Dec 11, 2013, 2:06 AM
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Montague Reporter: Corkboard: News / Stories / Editorials
Bridge 2 way traffic
Yahoo!. I just came across the bridge myself! What a thrill!
Bridge 2 way traffic
About 3:30 pm today just 1/2 hours ago the Gill/Turners Falls Bridge was open for 2 Way Traffic
Montague Town Meeting Finds No Compromise on G-M Budget
By David Detmold - A divided Montague town meeting on Thursday, August 5th voted down a compromise motion to meet the Gill-Montague School District halfway to plug a roughly $380,000 gap between what the town considers an affordable school assessment, and the $16.4 million budget the school committee believes is needed to operate the district schools.
"We Are Not a Team That Quits"
Turners Tops Ware, 5-3 in the 10th! Preview the article that will appear in this week's paper at http://montaguerepor...team-that-quits.html
In It To End It (Breast Cancer)
Both my husband and I were born in the town of Montague and graduated from Turners Falls High School 35 years ago. Unfortunately, during the past 2 years both he and I were stricken with breast cancer, exactly a year apart. Luckily we live near enough to Boston to receive excellent medical treatment and both our outlooks remain positive. Having recently finished treatments, we are both walking in the Avon Walk For Breast Cancer in Boston on May 15 and 16. We have committed to raise $1,800 each for this worthwhile event. This money will be distributed in the Boston area. Funds raised support 5 key areas:
Reporter Editorial: Sticks and Stones and Names
The following editorial appeared in the May 14, 2009 issue of the Montague Reporter.
Sticks and Stones and Names
On the Gill side of the bridge sits an oblong granite marker carved with words in bold capitals: CAPTAIN WILLIAM TURNER WITH 145 MEN SURPRISED AND DESTROYED OVER 300 INDIANS ENCAMPED AT THIS PLACE. MAY 19, 1676.
Why should an event that happened 333 years ago concern us today? Can’t the past simply stay in the past, to be remarked upon by historians, if at all?
In truth, the past lives on, in ways plain and mysterious, and still demands a reckoning.
It is hard for us to imagine the settlers of Hadley, themselves the victims of ambush the previous fall, walking the riverside trail north in the night to attack the Native camp at dawn. By the Great Falls, Native refugees from the war for land and resources that had consumed New England from Plymouth Bay to Deerfield for the past twelve months were gathered for the annual shad run. They were by all accounts primarily non-combatant elders, women and children. The colonists fell on them without mercy, putting even the babes to the sword, and driving many into the river where they perished in the falls. Only one of the colonists fell in that surprise attack, shot by one of his own men.
Events like this leave a shadow on the land, and sometimes it is left to later generations to remove the stain of blood. It was in this spirit that the selectboard of the town of Montague invited the leaders and medicine people of the Narragansetts, whose protective sway once extended to the Great Falls, to come to the river on May 19th, 2004 to hold a reconciliation ceremony with the town.
It was the first time in hundreds of years the Narragansetts had performed the ceremony, which they call “burying the hatchet.” Medicine Man Lloyd Running Wolf offered the peace pipe to the four directions, spoke ancient prayers, and touched selectboard chair Pat Allen above her heart with the tip of the pipe.
Following the ceremony, tribal leaders and the town selectboard members affixed their signatures to a “Document of Cooperation and Peace,” which included a promise to “commit to a future that will continue the exchange of actions to promote understanding about and between the cultures, increase mutual vigilance for historic preservation, and deepen our appreciation for the rich heritage of indigenous peoples of our region and all who have found respite, sanctuary and welcome here.”
As events have flowed in the five years since that historic moment, local boards and committees – and even state and national officials – have had a plenty of opportunity to reflect on those words. After inappropriate remarks about “tree-hugging Indians” holding up progress on the airport runway expansion in Montague, the resulting furor caused the director of the Massachusetts Aeronautics Commission to lose his job last year. Soon after, the National Register of Historic Places ruled in favor of Native claims that a stone formation near the runway was indeed an ancient sacred site, part of a complex of Native stone formations in a 16-mile circumference of the Falls, the first such finding of eligibility for the Register east of the Mississippi River.
In the last two years, tribal representatives have come to Montague to discuss ways in which the Native heritage in our area could lead to Great Falls becoming an innovative center of “preservation tourism,” exploring the points of contact between Natives and settlers, and the cultural traditions and sites preceding European immigration to these shores. They hope to bring federal dollars to bear in the development of that effort.
At the same time, the Gill-Montague school committee has grappled with – and on Tuesday finally ruled against – a tradition of more recent provenance: the use of the Tomahawk Chop fight song by the marching band at school sports events. After passionate and heated dialogue, where proponents of the Tomahawk Chop claimed they were honoring a vanished people who once lived here, a brave and warlike race, the school committee took a step toward acknowledging those who believe the use of Native American names, mascots, and caricatures – no matter how well intentioned – by non-Native schools, is inappropriate, and, in fact, racist.
School committee candidate Jen Waldron said it well during the televised debate on MCTV on May 3rd: “We wouldn’t use a black man for a mascot. Why would we use an Indian?”
To restate the obvious, Native Americans are human beings, not mascots. They are not a vanished people; they live among us. The dominant culture has long attempted to expropriate their images and symbols and use them as their own, but they do not belong to us, by force of conquest or by mimicry. In Montague, we have now promised to live in Cooperation and Peace with Native Americans, and to promote understanding between our peoples. Let us not take this promise idly, like so many broken promises in the past between the Europeans and the indigenous people of this land.
The question of the school mascot – a stoic Indian in profile wearing a Plains headdress – remains to be considered, and we hope the school committee will join the growing list of high schools nationwide that have heeded the United States Commission on Civil Rights in their call to ban the use of Native mascots, and pick a more suitable name for our sports teams next year. Given Gill and Montague’s proximity to Barton Cove, may we suggest the Eagles?
And while we’re at it, let us note the apparently divergent responses between two candidates – Mark Fairbrother and Jack Nelson – to a question at the selectboard candidates’ televised debate on May 7th dealing with the possibility of changing the name of the village of Turners Falls. Fairbrother said that would be a very divisive move, while Nelson said that with enough dialogue, perhaps the town could agree to change the name of the village to Great Falls one day. Oddly, both men may be right.
At least, ask yourself this question: do you think it is right, in a village named after a man named Turner, who led the massacre of local Indians, to name the high school sports team the Turners Falls Indians?
Our civic and scholastic pride is strong, and rightly so, but change comes to all communities in time. In the era of President Barack Obama, Americans are broadly re-examining their nation’s history of racial oppression, genocide and injustice, and adjusting their views of what is possible and what is right. Should we forever honor the bloodstained past? Or is it time to raise our sights, and welcome a more inclusive future, where all peoples are truly honored in the integrity of their own cultures?
