Worthington withdrawal from Gateway defeated

BLANDFORD – Blandford’s Annual Town Meeting last night moved right along with most warrants gaining unanimous or majority approval. Only Worthington’s request for withdrawal from the Gateway Regional School District, which requires unanimous approval of all seven towns, and an ordinance regulating fences in the town, were defeated.
Blandford’s share of Gateway Regional’s budget passed unanimously with little discussion. Adoption of the budget requires the support of five out of the seven towns. At town meetings held on Saturday, Worthington rejected the budget, but Middlefield voted for it.
Dr. David Hopson, Gateway School Superintendent and town moderator for Blandford, said before the meeting that Middlefield also voted against Worthington’s request for withdrawal in their town meeting. However, he said that Worthington has a plan to go forward with a request to the legislature for designation as a one-town public school district, if it passes a vote at an upcoming special town meeting. Hopson said the Department of Education and Secondary Education (DESE) won’t support the request, but noted that Rep. Steve Kulik, a resident of Worthington, is chairman of the House Ways & Means Committee. He said if they succeed, their plan is to tuition their seventh through twelfth graders to Hampshire Regional School District. Worthington’s elementary school, which the town is seeking to make public, is pre-kindergarten through sixth grade.
During the vote on Worthington’s withdrawal in Blandford, Hopson told town meeting members, “With Middlefield’s negative vote, this amendment is essentially dead. However, if Worthington seeks special legislation, it’s important for every town to vote and make their positions known.” Hopson relinquished the floor as moderator to John Crane during the votes affecting Gateway.
Blandford residents also voted to amend the regional agreement regarding school committee representation, which would elect two members from each town in district-wide elections for four year terms. In the current agreement three towns, Huntington, Russell and Chester, may have three school committee members each. Adoption of the amendment also requires unanimous approval of all seven towns.
The warrant to regulate fences in Blandford was presented by Gordon Avery, chairman of the Planning Board. He said the Planning Board spent the last six months putting together a fencing guideline, so people could know what to do. He thanked the four people who showed up for input at public hearings.
“We did the best we could – it’s in your hands,” he said. “Do what you’re going to do.”
“I don’t want the town of Blandford to tell me where I should put fencing, and how high it should be,” said resident Patricia Hebert during comments, to loud applause. The measure was soundly defeated.
Hebert, an attorney practicing in Agawam and Westfield, was the sole dissenter on the vote to pass the general government budget. At the start of the meeting, Andy Montanaro of the Finance Committee had presented the issues facing the town this year, including a $100,000 line item for attorney fees, an increase over the $14,000 usually allocated for this expense. Montanaro explained that during the ice storm of 2008, as a result of a contract to do clean-up that the town found unsatisfactory and didn’t pay, the town is being sued for $1.4 million. The attorney for the town added that the original contract was for $150,000, but the bill was for $850,000. He said the suit is being vigorously defended, and the town has now counter-sued. The opposing attorney sought to dismiss the town’s counter-claim, but was denied. He said the town will continue to fight the lawsuit vigorously.
Hebert asked during questioning whether the town had asked for arbitration mediation. The attorney for the town responded that it had been discussed, but the parties were so far apart, that it had not been met with enthusiasm.
“As we said, we’re going to have to pay some hefty legal fees,” Montanaro added.
After the meeting, Hebert said she didn’t support the budget, because she didn’t like the fact that there were legal fees with no end in sight.
“Why aren’t they seeking mediation or arbitration?” she asked?
Montanaro also said in his opening statements that Blandford had suffered $900,000 to $1.2 million in damage from Hurricane Irene, and would have to start repaying that amount. He said Blandford’s portion is 25 percent and they are hoping FEMA will pay the other 75 percent.

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