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Broadband is on the way

February 5th, 2019 Comments off

At a Special Town Meeting in December 2018, Middlefield voters opted NOT to do a bond debt to run a town-operated network (vote 89 No to 39 yes). And DID vote to have the Board of Selectmen negotiate with Comcast to build and operate a broadband and cable TV network.

By mid-January 2019 a Contractor for Comcast was surveying the utility poles in town as a first step to getting the network constructed. Further updates will be added here as they become available.

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R.E. Options

February 5th, 2019 Comments off

Real estate options (Feb 2019) near Beltane Hill common house (highlighted in yellow in map below)

Land+ house across the quiet street (lot 86) 9 Bell Rd for sale $165,000 for 1,162sf 3bedrm,1 ba, 24 acres. MLS#: 72317078

Houses next to each other in village center. 164 Skyline Trail, Lot 16 for $179,000 for 1,913sf 2bd, 2ba, ~0.4ac. ……. And
162 Skyline Trail, Lot 15 for $ ?,00 for 1,794sf, under 1ac (0.62)

Near 9 Bell –   172 Skyline Trail, Lot 88 for $215,000 3,104sf, 4 bd, 2 ba, 4.2acres MLS#: 72392371

Lot 94.2 was for sale, didn’t sell, may still be. Would be #173 Skyline, 5acres, assessed at $36,000.

Farther away (off this map):  Land: 164 Chipman Rd $22,500 building lot 2.56 ac. Karen Kaminski Marchetto 667-8787 realtor.  …..  Land: Arthur Pease Rd  $19,900 building lot 3.26 ac.  MLS 72433830  Re/Max Compass, Lee Ma.   ….  house: 58 Chester Rd, listed 2/26/19 for $165,000 3bd, 2ba, 1659sf home on 4 ac.

 

                                           

Broadband Decision time

January 26th, 2018 Comments off

Middlefield Broadband notes – January 2018  —  Meeting for informal discussion at Blossom Community Center, 16 Bell Rd, on Saturday 1/27/18 at 11:30am.

So far, 5 vendors have offered proposals to MBI (Mass Broadband Institute) to provide internet service to Middlefield.  MBI is pressuring Selectboard to choose a path soon. Link to proposals is:  https://broadband.masstech.org/last-mile-programs/program-unserved-towns/flexible-grant-program

Vendors: Comcast, Crocker, Matrix, Westfield Gas & Elect (WhipCityFiber), WiValley.

Important non-technical questions for voters, residents, and taxpayers:  

Would you…

A) vote for some expense on the tax rate for internet infrastructure? ..or..

B) vote that internet plan should NOT impact taxes? (be paid only by MBI & subscribers) 

C) vote a middle ground  (example: Use some town tax money to improve our options for what gets built, but no ongoing responsibility for subsidizing.)

 Would you subscribe …or… not subscribe?  (give your reasons or cost limits)

How many other premises can you identify as definitely not subscribing in 2018?

 Insider Language:

MBI (Mass Broadband Institute) is the state entity that has earmarked $580,000 as Middlefield’s grant allocation for funding a BroadBand proposal meeting MBI’s approval. The rules for approval have changed over time. Originally, service had to be available to 96% of premises and have a minimum 25/3mbs speed. Current proposals are not guaranteed to be approved, but are in response to a FGP (Flexible Grant Program) asking what % service can be achieved for the allocated state money.

 25/3mbps. mbps= Mega Bits per Second.  This measures the speed of the internet connection. The first number is the download speed, and the second number is the upload speed.  Vendors provide more speed for download because that is a majority of what customers do with their internet connection.  Test your current internet speed at Ookla: http://legacy.speedtest.net/ 

For comparison: Verizon DSL tends to be 4/2mbps or less for $62/mo with phone.  Chester Hill’s Comcast install, paid for by MBI, claims 200/25mbps for $60/mo +fees & taxes.

 Take Rate. Much of calculating costs or viability of a Middlefield BroadBand (BB) network is dependent on “Take Rate” –in other words, how many of the homes that could be served will sign up to pay for monthly service?  

Middlefield has approx. 280 premises. How many would subscribe?  Can we reach the 60% Take Rate of 170 customers, which is a pre-requisite for the Matrix offer? (170/280=.60+) 

 FTTH (Fiber To The Home) plans involve the cost of running wires along utility poles and road miles.  Almost all towns are planning FTTH networks because the bandwidth and speed are viewed as being able to handle all future demand.  Almost all the offers are for FTTH. –Except for the proposal by WiValley, which offers the wireless system previously debated. 