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Three Vie for Montague Selectboard
[from the May 7, 2009 edition of the Montague Reporter]
by Anne Harding
With the withdrawal of Joshua Gammon from the selectboard race, three candidates remain in the running for the three-year seat up for grabs on May 18th. They are:
Mark Fairbrother is truly the most local of the candidates running for the office. He was born and raised in Montague and attended the local schools from kindergarten until he graduated high school. He is well known in town largely because of his involvement in local government for so many years. When asked why he was running for office, Fairbrother said he felt it was the logical next step in a life of public service.
His involvement with local governance began in the early 1990s when he was invited to be an associate member of the conservation commission. In about 1996, he became a voting member of the commission and has served as the chair for the past ten years. He’s also served on the last two search committees for the town planner position, and was on the committee that solicited the 43-D study of the Strathmore Mill, assessing its potential viability for development.
A self-taught naturalist, Fairbrother’s passion for birds and butterflies is also well known in town, and one might expect him to be anti-business. However, he supports expanded development through the proposed second industrial park on Millers Falls Road, even though he acknowledges a “perfect world” would keep the Montague Plains intact. Fairbrother believes appropriate safeguards can protect the environment, while supporting new businesses. To that end he joined the Turners Falls airport commission around 2000, because he wanted to work toward a balance between the property’s unique environmental aspects and the economic viability of a small airport.
With almost 20 years experience in the town hall, Fairbrother emphasizes that the fat has already been trimmed from town budgets. He is keenly aware of the nuts and bolts of the maintenance business, and the frustrations of managing a maintenance department with a dwindling budget. He worries that decreased staffing at the town hall already makes it difficult for both residents and employees, and worries that budget difficulties may necessitate further staffing cuts.
Fairbrother is concerned about the town’s economic viability, given the recent trend toward spending reserve funds to support the operating budget. It concerns him greatly when budget issues pit friends against friends, and he is cognizant of the fact that all factions in town are good people trying to do the right thing. He believes reserves should be spent for extraordinary circumstances, like the recent decision to roof and secure the Strathmore Mill pending the outcome of the land court case.
Fairbrother recognizes the financial burden of the town’s struggle to meet unfunded state and federal education mandates. While town meeting members actually make the budget decisions the selectboard administers, Fairbrother is worried that responsible 2009 and 2010 budgets may need overrides voters will not support.
In spite of budget concerns, he believes the town can prosper by maintaining its business-friendly attitudes and further growing the tourism generated by the RiverCulture project, the Discovery Center and the recent completion of the canalside bike trail. Fairbrother is hopeful the redevelopment of Ste. Anne’s and the Strathmore Mill will be successful additions to the town’s revitalization.
Twenty-three year old Ed Golrick is a self-professed jack-of-all-trades who takes pride in being himself. His family moved from Palmer to Montague when he was about 10 years old and within a short time was involved in the local cable television station (MCTV). This provided his first introduction to local government, and he was soon videotaping the selectboard meetings, which he did for several years. He has also volunteered from time to time with other civic groups, and most recently was involved with planning the Millers Falls downtown party.
Golrick decided to run for selectboard because he is not happy with the direction the town is taking, and wants to be involved in making a change. He would like to bring change in a positive way – and believes the key is more community involvement. He likes the idea of having an informal “mini-mayor” in each of the five villages in town, who would host a series of rotating meetings to get feedback and input from community members, to help come up with solutions for some of the larger town issues.
Like the other candidates, he feels the resolution of the town’s daunting budget issues is critical to Montague’s future. Golrick believes the budgetary process should be more transparent, and the taxpayers should know exactly where dollars are being spent. He would like to see a line item budget available for review.
Golrick said he is concerned about the number of proposed overrides the town has faced in recent years. Knowing the two biggest departmental budgets within the town hall are the DPW and police department, he would seek to eliminate unnecessary items from their budgets and find the best value for dollars spent to avoid additional costs by “doing things right the first time.”
Golrick acknowledged the size of the school budget is daunting but believes that a good educational system is paramount to a healthy town.
Jack Nelson has long been fascinated by Montague and in particular the downtown area of Turners Falls. He has a lifelong passion for historic buildings, which might explain why he feels so at home living in a turn-of-the century building in a mill town that is busy reviving its economy.
A long-time resident of Franklin County, Nelson spent more than 20 years in Northfield, first teaching art and later opening Carriage House Designs, a business he runs with his wife Eileen Dowd. They have expanded the business, which fabricates personalized urns, stone nameplates, and pet memorials at their Canal Street workshop in Turners, which seasonally employs primarily Montague residents.
Since his arrival in 2002, Nelson has been very involved in the efforts to revitalize the town through fostering a healthy creative economy. One of the founders of the Turners Falls Arts Walks, Nelson has also served on the RiverCulture steering committee, the Brick House board of directors, and has been a town meeting member since 2005. He is hopeful the town’s history and unique geology and geography will continue to grow the promising arts economy into a more well-rounded tourism industry that includes all the town’s unique aspects.
Nelson has a bachelors degree in special education and art along with a masters degree in fine art. He has had many interests and careers in addition to his avocation as an artist – he’s served in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, taught in public and private schools, raised a family, led group homes, and started a ceramic design and product business.
Recognizing the significant budget gap between the towns and the schools, Nelson pledges to lobby the state for more assistance but hopes to work with the school district administration on inter-district collaborative efforts to reduce costs. It is his belief that collaborative efforts could extend to shared teaching, rather than simply operating expenses such as transportation and energy costs. This type of approach could expand student education opportunities across many districts and potentially lead to savings for all.
Nelson believes one of his great strengths is to see possibilities where others see obstacles. As an artist, he says he knows the importance of flexibility and creativity when rising to meet financial challenges. He feels he has a knack for communicating with diverse groups of people, and believes that gift will serve the town well in the continuing efforts to establish Montague as a regional tourist destination. He believes a second industrial park would foster growth and improve the town’s economic stability. In short, Nelson believes the town can and will rise to the occasion to meet the needs of these challenging times.
Bear Attacks Ewe in Montague Center (pub 4.30.09)
Since there's been some discussion of this story here on the corkboard, here is the article itself. Please note that the writer is Mollie Fuller, a sixth grader.
Bear Attacks Ewe in Montague Center
At about 7:30 a.m. on April 20th, we were sitting in the playroom and eating breakfast, when Jazzie, my one-year-old English shepherd, scratched at the door to go out. My dad got up to let her out, and when he closed the door, he heard her barking.
He commanded, “Jazzie! No bark!” but she kept right on barking. When he went out to yell at her again, he was soon yelling at something over by the sheep pen.
He came inside the house and as quickly as possible he put on his muck boots, and went out to the barn and threw a bucket, yelled, and flailed his arms. When he came back inside the house, he said, “There was a bear inside the sheep pen and I think the bear nearly killed Burdie!”
When he said that, my mom leaped off the futon, and ran over to the door to put on her muck shoes. Then they both went out there to make sure the bear was far away in the woods.
They were out there quite a long time, and I just stayed inside.
When my mom came back inside, she told me that the bear had scratched Burdie across the throat, bit her back, and bit her udder. She also called the Enviromental Police, so they could track the bear down and, hopefully, shoot it.
