A vision for Stockbridge
I wrote this text in 2020 when I first ran for Select Board. The BOLD TEXT discusses these initiatives as of April 2023.
Hello. My name is Patrick White and I am running to serve as your Stockbridge Selectman.
First, a little about me. I live on Hawthorne St. over by Tanglewood in the house I grew up in. I own a small business that provides marketing communications services. I also am the part-time business manager for Berkshire Waldorf High School on Pine St. in Stockbridge, where I am in charge of budgeting, finance and business affairs for the school. I've founded several start-up businesses funded by venture capital and have spent a career accountable to boards and investors.
My volunteer activities include the Laurel Hill Association of Stockbridge, where I serve on the Board of Trustees as Vice President. I also volunteer at the Talbot Center, Saturday afternoons (I plan to resume once it re-opens). I've also served by running the Berkshire Botanical Garden's book sale for the last several years. I am LHA's representative on the board of the Stockbridge Bowl Association. I currently serve as Co-Chairman of Stockbridge Bowl Stewardship Committee and on the Stockbridge Cultural Council and the Conservation Commission. I am a member of the Stockbridge Chamber of Commerce.
2023 update: I've worked hard as a town leader to protect Stockbridge's environment and natural beauty. I've worked hard to identify the challenge of dying old-growth trees at Ice Glen and took action to save them. I proposed successfully that the Select Board reconstitute the Agricultural and Forestry Commission and the Kampoosa Bog Stewardship Commission and recruited the majority of the 12 members who now serve on these committees. I proposed in last year's town budget that we add a Conservation Agent, whom we hired this year and has greatly assisted both our Conservation Commission and our Planning Board.
I am running because I believe the town needs to take bold action to preserve and protect the character of Stockbridge. I grew up here, and graduated from Monument Mountain in 1980. Growing up in Stockbridge was a wonderful way to spend a childhood. When I was a kid, we had at least 25 kids in my neighborhood. Many of my peers in the 1960s and 1970s are the children you see in Norman Rockwell's paintings. Fast forward to 2020 and I see no children in my neighborhood at all. Instead, we see more and more of our homes snapped up by AirBnB investors.
2023 update: Next year, we have approximately 61 children from Stockbridge in grades 7-12. We have only 36 in grades 1-6. When Chuck and I were in the 4th grade, we had upwards of 40 kids total in our grade. Next year, there are just 3 children in grade 4 from Stockbridge. I recognize we will never return to the robust family life of Stockbridge circa 1975, but the fact is we've seen a decline of an average of five children each year for the past 50 years. Here's another data point: One of our volunteer firefighters remembers that when he joined the Fire Dept. in 1978, we had 90 volunteers. Currently we have about a dozen, and in five years we will have six or less due to the state's mandatory retirement laws. I will continue to propose policies to encourage folks to stay here and to choose to move here. We must reverse this decline to maintain some semblance of the vibrant small-town New England community that has defined us for nearly three centuries.
I want to continue the effort to preserve all that is good about Stockbridge as the Norman Rockwell town I grew up in and love, while also allowing the very residents who "made" this town what it is today, to be able to afford to still live here. I shall work hard to achieve ways to accomplish that goal while also increasing our town's sources of revenue so it can remain affordable for you to continue to live in the town you helped build.
As we look to the future, we need to ask ourselves what kind of town we want to be? What are we doing to attract first-time home buyers and young families to Stockbridge? Not nearly enough.
2023 update: I have a simple strategy to attract residents to choose Stockbridge as the place to raise their families: Low taxes, more family income, better schools. First, by keeping taxes low, we reduce the cost of home ownership and make ourselves more competitive with other towns. My proposed budget this year actually reduces spending, which helps both primary and part-time residents alike. I also support a tax plan that many similar towns have embraced on the Cape. Second, I want to encourage home-based income for hard-working families, an example of which is my proposed Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) bylaw that I wrote and continue to work on in the coming year. Third, I focus on schools, which is why I have worked so hard on the new high school and potential school merger.
The same is true for the challenge we face regarding elderly housing. With approximately half the residents of this town aged 60 or older, some folks are realizing that they have too much house for this stage in their lives. A person or couple who has lived here all or part of their lives shouldn't have to move out of Stockbridge just because their home is now too big for them to manage.
2023 update: ADUs can help seniors by giving them a way to downsize on their own property, while adding a rental unit for income or a caregiver. I've also strongly supported our seniors at Heaton Court from my role as a Selectman and as a member of the Community Preservation Committee.