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Gateway Collaborative Report

June 12th, 2017 Comments off

The 6 remaining Gateway Regional School District towns –Middlefield, Chester, Blandford, Huntington, Russell, and Montgomery– received a state “Community Compact” grant aimed at identifying ways to share or regionalize services, in order to cut expense with economies of scale, and group buying power, while maintaining or improving town services. The DOR’s Division of Local Services (DLS) has concluded their study of the Towns’ financial departments, and made a proposal to be reviewed and adjusted as the towns see fit, after public discussion.  Read DLS report here. The future projections about the towns’ population, tax rates, and budgets are quite eye-popping. DLS Hilltown Proposal

Documents discussing this and other town concerns can also be found at: www.MiddlefieldMA.org

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“Regional Broadband”

July 17th, 2016 Comments off

The quick history as I understand it: State legislators passed a bond bill to get broadband service to rural communities. MBI — the Mass Broadband Institute– was given general oversight.  Originally a team of citizen volunteers formed a committee to lobby for this money and research and inform its implementation for 44 towns, and this was called ‘Wired West’. That committee decided that only fiber-optic to every house was the way to go.  Wired West directed towns to form a ‘Municipal Light Plant’ to be the broadband utility, which would then get signed up as a member of the WW cooperative.

However, as plans progressed, Fiber To The House was ~3x more expensive than the state bond covered, and small towns did not have that bonding ability, or tax base, or customer base to pay with.  And Wired West shifted from being a group of unpaid volunteer political organizers/ lobbyists into expecting to be paid as the owner/ manager of a broadband infrastructure paid for by the towns.  MBI found WW’s business and financial models shaky.  Towns found WW’s price tag, and liability burden unsupportable.

This meant individual small towns were left to figure out a town-only portion of what was meant to be a regional system of complex technical and service aspects.  Middlefield’s Communications Committee tried figuring this out.  But committee members disagreed on approach. Howard Knickerbocker resigned from being party to the Committee, despite his serious research and knowledge.  The Committee was then dominated by political operatives, as WW had been, and as of July 2017 was following the WW story in having the unpaid volunteer Chairman of the Communications Committee appointed as “Manager of the Municipal Light Plant” and slated to be paid $25,000 (or some portion of that “Administration” portion of an MBI pilot/ test grant) for the 6 months work of the grant period.

Listen to the Selectboard meeting of July 13, 2016 for the debate on this topic.

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Implementers Meta-Plan

December 21st, 2015 Comments off

Implementers Meta-Plan (IMP)

It’s an IMP-ish impusle I have to see (create, collect) the information and plans which speak to implementation and impetus for improving life in our area.   I’ve wanted this ever since getting very frustrated on the committee formed in 2005 to write a “Master Plan” for the town. (Which Plan is still not written by 2015.) So many things were wrong with the format and method of that Master Plan process.  The process impetus did not arise from the town, but from the Regional Planning Agency (PVPC) recruiting the town as its client so that it could fund its staff through available state grant programs for writing Master Plans.  The 7 topics for the plan were dictated by state policy, not a reflection of what the town felt was most important to discuss.  There was no topic of “Finances” despite the fact that budget factors impact all town planning and implementation, and are such a very important piece to any plan.

The Master Plan survey to collect local input was made of questions slanted by their creators (PVPC and a handful of the Master Plan Committee), then rendered as meaningless statistics. The questions were open to different interpretation about the details meant by respondents. For example, a question about whether people value protecting the environment will get 90+ percent agreement that people value that. But if the Planning Board then interprets the details of that to mean writing more regulations restricting what people can do on their own property, the board will find only 10+ percent agreement.  Instead of a process that gathered participation as it went, it left people feeling burnt-out, disenfranchised and ignored –even many on the 13 member committee, which suffered a drastic attrition rate. 

A new ‘Plan’ from the grassroots up:

The Town of Middlefield –Population only about 500 –is so small that telling its story in faceless statistics becomes ridiculous.  Four people might be in the over 85 demographic, so if 1 moves away, that becomes a change of 25%, which is a meaningless statistic. But we might learn from the details of the story behind that move.  So let the Town’s story be told in the details of individual lives and choices.  Tell your tale, your take, on what impetus shapes your plans; what improvements you envision; what survey questions you would ask of your neighbors; and what answers you’d give about what matters to the improvement of your life/ town/ region.