I know it’s sad, but because Burdie was suffering and struggling, my dad had to slit her throat so she would be out of her misery. Then my dad dragged her out of the sheep pen, and put her in a wagon, and pulled the wagon down to the woods, where he skinned her.
When my mom and I went down to check on my dad, he had skinned the ewe and was starting to take the organs out. We told him we were going to the Greenfield Farmers Supply in Greenfield to get stuff to feed the triplet lambs.
When we got back home, the Environmental Police came and asked us what had happened.
For me, the best part was that the Environmental Police brought their two hounds to search for the bear. When they brought the dogs to where the bear had been, I for sure thought the dogs had picked up the scent, but when one policeman came up from the field he said the dogs hadn’t picked up on anything. I was very bummed out.
The dogs headed off our property, so one of the environmental policemen jumped into a truck and followed the dogs. The officer knew where the dogs were going because they had radio collars and bells around their necks.
The officer who had stayed with us said he was willing to come during the evening and just keep an eye on things.
Before they left, they set a trap and put some meat in it to entice the bear. We looked at the trap through binoculars probably every 15 to 20 minutes to see if the trap was closed. Sadly, it never was.
Since neither of my parents felt like cooking, we went out to dinner at the Lady Killigrew. We had a nice time playing cards and eating food.
After dinner, when we drove down our driveway and were almost to the garage, my mom all of a sudden cried, “Oh my god! There it is!”
The bear was by the ram pen, and about to climb up a tree. My dad leaped out of the car and ran toward the bear and scared it away from the animals.
While he was doing that, my mom ran inside and called the Environmental Police again. While my parents were dealing with the bear, I was shivering and crying with fear in the car. I locked myself in.
When the bear went into the nearby field, my dad came over to the car and told me the bear was lying down and chewing on Jazzie’s yellow ball. He took me inside, and I kept an eye on the bear from there.
After about ten minutes, my mom finally called the Environmental Police again, and the person who answered the phone said, “They’re a few minutes away, Ma’am.”
They finally arrived. I was hoping they would bring the dogs, but they didn’t. My parents showed the officer where the bear was. It was behind the barn, walking away. The officer shot and hit it. Then he shot it again so the bear wouldn’t run away wounded. After the bear took a few steps, it stumbled and fell down dead.
I was inside when this happened. I didn’t want to see the bullet, or the bear. I was quite happy when my mom said it was dead.
My mom went outside to see it with the officer. Once again, I stayed inside. When she came back, she told me the bear was a three or four-year-old female who hadn’t had cubs yet. And I’m happy she hadn’t had them yet, because then her cubs wouldn’t come back and do the same as their mom.
The bear would still be coming back if it weren’t for my parents, the hounds, and the environmental police.
Mollie Fuller is a sixth grader at the Greenfield Center School
Gentling the Bull
For those of you who read the article in this week's Montague Reporter, there are two minor goofs.
A Bad Year for Pay Hikes
Art - That’s the Police Chief’’s BASE PAY that you’re referring to. Incentives probably raise the level significantly.
A Bad Year for Pay Hikes
Joe: In an earlier post I believe that you mentioned something about the lack if attendance at the Fire District meeting. If I am wrong i apologize. You mentioned that there was poor attendance , and I apologize for not being inattendance, due to not feeling very well. You indicated that the fire dept employees were receiving an average salary of around 70,000. If this is true then I do believe that the Chief of Police with a salary range of 65,000 with over 30 years of service has a beef. I would think that his position does really require more responsibilty than the average fireman. Not taking anything away from the firemans position, but certainly his position should receive the same respect as the Fire Chief.
A Bad Year for Pay Hikes
Mike -A very good post. Also, a belated compliment to the Montague reported for an excellent editorial.
A Bad Year for Pay Hikes
Art - I’ve already spoken with you, but since you posted this for the group I thought I’d add my reply, in case anyone is following this (and also to try to keep one step ahead of Mark1 in his relentless efforts to topple me from my pedestal as "2nd poster" :-)
I agree that the GMRSD budget is out of control; in fact, I think it’s more out of control than the town’s is. I think the town actually has a chance to get on a sustainable path if it manages to control its spending growth. The figures I saw at the forum showed the town’s operating budget going up by about 8.5%; that is too high, and it’s the failure of the "official" budget proposal to directly address that problem that has persuaded me to vote against it. A Prop 2 1/2 override will only get us by for another year without the sort of changes that we should be making RIGHT NOW, and threats to close libraries and dismantle the parks and recreation departments and senior center are irresponsible. What’ll it be next year -- "pass an override, or I kill this puppy"?
I think there are ways to get the rate of growth down. A wage freeze, as suggested by The Reporter, is one option, but a total freeze might not be necessary if adjustments were made in other areas. I can’t offer specifics because a) I haven’t seen all the numbers, and b) these are matters for union negotiations, and those negotiations can’t be done in public. But if you cut that 8.5% in half you’d get about $275,000, which is more than the override, and you’d still have an increase of over 4%. I’d prefer not to use that extra $300,000 of reserves, either, and but if it looks like town officials are actually trying to confront the problem I’m willing to listen to their case.
As for GMRSD, I’m not convinced there is a solution. The district has a $17 million budget, and they think that an increase of 5.86% (which they persist in calling 5.49% by mixing the apples of the operating budget with the oranges of excluded debt payments) is perfectly okay. Given that state aid is basically flat (and is likely to stay that way), all that increase falls on the towns, and I defy anyone to explain to me how the towns are supposed to afford that. It’s not a question of whether education is important, it’s a question of where the dollars are supposed to come from. So far, the district has basically said, "we feel your pain, but that’s not our problem", which I think is irresponsible. But I don’t blame them for not wanting to tackle it -- the only solution is to make radical changes to the district, and that would require a unified and focused school committee. Which, in my opinion, we don’t have.
I don’t know whether I’ll vote for or against the proposed school assessment, but I don’t think it will matter -- the town’s recommendation is far short of the district’s request, so I expect we’ll be back at another town meeting to reconsider. I do intend to vote against any proposal that uses town reserves and/or depends on an override, and if others agree with me then I think there’s a good chance the state will be forced to take over the district, because I don’t think the school committee will agree to anything close to what the towns can afford.
I know some people predict that bad things will happen if the state comes in -- they’ll assess the town into bankruptcy is one thing I’ve heard. Well, bad things are happening already -- the towns are slowly killing themselves trying to meet the school assessments, and the district continues to hemorrhage students anyway, while our state officials blather about "regional cooperation" as our ticket out of this mess. I say if it’s a choice between committing suicide and having the state kill us, let’s toss the ball to the state and then fight back as hard as we can. It’s pretty obvious that when we do it to ourselves nobody else really cares.
If the state has the district dumped on its lap (perhaps for the first time in history), it will have to face the problem of how to make the finances work, and if it tries to assess the towns more money then we can (and should) openly and loudly ask why we should pay more when the state is paying so little (town assessments have gone up over 9% per year over the past few years, while state aid has gone up less than 1%). I think it will be bad press for the state DOE and bad press for our legislators, particularly Sen. Rosenberg, who isn’t likely to appreciate having a school district financial meltdown in his backyard, and I think there’s some chance they will wake up and realize they don’t want this hot potato and come up with some emergency plan to get more money to the district.