There are three types of owners of residential property in Stockbridge. Year-round residents, second homeowners, and AirBnB speculators. In the past 50 years, we've seen a steady decline in full-time residents. I would like to see, and advocate for, more families making the choice to raise their children here year-round.
It has been suggested to me that we can't do anything about this. That these are market trends. That this is the price of being the cultural epicenter of the Berkshires. That we are victims of our own success by maintaining our rural charm, by prioritizing open space and natural beauty over strip malls and suburban density. That it's just a matter of time before 80-90% of our town is owned by second homeowners and AirBnB investors. That we need be resigned to being a ghost town nine months a year. I vigorously reject this view.
2023 update: I wrote a strong short-term rental bylaw in 2021, only to have my colleague at the time (and opponent now) propose an alternate. Mine would have restricted AirBnB rentals to residents as a way to augment their income, while banning speculators from buying up our housing stock. Her proposal, now on the books, has been a failure. Only about a dozen of at least 150 have registered with the town. From 1/3 to 1/2 haven't registered with the state and therefore don't pay their occupancy taxes due. This current complaint-driven bylaw is hard to enforce and requires senior staff time to manage. Meanwhile, the number of short-term rentals in Stockbridge has nearly doubled. If we want to maintain the character of the town, by all means allow residents to offer a short-term rentals to help make ends meet, and ban outside investors from doing so.
I believe the town can enact policies that will make Stockbridge more accessible to first-time homebuyers. I believe the town has the duty to take care of its seniors and create more housing to accommodate their needs as they age out of their homes.
In my view, our town government needs to recognize that attracting young families and providing our elderly with options is fundamental to our values. We need to continue the conversation about what kind of town we want to be. We need to enact policies that build real community. For me, that means a town that is committed to young and old, a town that nurtures its residential nature, a town that its employees can afford to live in, that attracts entrepreneurs as well as artists. A town that is vibrant year round. A town where there are children in our parks and in our streets, not just in paintings from yesteryear in the Rockwell museum.
We need to do all this while not raising taxes on our most vulnerable residents. According to the state, 42% of our year-round residents are low to moderate income. Many of our neighbors, more than you might realize, are on fixed incomes and already struggle to pay taxes that have ballooned with the rise in assessments. We need to find ways to preserve the character of our town without further burdening this already vulnerable population.
So how do we get there? Let's start by building consensus among our Select Board, Planning Board, Finance Committee and Community Preservation Committee to define the values we should fight for. The hard work to enact policies that foster these values is worth the effort. We could start by exploring new revenue opportunities while not increasing residents' property tax burdens. By advocating for zoning bylaws such as accessory dwelling units that create revenue streams for residents to make mortgages more affordable. By using the resources of Community Preservation to provide down payment assistance to first-time homebuyers. By making sure that when appropriate and realistic, that developers contribute to a missing-middle housing fund, similar to what communities from Lenox to Boston already do. By committing to elderly housing so folks can stay in the town where they spent their lives. By better funding elderly tax assistance/relief so that no one on a fixed income ever has to choose between paying their taxes and buying groceries or filling prescriptions.
COVID-19 adds an unexpected hurdle to getting this work done. I recognize the need to make this the town's top management priority, and understand it may require budgetary caution that may make it harder in the short term to champion bold initiatives. I dream with optimism. I manage with prudence and restraint. I am more likely to embrace a budgetary path than acknowledges the worst-case scenario rather than one that throws caution to the wind.
2023 update: I worked hard to help our town merchants, spearheading a video during COVID to promote shopping. I also strongly supported the hybrid coverage of all of our public meetings, not just the Select Board. When CTSB informed us on March 10, 2023 they could no longer support this expanded coverage, I emphasized to our town administrator the importance of maintaining coverage. This allows folks to participate remotely, watch all committee meetings after the fact, and keeps both primary and part-time residents informed.
It has been my honor to serve on several town boards and to regularly attend meetings of many others. I am so impressed by the volunteers who serve on our elected and appointed town boards and committees. I promise to treat you with respect and welcome your insights. You've earned it and you deserve it. I believe we need to leverage the skills and dedication of these talented individuals to enact tax, zoning and funding policies that reflect the values we have as a community.
2023 update: In addition to the Select Board, I serve on the Community Preservation Committee (CPC), the Regional School District Planning Board (RSDPB), the Stockbridge Bowl Stewardship Commission, the Cemetery Commission, and the Affordable Housing Trust Fund. In the past, I also served on the Stockbridge Bowl Association Board, the Cultural Council, and the Conservation Commission. I also show up at many of our other meetings as a member of the audience. I believe it is the job of a select board member to stay informed of the efforts of all of our committees and their volunteers who work so hard on behalf of the town.
