WE ARE HOMETOWN NEWS.

BELCHERTOWN — Ahead of their respective May 13 and May 20 dates, the Belchertown Select Board and the clerk’s office have released the Warrants for the special and annual Town Meetings and accompanying election ballot.

The four-article special Town Meeting Warrant for fiscal year 2024 precedes the Annual Town Meeting and seeks approval for the transfer of town free cash funds to address payment of unpaid bills from the prior fiscal year, the “Opioid Settlement” special revenue fund and the creation of a Special Leave Injury Indemnity Fund.
For the 40-Article annual Town Meeting for FY25, matters concerning staff and management pay and benefits accompany capitals items addressing fire station housing and public works equipment as well as proposed changes to titles are among the topics coming to a vote by community members.

Established pay grades, leave and sick time accrual for classified employees will be considered as will the purchase of a lawn mower and trailer and additions to the fire station. Articles also seek to change the “town administrator” title to “town manager” and “dog officer” to “animal control officer”.

The warrant articles will also address increased fee and fine schedules for services and violations in various town departments. A number of warrant articles also seek appropriations from the town’s Community Preservation Fund to address repairs and additions to sites and buildings in town.

Town Meeting attendees will again be able to cast their votes via electronic balloting, first introduced at least year’s meeting, something Town Clerk Theresa Camerlin said was well received and speeded up the process overall.

“The feedback from the public was positive,” she said. “They liked being able to vote without having to put your hand up before your neighbor.”

Camerlin said while no issues appear contentious, attendance at the meeting which averages around 200 people, might be higher as a result of interest in funding proposals for the new Jabish Brook Middle School.
Voters will cast their ballots on costs for the new building during an election next month.

As for the upcoming May 20 election, Camerlin said the outlook is following a path that many local governments are traveling.

“It’s a pretty quiet ballot, we have no contested races,” she said, noting further that no candidates came forward in the races for Board of Assessors and Housing Authority, leaving those contests open to write-in voting.

In the case of empty ballot slots, those positions are filled by a dominant number of write-ins, special election or appointment when applicable.

Incumbents Ruby Bansal and Amy Lamothe face no opposition as they seek to retain their seats on the School Committee while Nicole Ann Minor and Whitney Jorns Kuhnlenz are new names running for the vacant Select Board posts.

Among those candidates running unopposed is Camerlin herself, who is seeking reelection after serving three years as clerk and seven years prior as assistant town clerk.

“There’s a very low turnout for local elections, “Camerlin said. “It’s very disappointing, I do try my best to get the word out on how important it is to vote local because that is what is affecting your immediate life.”

Belchertown, with a registered voter roll of approximately 11,300, regularly averages a 10% voter turnout for local races as opposed to an 80-85% response during presidential election years. Recall or special elections will often spark a slightly larger local turnout than the 10% average.

Calling it a struggle, Camerlin said she hasn’t quite figured out yet how to get that kind of interest in the local elections.

Interest in serving in local government is dealt a similar fate as is indicated by empty or uncontested local races.

“Unfortunately, I think in today’s political climate people are steering away from being in the public eye,” Camerlin said. “It can be overwhelming to serve on an elected board and to have the criticism of your constituents and so people have been backing away from it more.”

The approximately 2,600 vote-by-mail requests are expected to go out within the week as Camerlin said participation increases during a presidential year.

Information on the Town Meeting and elections can be found at Belchertown.org.

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