Voters in Monterey approved their budget, made a few amendments, had a robust conversation and chose not to invite cannabis entrepreneurs into their area for up to a year. They also set fundraising plans in motion to fix a crucial bridge, and they decided to allow dogs everywhere except on their beach, provided owners prove responsible in picking up after them.
Approximately 56 voters gathered on a warm Saturday morning to give the town’s $4.5 million budget the yes vote. It includes its share costs of $1.6 million for the Southern Berkshire Regional School District. One item to spark much debate was whether Monterey should keep $35,000 of its budget aside for a part-time town administrator.
Currently, the town does not have one. The last administrator, Willie Morales, filled the position for just three months. He left at the end of February. Monterey officials said they had put a great deal of effort into straightening out the town’s finances and that they had no need of a town administrator at this moment in time.
Carol Edelman, Select Board member, clarified this position, “We are a very small town, and I think we need a very small government.” She explained that employing a town administrator would give “less local control” to the town. Chair of the Select Board, Steven Weisz, said that cost savings for the roughly 960-person town would be significant, and that the board was now dealing with other issues too.
He said, “We got rid of a lot of the toxicity that was in Town Hall that caused people to come and go.” Lisa Smyle, Monterey resident, reminded those present that voters approved new governance back in 2010, and that it included an administrator. She reiterated the need to put such a structure into place. However, it does not seem to benefit residents much.
That budgeted $35,000 will still cost residents tax, even if the board chooses not to spend it. Removing it from the budget would demand no increase from the budget of last year. Stanley Ross proposed reducing it to just $1 in order to keep it open should a new hire be necessary. Eileen Marcus did not think anyone should be meddling with it, “If we take it out, it is always harder to put it back in.”
Susan Cooper, in contrast, recommended increasing the budget salary, stating that she was part of the committee searching for an administrator and that, because hours were part-time, they were unable to find one. “It may be the case that we cannot find such a person,” she claimed, “but I do not agree that we do not need one.”
Kenneth Basler, another member of the Select Board, pointed out that the high staff turnover in such a short timeframe at Town Hall was a good reason to consider postponing the position. “It was a crazy time,” he said. “With a professional finance team and a clerk in place, we are gradually turning around what was an incredibly bad situation, slowly, in a common sense approach.”
George Cain, Finance Committee member, said that the committee has reached an agreement that an administrator was not necessary right now. He also cautioned against spending the money “when you do not need to.” His warning went heeded, as in the end, everyone agreed to reduce the amount to $1. Basler also asked if the board could have another year to make a final decision.
He recommended scrutinizing an evaluation of the town by an upcoming consultant after that time. “We may need a town administrator,” Basler said. “I frankly like the idea.” When it came to deciding whether to fix the Curtis Bridge Road, everyone agreed that it must go ahead. The bridge is a crucial necessity for both town highway and trucks from Gould Farm.
Voters approved finding $130,000 to fix the bridge, appropriating $90,000 on top of the total cost of $269,000. They then discussed the many cannabis entrepreneurs interested in opening shop in Monterey. With cultivation, processing and retail sales becoming legal on July 1, voters decided to keep them at bay for at least another six months, and up to a year if necessary.
The reason for this is that voters want to give the town time to decide how it wishes to regulate such a market, or if it would ban cannabis businesses outright. A moratorium starting on July 1 and ending December 31 was the agreement and, if necessary, it would continue for another six months until July 1 next year.
Cain, a real estate broker, said he had spoken on the phone to someone interested in a 140-acre listing for a possible pot enterprise. Jeremia Pollard, Monterey’s attorney, says that if the town has any plans to ban cannabis, then “you need to get the wheels rolling on this very soon.” Two members of the Planning Board urged residents to attend meetings and help make these choices and draft bylaws.
Should the town choose a ban, Pollard noted that both a town meeting vote and a ballot vote would be necessary, since most Monterey voters favored legalization in the statewide ballot question of November 2016. He explained that, besides revenues from property tax, town profits from pot businesses would be possible through town hosting agreements with specific companies.
As an example, he mentioned Williamstown, which is the sole town in Berkshire where hosting agreements are in place with a three percent local tax added onto it. That is the maximum amount the state allows. If the town did choose to welcome marijuana businesses, Pollard recommended following Williamstown’s model. He said, “I am looking for the max, which is three percent.”
Until the town makes a final decision, there will be no weed in Monterey. Anyone wanting some high quality bud would need to rely on a weed delivery service. Fortunately, there are many in California willing to deliver weed to Monterey, safely, legally and very discreetly. Should the town decide to approve cannabis sales, it will have to draft regulations to include laws for a weed delivery service.