I have no illusion that this will be easy. A good select board has to find time to provide leadership, to prioritize initiatives, to be the glue that keeps town boards and committees working together for a common purpose and the common good. All while competently managing the town's day-to-day affairs. The only way this is possible is through hard work, a commitment to listening and a resolve to make the hard decisions that align with the town's vision and values. If you elect me, I will do the hard work to listen to your ideas and your concerns, to improve the management of the town, and to help steer this ship in ways that preserve the character and community that have defined us for nearly 300 years.
My apologies this was so long, but we are in a difficult season of course, making it hard to run a face-to-face campaign. I think a longer letter provides you with better insight into my thinking, which is reasonable to expect from me as I ask for your vote. Give me a call at 298-2125 or email me at email@example.com and we can talk on the phone, in one of our yards or somewhere in town. I welcome the chance to listen and discuss your vision for Stockbridge. Together we can accomplish great things.
Questions and Answers
Please vote safely. Here's how to vote via in person or mail-in ballot.
Hello. My name is Patrick White and I am running to serve as your Stockbridge Selectman. I want to share my thoughts with you on some specific issues in front of the town. Please, feel free to submit more questions to me. If a candidate for office is asking for your vote, you have the right to know where he or she stands on the issues important to you. So here goes.
COVID-19 has made it harder to promote participatory democracy in small towns. How would you address this?
With town hall closed to the public, it's harder for you to exercise your right to participate in debates and decisions your government is making on your behalf. I believe the town should do everything it can to promote transparency and debate, so that if you have something to say, you can say it a way that is heard not only by your town's leaders, but by the rest of the community.
Our current policy, that you are welcome to call a selectman after the select board has taken a vote, makes no sense to me. Great Barrington takes questions at Select Board meetings by holding up a piece of paper with a phone number allowing its citizens to call in during the question period and before the board votes on a given issue. I like this approach. It's easier to manage than a Zoom conference (appropriate for the other boards in town).
Beyond that, you are always welcome to reach out to me via a call, text or email. My phone number for calls or text is 413-298-2125. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org. Part of the job is to encourage, not discourage, your participation in the decision-making process.
2023 update: I strongly supported continuing Zoom meetings to the benefit of all, even after CTSB no longer could support them as of April 1, 2023. I also volunteer my time to offer production support to Stockbridge Updates, playing a small but important role to ensure there is an independent voice covering our town government.
You talk about the need to attract first-time buyers and young families. How do you do that?
For a good sense of what this town was like when I was growing up here, just visit the Norman Rockwell museum (for now, you will have to do that online). There were kids everywhere, like three or four times the number of children than we have now. My mom and dad, Ronnie and Russ White, bought my house for $10,000 in 1960. She was 22 and he was 26 and she worked at Music Inn and Wheatleigh and he had an entry-level job at General Electric. Back then, a young, hardworking family could afford to buy here. It's much harder now.
In some ways we are the victims of our own success. Most of the Tanglewood property is in Stockbridge. It's made our property valuations soar, which is great for full-timers who bought a long time ago, at least on paper. It's made it harder to afford to buy here if you are starting your family or career.
I would like to make it easier for young families to buy here. To afford a house, you need a down payment and you need to be able to make the monthly mortgage and pay the property taxes. We can use some CPC funds to subsidize first time homebuyers and help with their downpayment. We can make it easier for folks to afford their mortgage payments by allowing them to add an accessory dwelling unit (or ADU, think a small apartment above the garage) to get some rental income. We can consider a residential exemption, a state-approved property tax policy that would significantly reduce the property taxes for homes valued at less than $500,000, while slightly increasing the tax burden on absentee AirBnB rentals, second homes and homes valued above $1 million. These common sense policies could breathe new life into the town, making it more affordable to young families.
The jobs situation has been dire since GE left in the 1970s. How do you attract the jobs that young families need?
There is a huge exodus of folks from cities that will happen over the next five years due to the coronavirus. There will be a huge trend toward remote work. Twitter and the other big tech companies are already embracing it. Some have said folks can work remotely permanently. Jobs no longer have to be in Pittsfield. Fast networks and Zoom have proven that. Over the next 25 years, roughly half the housing stock in this town will turn over. Who do you want buying those homes? Younger full-timers who will raise their family here? Second homeowners who add to the community just two or three months a year? Absentee short-term rental owners who simply milk Stockbridge to make money on her? Once again the trends are clear, and we can do something about this. Downpayment incentives. Tax strategies that favor full-time residents. Limits on rental days a short-term rental owner can rent per year, similar but more restrictive to what Lenox did. These policies can, on the margin, impact what kind of community this is. It's hard work to develop them and put them into place. I am willing to do that work.
