BELCHERTOWN — Town Administrator Steve Williams gave the Select Board an update on the cost of hosting a Special Town Meeting and special town election for the potential Jabish Brook Middle School project during its Jan. 16 meeting.

Due to the expected turnout, the estimated cost is between $44,000 and $51,000.

The School Committee and Select Board have set the dates for a special town election and Special Town Meeting at which voters will weigh in on the proposed Jabish Brook Middle School project.

Williams said that the question is more of a referendum vote and will ask the town if they are in favor of building a new middle school at the proposed cost.

“The approval of a debt exclusion for a school requires two votes,” he added.

The election will take place on June 17, 2024, followed by the Town Meeting on June 24, 2024.

If that ballot passes, then the following week the community will get together at a Special Town Meeting to once again discuss the project and cost.

The proposed project needs to pass twice to be approved.

Williams said the price of the election is $18,500 and the cost of the Town Meeting is $25,500 if it is hosted indoors and $32,500 if it is hosted outdoors.

He added, “[Town Clerk] Terry Camerlin and I have focused our efforts on an audience of about 2,000 Belchertown residents. We have about 1,200 registered voters. We think 10% is probably too low for a question this important to the town so we rounded up significantly.”

The indoor option would require two rooms to be used in the high school, portable air conditioning and setting up media in the rooms so everyone can be a part of the conversations.

The outdoor option would include renting a tent that could fit up to 2,000 people, portable air conditioning and media to make sure everyone can hear who is speaking.

The are no side panels on the tents so if there is a storm, Williams said they would have to postpone.
Belchertown also only has approximately 300 clickers for electronic voting, but Williams said the town will not be renting any more for the event.

“Neither of these options include the rental of the clickers for electronic voting. That would have added $13,000 to this event. Terry [Camerlin] is confident that she can staff this meeting adequately so votes can be counted in a timely fashion,” Williams said.

The Select Board discussed the idea of having the Jabish Brook Middle School item on the regular Town Meeting in May.

The Town Moderator is allowed to change the date of the meeting, so the Special Town Election and Town Meeting happen at the same time.

Select Board member Lesa Lessard Pearson said she liked that idea.

“If we did that, there be a savings of about $10,000 because then we wouldn’t have to hold the Town Meeting separately. My interest is to save money and involve more people and have it a time to have it more friendly to families. The concern is we have a lot to do.”

Williams mentioned a few concerns with pushing Town Meeting back to June.

He said, “My concern is if we did not get through the budget in one night and had to postpone, we are running very close to the end of the fiscal year, and I do not want to have problems with our budget. My other concern is a lot of the time the May Town Meeting runs until 10-11 o’clock and I would enter the guess that we are going to have several hours of debate over this one article.”

School Committee Chair Heidi Gutekenst and Superintendent Brian Cameron have said that the potential project cannot be discussed at May Town Meeting or the town election in May because the MSBA is not able to meet that timeframe.

Gutekenst said, “It was too early for the MSBA timeline. MSBA has dates for us and it falls after the Town Meeting and before anything else. MSBA is giving us permission to go now even though now is still a little bit early.”

Since the estimate for how the project will impact taxpayers is also not due until the end of April, Cameron said that wouldn’t have given the town a lot of time to present it to Town Meeting.

The Select Board is set to use American Rescue Plan Act funds for this project but did not allocate any money for the Special Town Meeting or special town election.

Select Board Chair Ed Boscher added that they will talk about it again at their next meeting.

“I think either way we are going to have a successful event so it’s really up to what the board wants to do,” Williams added.

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