But that’s all pure speculation -- the bottom line is that we don’t have the money, so we have to stop pretending that we do. Honesty is the best policy, even if it isn’t always the most comfortable short-term policy.
Just my $.02, and reasonable people (as well as a few wackos :-) may disagree, but that’s how I see things at the moment.
A Bad Year for Pay Hikes
Mike: I am quite sorry to read of your input into the town hall budget. Perhaps you should take a look at the School Dept. Line Item Budget, if you haven’t already done so.
A Bad Year for Pay Hikes
The next question is: what to do? In less than three weeks, town meeting will be asked to approve this budget. I don’t see how I can vote for it, so I have two choices: propose a series of amendments that would make it more palatable, or simply vote it down.
A Bad Year for Pay Hikes
To Montague Reporter: A VERY GOOD EDITORIAL!!!!!!!!
A Bad Year for Pay Hikes
Wow indeed. This reminds me of when I worked at UMass. I was hired in 2000 and got a decent raise a year later. Then 911 happened and the state budget went into the tank. NO ONE received raises for three years after that. Not even little 1% raises. Nothing. But no one quit. And then UMass’ contributions went from 85% to 80%. And still no one quit. We all stuck through it because the benefits were still better than anything we could get anywhere else. I’d still be working there if they didn’t move my office from Hadley to Shrewsbury.
A Bad Year for Pay Hikes
Wow. Very nice.
A Bad Year for Pay Hikes
The following editorial appeared in this week’s issue of the Montague Reporter
Over the last few years, town and school officials have led Montague into a sea of red ink, and now, as a town, we are wallowing in it. After several months of staring at a deficit that exceeds $1.5 million for the coming fiscal year, last Wednesday the finance committee and selectboard signed off on a plan that depends on the good will of cash strapped property taxpayers to rescue core services like the branch libraries, the senior center, the parks and recreation commission, curbside recycling and even the dog catcher, with a $250,000 Proposition 2½ override. Coupled with this Hail Mary pass, town officials are planning to sink an additional $300,000 of Montague’s fast dwindling reserves (never mind the $300,000 in free cash already put toward the ‘09 deficit) into meeting annual operating costs, driving up the gap between expected revenues and expenses even further next year.
That is the proposed remedy for just the town side of the ‘09 budget deficit. For Montague, the gap in funding the Gill- Montague schools for the fiscal year that starts July 1st will still exceed $950,000, even if $600,000 in town reserves are spent and a $250,000 override passed. The town has made an effort to cut its budget to meet reality; the schools, so far, have not.
How do town officials propose dealing with the school side of the problem? Wait for either a district meeting or the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to order us to give our "underperforming" school district the additional funds. And where would we find nearly a million extra dollars this summer, assuming the voters have already approved a property tax override - something the voters of Montague have never done before? And assuming we have already taken $600,000 out of reserves, leaving only $1.75 million in the assessors overlay account to meet future obligations and unexpected emergencies (the need to defend in court the town’s expenditure of $270,000 towards securing the Strathmore Mill, for example)?
If we are forced to take another $950,000 out of reserves to meet the school’s operating budget, we may as well declare bankruptcy - why wait another year? - and let the state come and pick up the pieces.
The finance committee and the selectboard have known for some time they are spending far in excess of Montague’s means. The word unsustainable is too pale to convey the gravity of the situation. Irresponsible is more like it. And the plan the boards have come up with for dealing with the present exigency is no plan at all, but a derogation of duty.
The town has no realistic hope of raising local revenues in the short term. Local receipts are down, as the recessionary economy (which has never really improved much in our area since the mills went south) has caused more and more of our residents to defer home improvements and new car purchases, shaving $100,000 off Montague’s take in excise taxes, building permits, and the like between last year and this. With fewer people taking a gamble on scratch tickets, state aid to the town is expected to creep up by only $7,000 this year. With the statewide deficit pegged at $1.3 billion, and going nowhere fast, anyone who thinks Boston will be coming to Montague’s aid with significant extra Chapter 70 or Chapter 90 or lottery aid in the next few years is laboring under a delusion.
There is only one way to rein in the flood of red ink that is threatening to choke off our basic municipal services and the viability of our school system, and that is to curb the exponential growth of personnel costs on both the town and the school side of the budget. With all due respect for the excellent work our police, highway workers, teachers and other municipal and district staff perform on a daily basis, we simply cannot afford any increase in wages this year: the town is broke.
In the real world, when businesses are running in the red, they do not negotiate contracts with their workers guaranteeing them 5% annual increases, on top of generous benefit packages that include 90% contributions for the cost of their health insurance, and up to 20 paid sick days and five weeks paid vacation. Yet this is just what the town and school district have done; the GMRSD in fact increasing the share of its contribution to the health plans of its 230 workers from 85% to 90% last year, as a condition of their agreeing to join the state Group Insurance Commission.
Each percent of step and cost of living increases for the 64 town side staff costs the taxpayers $25,000. The five percent annual raises town hall staff have received under their current contracts (all three union contracts are up for renegotiation this June) translates to $125,000 in extra spending per annum. At the schools, the 5% hike in wages in the current contracts costs more than $400,000 per year.
Taken together, more than half a million dollars in wage hikes, when the town has clearly been in deficit spending for a number of years. That is truly unaffordable. The only chance for the tax levy to begin to pull even with the yawning structural budget gap in the short term is to defer all wage increases - the teachers contract is also up for negotiation this year - for fiscal ‘09, and then proceed with step and cost of living increases in future contract years at a pace that will allow the town to close the budget gap without a loss of vital services.
In his five year budget plan, town administrator Frank Abbondanzio correctly called for limiting operating expense budgets to 3% a year. That is the appropriate remedy, when the only reliable source of revenue growth the town can count on in the foreseeable future is the 2½% increase in property taxes allowed under Proposition 2½, plus some new growth. The only way to attain a 3% growth rate in operating budgets is to limit the growth of personnel costs (which make up at least 70% of the budget on both the town and the school side of the budget, when all factors are taken into account) to 3% a year. And since we have allowed personnel costs to rise at 5% for several years, we need to take immediate corrective action to bring the budget back into line.
The unions will not like this, but they need to ask themselves: what is the alternative? The alternative is the loss of union jobs, clerical workers being let go so that department heads are reduced to filing forms, and the loss of essential town services that hard-pressed taxpayers have scrimped for years to continue to provide. The alternative is an erosion of positions needed at the district schools at a time when the proportion of special needs students and students coming to school from homes in poverty is likely to increase as a result of a shortsighted elementary reconfiguration plan, whose unintended effect will likely be the further loss to the district of the easiest to educate students.
A third of the taxpayers of Montague are living on fixed incomes or below the poverty line. How can the selectboard ask them to pay more for the senior center, the town nurse, the libraries, and the parks and recreation department, without first asking town unions to tighten their own belts? And town side employees cannot be expected to agree to much belt tightening unless the teachers do as well.
