Bulletin
Thursday, May 10, 2018

SUNDERLAND — The big ticket item of purchasing a new fire truck for just over $500,000 passed with little pushback at this year’s annual Town Meeting on April 27, setting up a debt exclusion Proposition 2½ override vote at Saturday’s town election to finalize the initial works of the deal.

At the election, the override item passed, 324-250.

Sunderland Fire Chief Steven Benjamin explained to about 100 voters gathered at the elementary school about the need to replace the department’s second truck, which was purchased in 1988 and has seen no upgrades since.

“If anyone is driving a car from 1988, you probably know what I mean about capabilities,” Benjamin said, noting the truck reached the age the National Fire Protection Association recommends it should be retired from service in 2013.

It’s been about three years of planning to get to the point where the chief had a bid, and one in which he felt comfortable with. The truck the town is eyeing, at $536,868, is an all-wheel-drive pumper tank, helping it to reach the more rural parts of town where some homes have been built recently.

A point of contention over the truck was whether it could service the proposed Sugarbrush Meadows senior housing apartment project in town. The chief said the one they’re looking at could not, and instead they will need a ladder truck that will cost closer to $1 million to $1.5 million.

It was unclear at the meeting if the project is built, who and how it might be serviced if there was a major fire. There were a brief conversation of regionalization of fire departments.

Budget passes

It was also an evening that passed a town budget of about $8 million, which will also require a Proposition 2½ override vote Saturday.

At the election, residents voted to allow the town to assess an additional $200,000 in real estate and personal property taxes, beginning July 1.

The plan is to fund the operating budgets of the town and public schools.

The budget would increase the current tax rate of $15 to $15.57, which would result in about a $159 increase in the annual amount of taxes for the average homeowner, according to the Selectmen’s office.

Sunderland is in the bottom third of tax rates in the area, according to numbers provided by the town’s office, with only Erving and Rowe sporting a lower tax rate in the Franklin County.

The budget could rise by 6.6 percent, or nearly $500,000, to a total of $8,040,537.

The Finance Committee said the increase is due to insurance, technology and school costs.

The town will be giving a 69 percent increase in funds to Franklin Technical School, up to about $171,000 from $101,000. The increase is driven by a doubling in the number of students to 10.

The cost of Sunderland Elementary School went up by about $115,000, a 4.6 percent increase, which some residents spoke strongly in favor of doing whatever the town could to support the school.

Some of the others reasons for the increase in the budget are: a $58,000 increase in costs to Frontier Regional School; a $51,000 increase in costs for committees and boards, almost exclusively from a $2,000 to $53,000 cost for the telecommunication committee; an $18,000 increase in cost of the Select Board, primarily a jump from $5,000 to $18,000 to pay for town counsel; a $29,000 increase in the police department, a $37,000 increase in the fire department, an $18,000 increase in the highway department and a $37,000 increase to the wastewater and treatment plant. One significant drop in cost comes from running town buildings with solar energy, helping to save about $37,000.

Capital projects and other plans

The elementary school may have a new playground years down the line, now that residents agreed to spend $12,000 on seed money for the design phase to replace its current one, last renovated in 1999.

The town also agreed to use a total of about $80,000 from two accounts of the Community Preservation Act fund to pay for the building of a new park and accessible river walk, with a picnic area, near School Street, which has been a project years in the works.

Following suit with Whately and potentially with other South County towns, residents agreed to spend up to $8,300 to help pay for a John Deere tractor for the Frontier Regional School District. The tractor is not expected to cost more than $35,000.

A non-binding resolution, petitioned on by a citizen, passed unanimously to call for a “Sunderland Anti-Corruption Resolution” that would state the town takes a position that “tough, new anti-corruption laws for politicians, lobbyists and outside groups such as super PACs are necessary in order to protect and promote the First Amendment as the most stakeholders in government instead of major donors.”

The town also agreed to follow an effort supported by the Franklin County Regional Council of Governments, to push toward a more sustainable, renewable energy approach. The article passed and now will sit with the Select Board.

Seats filled

No elected positions were contested this year.

Michael A. Wissemann, of 171 Old Amherst Road, was elected to a one-year term as moderator.

Scott A. Bergeron, of 7 Old Amherst Road, was re-elected to a three-year term on the Selectboard. Bergeron was also re-elected as a Riverside Cemetery trustee for three years.

Kenneth L. Kushi, of 361 Montague Road, was re-elected to a three-year term on the Board of Health.

Michael R. Skibiski, of 147 North Main St., was re-elected to a three-year term as an assessor.

Peter Gagarin, of 300 North Main St., was elected, and Maisie J. Shaw, of 88 Reservation Road, was re-elected to the Sunderland Elementary School Committee, each for three years.

Sara Snyder, of 114 North Silver Lane, was re-elected to the Planning Board for five years.

Hollis Graves, of 28 South Main St., John Henry Sackrey, of 83 South Main St., and Lorin Starr, of 71 South Main St., were all re-elected as Sunderland Public Library trustees for three years.