Regarding housing, I do not want to downsize and I hope to age out of my house straight to the funeral home. Why should I support your ideas on elderly housing?
That is the wish of all us! Both my mom and dad died in this house. My mom was on the porch reading. Seven years later my dad was mowing the lawn. Doing what they loved.
I was an econometrics major. I am a numbers guy fundamentally. Here are the numbers I am seeing. Roughly half of the town is over 60. That's nearly 1,000 folks. Let's say 80% of us (I am nearly 60 so I will lump myself in), can, as we all hope, slog it out to the end and go from home to hearse (I like alliteration). That leaves 200 people for whom that doesn't turn out to be realistic. Maybe it's because of arthritis or heart disease. Maybe it's because a spouse or partner passes first and he or she wants more immediate community to battle the loneliness. There are many reasons why 20% or even 10% of these folks over the next 20 years might want or need a downsized lifestyle. I believe we should have 30-50 units available for these folks. If you are one of the lucky ones and it all breaks your way, great. If not, do you want to have to live in Lenox Commons or Pittsfield to meet your needs? Do you wish this reality on your less fortunate neighbors? I would rather be in Stockbridge. I am not advocating this for the 80%. I am advocating it for the 20%.
Is natural beauty and open space important to you?
Natural beauty and open space are our number one asset as a town. You are talking to someone who has literally spent hundreds of hours volunteering for Laurel Hill Association and serving on the Conservation Commission. I have been elevated to President of LHA as of next February. Last weekend for example, I worked with a landowner to conserve over 30 acres of property, worth over a million dollars, who has agreed to donate it to LHA if we want it. We are working on a forestry plan for our properties. You don't need to convince me of the value of open space and Berkshires' beauty. Time is the one most precious asset we all have and I spend mine preserving and protecting this town we live in.
What do you think the town's priorities should be in addressing its zoning bylaws?
I understand why updating the Cottage Era Estate bylaw was a priority, after the controversy surrounding DeSisto/37 Interlaken. With COVID-19, there will be significantly less capital (financing) available in the short- to medium-term for developers. I think we now have the time to do this right.
More pressing in my opinion are the bylaws we need to address the ability for young families to buy here. That means getting an ADU bylaw on the books. Getting an AirBnB bylaw similar to the one Lenox recently enacted, limiting the number of days an absentee owner can rent out a property on short-term rental websites (I would carve out an exception for full-time residents, allowing them to rent one ADU or property they owned in town). I believe we need a bylaw to encourage large developers to contribute to an elderly/missing middle housing fund, similar to section 9.8 of Lenox's zoning bylaws. These bylaw changes would encourage young families while discouraging absentee speculators.
How would you work with the town administrator?
I am a big fan of our interim town administrator. I think he has good instincts and great experience. I am relieved he has agreed to stay on longer to help us select the best candidate we can to replace him. I believe we need to empower the town administrator to do the job, which means giving him the power to run the town's day-to-day operations. Too often it seems like the select board meetings are spent reviewing and approving the mundane. The board needs time to plan and execute the big picture. We need to trust the person we hire to execute it. I also believe that better empowering the position will inevitably lead to better candidates applying. Stockbridge has a reputation of being a hard place for a town administrator to succeed. We need to change that perception to attract the best candidates for the job.
2023 update: I work daily with Michael Canales, while respecting his role as the chief operating officer of the town. We each stay in our respective lanes: Michael runs the day-to-day operations and manages all town employees. As part of the Select Board, I contribute to running the town when policy needs to be established, and in brainstorming on longer-range issues. I have an excellent relationship with Michael, and I respect his hard work and dedication. I also never insert myself into staff issues, as I believe strongly in the chain of command.
There's a lot of nastiness in our national politics. How would you avoid that in our town?
I think it starts with an acknowledgement that town issues are unique. I don't care who you plan to vote for in the presidential election. I have no litmus test on beliefs. I think it's fundamental we treat the volunteers who give their time and expertise on town boards with respect. I feel the same way about voters who want to weigh in. I believe our policies should include lively debate. The best ideas are more likely to win this way. I have no patience for personal, ad hominem attacks, for using town government to settle old scores. I want to hear from you whether we agree or not. Think I am wrong? Convince me. I promise you I will listen with an open mind.
Have a question, a suggestion, a beef with any of this?
Call me. I want to hear from you. Happy to answer your questions, write them up if appropriate for this web page.
Please vote safely. Here's how to vote via in person or mail-in ballot.
Photo: Lionel Delevingne