"Who negotiated these contracts?" demanded Precinct 4’s Greg Garrison at the budget hearing held on Monday, March 17th. Well, the answer to that is: town administrator Frank Abbondanzio negotiated the contracts for town side unions, with the help of a labor lawyer and one member of the selectboard for each of the three unions. But Mr. Abbondanzio’s own compensation package is directly tied to the outcome of labor negotiations with town hall staff, and without a coordinated approach from the selectboard - in whom the ultimate authority to approve contracts rests - there is a danger in leaving so much of the responsibility of managing the increase of the town’s personnel costs in the town administrator’s hands. The same holds true for negotiations on town hall employees joining the GIC: the town administrator is bargaining on his own health benefits. This year demands a different approach, tough tactics, and teamwork, before it is too late to save what we have all worked long and hard to protect and preserve. And that goes double for the schools.
Abbondanzio told the finance committee and selectboard last week that reducing the share of the town’s contribution to workers’ health plans from 90% to 80% would save $176,000 for the coming budget year, but he argued that such a change would come at the cost of a buyout in the form of higher steps or cost of living raises. Speaking to this point later, finance committee chair John Hanold said, "This approach assumes the employee will never feel adverse impact," from the budget crisis. Why not?
We know of almost no one who lives in town, other than school and municipal employees themselves, and the lucky few who still belong to industrial, health care or service unions, who enjoyed a guaranteed wage increase this year. The economy is in the tank, and most of our discretionary income winds up in the gas tank, and in the oil tank as well. Still, taxpayers have plumped for a new police station, and a renovated sewer treatment facility, by approving debt exclusion overrides in excess of $7 million. Having afforded these facilities, are we now going to leave them short staffed to continue paying routine wage increases and hefty benefit packages to remaining departmental employees?
A few years back, when town meeting approved the selectboard’s recommendation to implement pay hikes contained in the wage and classification study, to bring staff salaries up to par with those of other towns in the region, we acted on the assurance that we could afford the increases, and that our employees deserved them. Only the latter proposition turned out to be true. Yet at the same time, we did nothing to reduce the generous benefit package that had formerly propped up an inadequate compensation scale. We kept employee benefits just as generous as they had been before the pay hikes.
In doing so, we have backed ourselves into a corner, and crying for more state aid, or yet another property tax increase will not get us out of it.
If some town workers or teachers decide they cannot do without a pay hike this year, let them try their luck in the job market. For now, we think the likelihood is they will see that Montague is indeed paying comparable wages, providing great benefits, and offering long term job security, in tight economic times. In return, our unions need to meet the taxpayers’ requirement for fiscal restraint in a truly terrible budget year.
I was submitting a post for an individual about snoring and accidently hit the submit post button verses the print key. So if anyone gets a story about snoring either laugh at it or ignore it. Sorry
Kudos on the Big Y Plaza Sign Scoop
The art of the short sentence may be lost on the Reporter, but usually there is an article or two thats really interesting in each issue. The sign story was one of those interesting ones. Can’t wait to read your follow-up.
Fire at Strathmore Mill
i think a brave photographer should take photos there?
Poem and Photo about Two Geese by Joseph R. Parzych
In the montague Reporter ’s may 24. 2007 issue on page 8 on the poetry page where was
’I Lit The F***ker On Fire’
Jonathan Tanzer, 43, of 5 Chestnut Lane in Turners Falls, was arraigned in Greenfield District Court this afternoon, Judge William McDonough presiding, and charged with breaking and entering in the nighttime, burning a building, and burning personal property. Tanzer is being charged with setting the fire that burned down Building #10 of the Strathmore Mill on the morning of May 26th, and thereby destroying the personal property of mill owner Jerry Jones.
The case rests on a statement made to the Montague police this morning by Tanzer’s girlfriend, Amber Hewes, also of 5 Chestnut Lane, who told police she drove Tanzer to the Strathmore Mill at about 1:45 a.m. on the morning of May 26th, and acted as lookout in case Jerry Jones should arrive and find them there. Hewes, who carried a cell phone loaned to her, she said, by Donna Beaumier, also of 5 Chestnut Lane, with which she was to call Tanzer if need be, said she waited in the car for about half an hour while Tanzer entered the building alone.
Hewes said Tanzer told her he was going to take some stripped copper out of a closet in the mill and sell it for scrap. She said Tanzer entered the Strathmore through the tunnel beneath Southworth Paper Co., which Southworth President David Southworth confirmed today is a right of way to the Strathmore that remains open and generally unobserved through the night. She said Tanzer entered the Strathmore mill in the general vicinity of the courtyard adjoining Building #10, through a door that was easily opened even when latched. Hewes further stated to police that when Tanzer returned, he was not carrying any copper.
According to the statement, Hewes told police, “I asked where the copper was and Jon stated that Jerry took all of the copper out of the building. So Jon stated, ‘I lit the fucker on fire.’ I asked him what he meant and he again stated that ‘I lit the fucker on fire. I was pissed and I walked by a bale of paper and lit it on fire.’”
Hewes said she then drove Tanzer back to their house and went to sleep, to be awakened by her father calling at 9 a.m. to tell her that the Strathmore was on fire, and to find out if she was all right, since her father knew she and Jonathan had worked at the Strathmore, stripping copper.
In another part of her statement, Hewes said in the recent past she had taken so much copper from the Strathmore to sell for scrap at Acme Metals that “they know me there, and don’t ask for my license any more.”
Prosecuting attorney Michael McHale asked for bail of $100,000 in cash and $1 million in surety. McDonough asked Tanzer if he could afford to hire a lawyer, to which Tanzer replied, “No, sir.” The judge appointed attorney Barry Auskern to represent Tanzer.
Auskern told the court he had formerly represented Tanzer in September of 2006, when Hewes charged Tanzer with assault and battery with a dangerous weapon: a metal pipe. According to Auskern, Tanzer and Hewes were living in Building #10 of the Strathmore at the time, and when the police responded to Hewes’ call for help last September, they found Tanzer asleep, and no sign of a metal pipe. Auskern said Hewes failed to show up in court on the trial date to press charges in that matter.
Hewes told Montague police she had been scared to call them to tell them about the cause of the Strathmore Mill fire, which she said had been “on my conscience,” since the blaze, because Tanzer “would not let her leave his sight.” But Auskern took a brief recess during the arraignment to call a Matt McDonough, whom he identified as “an administrator for Labor Ready in Greenfield,” who, Auskern said, stated that Tanzer had been working 10 hour shifts for his company at a bakery in Brattleboro during the past week.
As to Tanzer watching her day and night, “Amber Hewes statement is patently untrue,” Auskern claimed. “And if that’s untrue, the rest of her statement is untrue.”
He further suggested that Tanzer, who had been badly injured in an electrical fire while working under Jones’ direction at the Strathmore Mill on May 6th, and had subsequently hired Springfield attorney Joseph Bernard to place a $1 million lien on the Strathmore Mill to recover damages for his injuries, which involved extensive burns and skin grafts, would have no motive for burning down the mill as doing so would “undercut the asset that would compensate him for the damages he sustained.”