The tale of my house –the house the Hobarts built –reveals things about the larger backdrop of real estate market bubbles and bust, and the impact of allowing business uses.  #48 Chester Road was built in the late 1980s, when banks went from appraising high and lending like crazy until a huge number of them died in the ‘savings & loan crisis’.  The Reagan years approach of making the middle-class feel rich by lending on the increased value of homes led to a boom in house building that accelerated through the 80s. The Hobart brothers, carpenters and builders raised in Middlefield, tried to cash in on their skills and this real estate boom by building a house on spec. At the time, no house in town had a tax valuation over $200,000, but the costs of building #48 soared on the wings of bubble-fueled factors, and eventually exceeded $250,000. 

In 1991, when we were searching for a home to buy, #48 was an over-priced white-elephant owned by a creditor –an ex-brother-in-law to the Hobarts.  His estimate of real estate value was skewed by the South County Berkshires location he was used to, and did not apply to Middlefield’s location, which is isolated from amenities.  The house had been in the process of being built, and then sitting for sale, for 3 years. The reasons we were finally able to buy it were: the Seller sold at a loss, and offered owner-financing; and the Town answered that running a mail order business from a house in the Agricultural-Residential District was fine – there were already two other mail order businesses in town, operating without a problem.  If the property could serve both as residence and livelihood, then it made a workable, sustainable situation.  Our dream was to live in the countryside without a long commute for our livelihood.  Had Middlefield said that home-based livelihoods were not allowed, we would never have moved to Middlefield.

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Regional Implementers Network

November 29th, 2015 Comments off

At the Nov 2015 organizational meeting of a Regional Task Force for the Hilltowns of the Gateway school district, State Rep. Smitty Pignatelli advised that change was needed to accomplish improving services despite diminishing tax base in rural Western Mass. He said regional conversations were needed, recognizing that the state legislature would not be effective in our stead.  We needed a network for sharing and discussing needs and solutions that did not depend upon a governmental layer for implementation.  This echoed what state Sen. Ben Downing had said more than a year prior: Between the governance and problem-solving that the small townships can offer, and the bureaucratic infrastructure of the state level, we needed a regional infrastructure or network that was not a governmental layer. We needed an agile entity that could provide a voice for our rural area, and work on solutions which are often not on a metro-Boston-stacked legislature’s mind.

I believe in starting from the grassroots up. “Region” can be your neighborhood, your town, your vicinity of several towns, your collection of people connected by a specific interest or concern.  My town is Middlefield. The Community Center facility at Blossom Center, 16 Bell Rd, Middlefield can provide a physical hub location for gathering people together in conversation. This website can provide an internet hub location for gathering links with the people and places across our region who also are implementing ways to connect across our political boundaries, and work together on implementing improvements to our shared world.  Come join the Implementers Network!

 

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Town Settles out of court

May 2nd, 2013 Comments off

May 1, 2013 Town Counsel Jonathan Silverstein explained to attendees of a 5:30pm Selectboard meeting the Settlement the Town had agreed to in order to be released from being a Defendant in the Superior Court case.  To get out of further expense than the estimated $24,000 in legal costs so far in the Jozsef-Harris & Jamula lawsuit against the town, Middlefield agreed to (a) “take no position” on whether the gated “Old Road” parallel and north of Johnnycake Hill Rd might be a Statutory Private Way.  Also to (b) “take no position” on whether town road votes of 1886 and 1984 “did not discontinue the way to the extent it was a Statutory Private Way.”  And (c) Stipulate that the Town’s May 2012 vote also did not. Plus (d) allow no change in zoning and bylaw requirements after 4/30/2013 to prevent Jamula building a house on the Private Way.  And (e) Stipulate that the entire disputed way was “in existence prior to the enactment of the Subdivision control laws in Middlefield.”  (Entire disputed way runs south from dead end of Harry Pease Rd, then east through to Alderman Rd, near the intersection with Arthur Pease Rd.)

To see 3 page Settlement Agreement click here: TOWN-SETTLEMNT-1304

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Comment – Local Business

March 18th, 2013 1 comment

Post a topic as a comment for future posting

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Starting Summer Early?

February 17th, 2013 Comments off

Peter Rocke sent in this photo of Middlefield getting an early start (February)  on the mowing season. Snow-Mowing

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