Selectmen candidates Scott Nichols, left, and Paula Melville, standing center, listen to a question Sunday at the PNA.
ADAMS, Mass. — The Maple Grove Civic Club heard this past Sunday from the three candidates running for the Board of Selectmen.
The candidates' forum was attended by some 55 club members and guests and included moderator candidate Joseph R. Dean Jr. and Board of Health member Roy Thompson, both of whom are running unopposed.
Selectmen Chairman Donald R. Sommer, second from right, at the Maple Grove Civic Club candidates' forum on Sunday.
The main attraction was the three vying for two selectmen seats, including the seat being vacated by Dean: current Chairman Donald Sommer, former selectman Scott Nichols and Finance Committee member Paula Melville. Each spoke for several minutes and took questions from the audience on the proposed school renovations, finances and the dog park.
Nichols served a single term opting not to run for re-election in 2006 because of family commitments, including coaching in three youth sports league. He serves on the Master Planning Committee, and on the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition and Reach Foundation boards.
"I felt I was out pretty much every night of the week with my job and doing work with the town," he said. "I felt my kids were growing up really fast and I wanted to be home most nights with them."
Now that his children are older and he has fewer parental commitments, he's ready to serve again. "I've been very involved. I love this community ... I want to see it continue to move forward."
Nichols said he moved here 1996 because of the good school system and was impressed at how well people took care of their properties. Both issues continue to be important, he said, "blighted properties ... for me that's one of the biggest things to address."
"If elected, I'll work hard for this community to help make it grow," said Nichols.
Melville, who has also served on the Parks Commission and Adams-Cheshire School Committee and as town meeting member, lauded some of the good "bell-ringing" things happening in Adams, such as the Thunderbolt anniversary race, progress on the Greylock Glen and Topia Arts Center.
The town requires new revenue to supplement the property taxes, local fees and state aid that fuel its budget she said. Her "knee-jerk" reaction to talk of a sewer user fee was negative, but she added, "if it does free up money in the budget we could put that money someplace quickly and it would not affect our tax rate."
There's also .75 percent meals tax that municipalities can adopt. "I know that in Northampton they did and they're expecting a half million dollars in extra revenue," she said.
Donald R. Sommer
"I think serving on the board of selectmen is the ultimate in acting for our town, said Melville. "I would really appreciate the opportunity to act on behalf fo the town."
And, she noted, "there are some differences between me and the people :'m running against and one is that I am a woman and they are not."
Sommers been involved with town government for three decades, including serving on the Finance Committee and, years before, on the urban renewal commission. He has said that if elected, this would be his final term.
"I said three years ago I was running for a couple reasons. I didn't think the town was going in the right way," he said. Since then, he said the town has assembled a good working board. "We don't always disagree but it's certainly not the Wednesday comedy show it used to be on television," said Sommer. "We're arguing the issues, we're making progress."
Adams is suffering like many communities because the state is not coming through with money they should be giving, he said. "The state doesn't come through so we have to rely on a very regressive real estate tax. Somebody, who fixes their house up or buys a nice little house they're punished for the rest of their life through real estate tax."
Sommers said the town has looked for new revenue, including advocating for the governor to release $600,000 toward the next phase of the Greylock Glen.
He also said he would support further exploration of making the town assessor, treasurer/collector and clerk professional, appointed positions, as recommended by the charter study commission. "It's not like it was 20 years ago," he said. "You have to have training. We need a skilled person; it's good now but we've had problems in the past."
Nichols disagreed, saying the issue has already twice been voted down by the people. "I don't think we should be putting a lot of effort into this." Melville seconded Nichols' opinion.
None of the them mentioned the dog park in their remarks but it was almost immediately brought up by audience members. The three said they didn't have any particular issues with a dog park, but agreed that the Adams Memorial Middle School was not an appropriate location for a variety of reasons.
The candidates mostly agreed on several issues. They were for transparency in government and against high taxes, although with few new suggestions on how to deal with a tax rate that's already the highest in the county.
Melville didn't want to speculate on how to attack the problem. "I don't know yet," she said. "I'm an investigative type of person. I'd like to get two, three opinions and make sure my facts are straight."
"We're all against taxes but we have to live in reality," said Sommmer. "Taxes are here. We have to pay for things like the police, like our schools, like the senior center, have our streets plowed ... It's not our fault that the state is not coming through. We have the highest tax rate in the county and we're trying to cut where we can."
Nichols said using the Romney solution of raising fees "just shifted the burden to a different area. [Taxes are] a necessary evil because we don't get enough money from the state."
They did split on the form the school project should take. Nichols and Sommer, both members of the school building committee, stressed the importance of moving forward with renovations at Hoosac Valley High School to accommodate the grades moved there from the middle school. That will mean moving the students temporarily back into the middle school for another year as a way to speed the project and save costs.
Melville, however, said a better solution might be to split the elementary and middle school grades between Cheshire and Plunkett elementary schools, thereby sharing all the costs between the towns and keeping the younger teens off the high school campus.
"I think that all options haven't been considered," she said. "I don't think all options have been put on the table."
Dean is seeking to replace longtime Moderator Anthony McBride, who decided not to run for re-election again. He recalled how he had stood in the PNA 46 years before in his first bid for town office — a seat on the Planning Board that he lost. But he was appointed to a vacant seat that fall and has been in the town's service ever since.
"It's time for me to get out and, hopefully, you people will elect someone to replace me who'll do a good job on the board," he said.
Thompson has served on the Board of Health for 10 years, three as chairman. He spoke of some of the issues the board has faced, such as its work to bring down blighted properties and pursuit of residents ignoring outdoor burning bylaws.
"I would appreciate your vote because the write-ins could kill me," he joked.
All other races are unopposed. The town election will be held Tuesday, May 3, from 7 to 7 at the town's Department of Public Works garage on North Summer Street.
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The state is holding a special election to fill the seat vacated by John F. Kerry, who has been confirmed as U.S. secretary of state.
The state primary is Tuesday, April 30. The last day to register to vote or to change party affiliation for the primary is Wednesday, April 10. Enrolled voters may only vote in their party primary; unenrolled voters may select a primary to vote in without changing their status.
The special election is scheduled for Tuesday, June 25. The last day to register to vote in the election is Wednesday, June 5.
To register to vote, one must be at least age 18 by the date of the election, a U.S. citizen and a resident of the municipality in which you are voting.