McDonough ordered Tanzer held on bail of $100,000 cash and $1 million surety. The case will be continued to July 10th in Greenfield District Court.
The Montague police said today, “This case is still actively under investigation, and if anyone has information please call the Massachusetts State Police Arson Hotline at 1-800-682-9229 or the Montague Police at 413-863-8911. Information leading to a conviction on arson charges is subject to a reward up to $5000.00.”
Arrest in Strathmore Fire
On 06-12-07 Montague Police, after receiving information from a witness, arrested Jonathan Tanzer, age 43 of 5 Chestnut Lane, Turners Falls, Ma and charged him with the 05-26-07 arson and fire, at the former Strathmore Paper Company in Turners Falls.
Dealing with Parasites
(The following editorial appears in this week’s issue of the Montague Reporter.)
Jerry Jones is a predator, and a parasite.
By Wesley Blixt & David Detmold
Towns like Montague have long given him cover and nourished him. In Turners Falls, he found it all-too-easy to:
• snap up a valuable piece of industrial real estate;
• flout our laws and regulations;
• stiff our tax collector;
• exploit our most vulnerable people for his own profit;
• endanger his neighbors and emergency personnel;
• create conditions that nearly caused a much wider catastrophe;
• and now leave us up the canal without a paddle.
And we have allowed him to do it. All of us.
While some are turning over the circumstantial details of the fire, trying to piece together a plausible theory to explain the cause of the blaze that consumed a 19,000-square-foot Strathmore Mill building on May 26th, others are asking perfectly legitimate questions about how town officials could have allowed this man to live in the Strathmore Mill - a man with a known track record of serious fire code violations, and fires, at former mills in nearby cities and towns in Western Massachusetts.
Montague fire code and building code enforcement officials, and members of the selectboard say they have known of Jones’ track record for many years.
These are just some of our questions:
• How could they have let Jones live in the Strathmore, and pretend he was fulfilling the role of ‘night watchman,’ and continue living there despite the fact they knew full well he was employing unlicensed temporary workers to strip and scavenge copper conduit and other materials from the mill, and despite the fact that some of that wiring was live, that the salvage operations had already resulted in fires and horrifying personal injuries to his help?
• How could they have let him remain in residence at the mill when they knew full well he was repeatedly and purposefully violating their court-negotiated agreements to limit the storage of combustible materials to permitted areas, where fire suppression systems were in working order and capable of doing their job?
• How could Jones have been allowed to jeopardize not only the safety of the 137-year-old mill complex - with all its potential for productive reuse for bettering our town’s economy - but also the security of neighboring industries that provide employment and tax payments for our community?
• In hindsight, it is easy to that say mistakes were made. Mistakes were made by people we have elected and appointed to protect Montague from this type of predator who thinks Montague is an easy mark.
Jerry Jones does not have a good record with abandoned mills. He had a reckless, lawless, fire-prone reputation that preceded him when he arrived in Turners Falls five years ago. Since then, he has done nothing but aggravate that reputation with his callous disregard for the health, safety, and well-being of our community.
His ownership of a once powerful economic engine has produced nothing of value for the area. Rather, he has stripped it of every saleable commodity he could get his avaricious hands on, and has now so tied it up in legal red tape, any buyer who hopes to again put it to productive use will be hard pressed to do so. Whether or not he dropped the match, Jones’ actions set the stage for a catastrophe that many - including our professional firefighters - anticipated. Only their timely and heroic response prevented that catastrophe from turning into total devastation.
The fire that burned down Building #10 cost more than we will ever know. What we do know is that it is a cost that will be born by the 22 Franklin County fire departments that responded that morning, along with the fire departments from surrounding states and counties that backed them up, not to mention the neighboring paper mill and hydro generating facility.
It is a cost that will be born by this community for years to come. If the past is any indication, Jones will likely claim indigence and walk away from the calamity he created, and he will then set up shop in some other small town to repeat his depredations.
Montague must learn a lesson from this disaster. Look around. Vital pieces of property in key locations in town are now in the hands of unscrupulous ‘businesspeople’ - properties across the street from the post office in Turners Falls, blocking a town road that provides one of the two entrances to the densely populated residential neighborhood of the Patch, and sitting like a spider at the main intersection of the village of Millers Falls come to mind.
Town officials must proactively defend the wider interests of neighborhoods and seek to advance the common good, rather than the rights and privilege of the individual property owner, especially when their reputation, destructive actions, and predatory intentions are so plainly established. Town officials should take every means available within their regulatory arsenal to rein in the anti-social tendencies of these individuals.
Finally, we must all be more vigilant, and we must make people like Jerry Jones live within the law before another disaster occurs. And we must begin by calling them by their proper name: parasites.
(Subscriptions to the Montague Reporter keep us in print, and cost just $20. Send a check today to Montague Reporter 24 Third Street, Turners Falls 01376.)
Fire at Strathmore Mill
This morning, residents of Turners Falls awoke to the thick pall of smoke filling downtown streets, the smell of fire and a rain of ash. The first clue as to the fire’s origin came from an examination of the falling ash: curled and charred bits of newsprint and paper. A page from an encyclopedia of ancient Rome lay in the middle of Third Street, the listing for Ahenobarbus, a commander who fought against Ceasar in 49 BC, still readable in the middle of the charred page.
Sometime in the middle of the night, Building #10 of the Strathmore Paper mill, lately a warehouse for recycled paper under the ownership of Gerry Jones and his shell holding corporation, Western Properties LLC, had caught fire and burned to the ground.
At dawn, flames were still shooting from the building, which surrounded a central courtyard to the west of the canalside pedestrian bridge entrance to the 244,482-square-foot mill complex, built in 1870. There appeared to be no damage to the Southworth Paper Mill, an operating paper mill which abuts the Strathmore complex immediately to the west of the fire’s location, on a narrow peninsula of land reachable by a single access road. Building inspector David Jenson said Southworth shared a sewer treatment plant with Strathmore, which flooded with the amount of water being poured on the fire, shutting down Southworth temporarily.
The majority of the Strathmore mill appeared to be intact and undamaged, with the fire contained to one area of the sprawling complex, and well under control by first light.
Vacationing Turners Falls fire chief Ray Godin, roused from sleep a little past three in the morning, said the first call came into the station at 3:05 a.m. Captain Bartus and his crew were the first on the scene, Godin said, and they found "heavy fire showing in the building."
Firefighter David Dion arrived approximately twenty minutes later and found building #10 "fully involved." Shortly thereafter, he saw the mill’s present owner, Gerry Jones of Western Properties LLC, exiting the building. Asked if he found it strange that Jones would be coming out of the mill as it was "fully involved" in flames, Dion said, "I wondered about that myself."
According to numerous officials on the scene, Jones was interviewed by state fire marshalls, who would only say the cause of the fire had yet to be determined.
Godin said the blaze was the equivalent of a four alarm fire: fire companies from as far as Northampton and Brattleboro responded, along with all local departments. "We’ve pretty much stripped every fire department in Franklin County," Godin said.
The access road was lined with fire trucks pouring water on the blaze at 6:30 a.m. One pumper from Greenfield was parked beneath the pedestrian bridge on the bike path, shooting water in a steady stream from the far side of the canal. Firefigthers from Orange stood beneath the bridge near the collapsed brick walls of Building #10, directing water and taking down metal siding to expose hot spots. The ruined cab of a truck lay beneath a pile of brick, part of the chain link security fence had collapsed into the canal, a motor boat was parked incongruously beside the smoking ruins.
The building inspector said Jones had been living in the Strathmore Mill for some time.
"Was he authorized to live there?" Jensen chose his words carefully. "It was acknowledged that having a person in the building was not a bad thing, as a sort of ’night watchman.’"
Jensen said certain areas of the building were permitted to store rolls of paper, after a lengthy court proceeding to ensure the building’s fire safety system and sprinklers were up to code to handle the amount of combustible material stored there. Though no one on the scene was prepared to say where the blaze started, Jensen said Jones had paper stored in the basement of Building #10 in an area not permitted for storage under the terms of the court negotiated agreement. Jensen said the building’s fire alarm may not have been working last night. "The fire alarm has been a chronic problem," at the Strathmore Mill under Jone’s tenure, according to Jensen. Godin has frequently had Jones in court over the building’s fire safety systems in recent years.
On May 6th, a man working for Jones, Joseph D. Bernard of Springfield, claimed he was nearly electrocuted in the process of trying to strip copper wire from a live wire. Captain Zellman, who has been in contact with the fire marshall’s office frequently since that accident, said the wire Jones was trying to strip was carrying 13,800 volts to an outdoor transformer located near the foot of the pedestrian bridge.
Jensen said a recent tour of the building showed piles of stripped wire piled in a corner. He said the fire department had been attempting to determine whether the salvaging of copper wire from the mill had compromised fire safety systems in the days leading up to last night’s blaze.
Jensen said black marks on the exterior brick wall showed evidence of the force of the accident that occured on the 6th when Bernard cut into the live wire with a knife. Jensen said Jones was standing near Bernard at the time, and received burns from that accident as well. According to court documents, Bernard is suing Jones for $1 million for accidents sustained in that incident, and a lien for that amount has been attached to the property.
John Anctil of the Swift River Group has been negotiating with Jones for the purchase of the mill complex, and as recently as Thursday gave a presentation to town officials about his plans to establish a film and television school and production facility at the site, which he described as a "hidden gem in Franklin County."
A Divisive Referendum
Folks in Turners Falls, do you recall how you felt when you heard your community elementary school would be closing? You felt like the heart and center of your community would soon be shutting down, didn’t you? Well, the folks who live in Montague Center feel that way all the time.
Parents in Montague Center are constantly put in the position of feeling as if it is somehow a privilege to have a school in the center of your village where your very young children can walk with you to school. Wouldn’t the parents in Turners still be assured of having that, and all the positive associations that spring from having a community school, even if the grades in Hillcrest and Sheffield were combined in one school?
Children learn best not simply by being drilled until they can pass an MCAS test. They learn best by being in the middle of a loving, caring community of supportive parents, teachers and staff. That is what the children of the whole town have enjoyed - up until now - while attending Montague Center. As all parents of children who have attended Hillcrest can attest, the same is also true of children who go to Hillcrest.
This attribute of our children’s primary school education is in fact a very positive common bond that should unite our school district. Recognizing this, isn’t it possible for us to proceed in unity to settle the difficult questions outstanding on school configuration, rather than in discord and division?
This past weekend, it was disorienting to drive through Montague Center and see lawn signs urging people to come to a benefit school fundraiser in Turners Falls to raise money for physical education and reading programs for the entire district, and then to drive through the Hill section of Turners Falls and see signs that said “Vote Yes to Close Montague Center.” (They didn’t even bother to include the word “School.”) Which lawn sign campaign represents the spirit of community our schools need now?
The folks who put forward the petition seeking to “Close Montague Center” ought to have the grace to withdraw their support from the referendum drive. They should extend a hand of dialogue to all parents in town who love their kids and care about their education.
In cooperation we can best solve the problems that beset our schools. The costs of operating our school system have escalated beyond our ability to pay them. Property taxpayers are being saddled with the steady rise in school assessments, whether or not they are living on fixed incomes. A high proportion of our students live in poverty or come to school with special needs. Our high school has one of the highest dropout rates in the state. We are losing over a million dollars in state aid a year to school choice out. Those who believe closing Montague Center - and dividing one end of town from the other - is a method of solving any of these very real, very intractable problems, are kidding themselves.
Those who believe that saving the $150,000 a year that could be gained from closing Montague Center will do anything but worsen our school choice losses are not being realistic. Taxpayers who are unwilling to consider the one time capital costs of renovating Montague Center School, in light of the impact this would have on the annual loss of state aid for the more than 150 students who already leave Gill-Montague for neighboring school districts, are being plain foolish. This path leads one way: to enrolment decline and further financial burdens for all the taxpayers in town.
Turners Falls, did the taxpayers of Montague Center complain when they were asked to help pay for the renovation of the high school, middle school, and Hillcrest?
Two possible futures are emerging for our schools, and we have reached a decisive point. In one future, our school system thrives, balances the budget through fiscal discipline, retains and attracts school choice students, and realizes the full potential of the renovated classroom space in the high school and middle school by first filling the rosters of vital elementary schools, supported by their school communities. Another possible future sees a school system in accelerated decline, with further loss of enrolment and the millions in state aid that follows, with closing schools and empty classrooms at an underfilled high school and middle school. Montague can do better than that.
The schools’ endemic budget shortfall is solvable, if the good will of the community is brought to bear on it, not squandered in anger and division. As we balance the budget, we need to weigh the needs of our elders equally with the needs of our young.
Attention must focus mainly on the operating side of the budget, rather than capital costs, for that is where the huge deficits are accumulating and rolling forward.
With nearly 90% of the schools’ operating budget tied to personnel costs, it does not require a new math curriculum to figure out where the solution to the schools’ structural deficit lies. The mantra of the “Yes to Close Montague Center” supporters has been, “Money for Teachers, Not for Bricks and Mortar.” But after the dust settles from Monday’s vote, we are all going to have to take a hard look at just how much more money we can afford to pay those teachers - and the staff and administrators who support them - each year.
According to town administrator Frank Abbondanzio, G-M teachers get joint step and cost of living increases each year totaling 6%. The price for teachers’ health insurance - the district pays 85% of the cost of this benefit - will climb by 20% this year. Yet the town needs to hold the increase in the school budget to no more than 3% a year if it hopes to manage within the constraints of new growth and Proposition 2½. How will that be possible?
Of course, the school district needs to look for efficiencies, and the move to close a school is part of this analysis. But school closing needs to be weighed carefully - by the policymakers elected to do so - or we will easily end up losing more than we gain.
To cut the budget significantly, we are going to have to save more than the one or two staff positions that can be gained by closing a school.
In a union town with high employment and good paying jobs, it might be easy to support the steady increase of teachers’ and administrators’ salaries and benefits. But these are tough times, and the local economy is hurting. With personnel costs making up the lion’s share of the operating budget, it is time for school (and town) employees to take a hard look at financial reality in Gill and Montague and forego a percentage of their benefit package to make a balanced budget possible.
This editorial appeared in the May 17th issue of the Montague Reporter. For Montague, polls are open tomorrow, Monday the 21st, from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
No to Runway Extension
The following editorial appears in this week’s Montague Reporter: On Saturday, the much-debated plan to expand the Turners Falls Airport comes to a vote at Montague’s annual town meeting. The proposal to extend the runway from 3000 to 4200 feet has a checkered career, and town meeting should reject it.
The airport commission says it needs to extend the runway by 1200 feet to satisfy FAA safety regulations. According to a careful review of the FAA advisory on Runway Length Requirements for Runway Design, including calculations for mean day maximum hottest month temperature (81.1 degrees in July), height above sea level at the airport (324 feet), weight of the planes using the airport (less than 12,500 pounds) and average speed of approach (30 to 50 knots), the FAA advisory appears to call for no more than 3400 feet of runway to meet safety requirements. Pilots who use the current runway say they are able to land comfortably on 2000 feet.
One FAA official, John Silva, Manager of Environ-mental Programs for the New England Region, when asked by a reporter for this newspaper, said, "The runway is safe for the planes that use it today." He also said the driving force behind the runway extension is the airport commission itself, and that there was no rush for the town to pass an appropriation for the airport expansion this year. "It should be thought of as an ’07 project," Silva said.
The airport commission own estimates it will cost an extra $3,000 a year to plow and mow around an extra 1200 feet of pavement. For a town commission that has operated at a consistent deficit for as long as anyone can remember, this added expense for a lengthened runway is hard to justify, if FAA safety regulations do not, indeed, mandate it.
Reluctantly, the capital improvements committee, finance committee, and selectboard have endorsed the 4200-foot runway proposal, which is slated to cost the town $175,000, with the balance of the $7 million project being paid for by the Massachusetts Aeronautics Administration and the FAA. Several town officials have said in public they feel "put in a box" by the commission’s position the FAA will force the town to upgrade safety at the airport, perhaps at a higher cost, if the current proposal is defeated. Neither can the town exercise the option of closing the airport, say the commissioners, because the FAA will not allow them to do so without significant penalties. Or perhaps the FAA will simply not allow them to close the airport at all, now or in the future.
We hear no one calling for the immediate closure of the airport, although the idea of privatizing it in the future has been broached, and we find that an idea worth pursuing. Meantime, we find it hard to believe the FAA would sue Montague to lengthen the runway in excess of their own published standards, to support the recreational pastime of a group of well-to-do flyers who come primarily from surrounding communities.
Montague, as is often said, is not a wealthy town. We take this to mean Montague does not have very many wealthy people living in it, nor does it have any large corporate taxpayer - a Northfield Mountain or a twin nuclear power plant for example - footing the lion’s share of its tax base. For this reason, town meeting should jealously guard against any proposal that threatens to needlessly spend the tax dollars of our hard-pressed property owners.
A number of those property owners live in close proximity to the airport on Millers Falls Road. The proposal before town meeting would put the point of take off and landing for airplanes 1200 feet closer to their front doors, significantly increasing the nuisance and noise they are already forced to live with. The concerns of these tax paying citizens weigh heavily in the balance against the ambitions of the airport commissioners, whose enterprise has been a consistent money loser for our town.
In an attempt to bring the bottom line into the black, current airport director Mike Sweeney has battled with the pilots who rent hangar space at the airport to bring their leases in line with the actual cost of running the airport. It does nothing to advance the merit of the airport expansion, or win the good graces of town meeting, to witness the lawsuits being brought against the town by some of those pilots as a result. If the pilots aren’t willing to make the airport pay its own way, why exactly should we be supporting their expensive hobby?
Sweeney has been the first to admit not a single business at the industrial park is dependent on the airport, other than Pioneer Aviation itself. The hope that well-heeled airplane owners flying in and out of the airport will stop to spend money in our town has not been borne out by any studies we have seen.
Whether or not any of the $7 million for the expansion comes from town coffers, or whether the whole sum comes from state or federal grants, these are still your tax dollars at stake on Saturday. At a time when the real needs of public schools, public safety, and the basic infrastructure shared by all in town are being stinted, we should guard them carefully and spend them wisely.
The flying clubs and weekend pastimes of average folks who once frequented the airport are being left in the dust as gas prices continue their upward spiral. Mr. Sweeney, a representative of a jet engine manufacturer in his day job, could quote you the sticker price of the new class of lightweight jets that will make use of his new runway. They don’t come cheap.
There are numerous questions still hanging over the airport runway expansion. Rosy forecasts of the number of hangars that will soon be built to accommodate recreational enthusiasts seem to fly in the face of reality in a world of rising demand, diminishing oil reserves and spiking energy prices. Does Montague really want to sacrifice much more land for the airport, if the FAA does not, indeed, require it?
Art Gilmore of Precinct 2 asked why someone from the FAA could not appear in person at a Montague town meeting to answer questions. We’d like to second that motion.
Until then, we urge town meeting to send this overly ambitious plan back to drawing board.
Wed, December 11
10:15 AM - 11:15 AM
Music & Movement
Thu, December 12
10:00 AM - 11:00 AM
Tue, December 17
3:30 PM - 4:30 PM
Wed, December 18
10:15 AM - 11:15 AM
Gender Role Free Contra
Sat, December 21
7:00 PM - 10:00 PM
Karaoke @ the VOO
Sun, December 22
9:30 PM - 12:00 AM
Carnegie Library Closed
Tue, December 24
Women’s Yoga Circle
Sun, December 29
10:00 AM - 1:00 PM
Mon, December 30
12:00 PM - 1:00 PM
Dada Dino Open Mic
Mon, December 30
7:30 PM - 11:00 PM
Tue, December 31
12:00 PM - 1:00 PM
Sawmill River 10K Run
Wed, January 1
7:00 AM - 2:00 PM
Music & Movement
Thu, January 2
10:00 AM - 11:00 AM
Sat, January 4
7:00 PM - 10:00 PM
Tue, January 7
3:30 PM - 4:30 PM
Wed, January 8
10:15 AM - 11:15 AM
Music & Movement
Thu, January 9
10:00 AM - 11:00 AM
Karaoke @ the VOO
Sun, January 12
9:30 PM - 12:00 AM
Tue, January 14
3:30 PM - 4:30 PM
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10:15 AM - 11:15 AM
Music & Movement
Thu, January 16
10:00 AM - 11:00 AM
Moon & Stars
Sat, January 18
10:30 AM - 11:30 AM
Gender Role Free Contra
Sat, January 18
7:00 PM - 10:00 PM
YOGA with Nancy Paglia
Mon, January 20
5:30 PM - 7:00 PM
Tue, January 21
3:30 PM - 4:30 PM