In Pownal, 2013 marked by auditing challenges

POWNAL -- The Select Board faced opposition regarding their town books amid claims from auditors regarding their "misuse of public funds," new businesses arrived, old businesses left and one rebuilt after tragedy. A local man received a prestigious career award and speed limits and zoning laws saw changes over the past year. Here are some of the highlights.

* In September, the Select Board voted to stop meeting with auditors after what they considered to be wasted time with little accomplished. Auditors Ray Shields and Betty Baker claimed payroll errors made between 2009 and 2012 amounted to $43,000 but did not offer their information to board members for review. Vermont State Police said they found no evidence of criminal activity in the town's books. Most recently, auditors attended a Select Board meeting earlier this month and raised concerns over vacation and sick time benefits earned by town employees.

* Businesses along Route 7 made changes in October, with Studio Club Artworks closing after seven years of selling handmade crafts and gourmet foods, Mahican Moccasin Shop rebuilding after it was destroyed by fire last year, and the Village Market received new management along with a liquor and tobacco license. Charles Gray, 81, watched the moccasin and leather goods store he had operated since 1960 burn down on his 80th birthday after faulty wiring ignited within the wall, according to the proprietor. "I'm trying to keep it local," said Gray of rebuilding the shop at half it's former size.

* Lin Buck has operated the Village Market for the past 28 years, and still owns the building which is now being leased to its new, "energetic" manager and longtime employee Jess Egan. "It's so engrained in Pownal history out customers remain loyal," said Buck, of the competition which has entered the area. The Market sells alcohol and tobacco and is expanding to offer deli services.

* Pownal resident Syd Smithers, former chair of the Trustees of Reservations, which is one of Massachusetts' largest land conservation organizations, received their prestigious Life Trustee Award.

Smithers' work spanned three decades, starting when he became involved with the organization in 1981. Smithers and his wife moved to Pownal ten years ago and donated the 93-acre Smithers Woodland Preserve in Windsor, Mass. to the Trustees in 1993. He helped complete a capital campaign which raised more than $90 million in revenue and lad value, and helped implement new by-laws. "Syd was a key player in the impressive, almost-doubling of our holdings in Berkshire County," said current Board Chair David Croll.

* The owners of Hoppy Valley Organics are expanding to include a local Vermont-product venture called "Hoppy Valley's Taste of Vermont," and plan to offer tastings of local wine, beer and cheeses beginning in March. The partners decided to branch out after a successful first year growing several varieties of organic hops that are sought after by Vermont brewers. "The idea is not to go into this competing, but rather trying to complement other businesses and retailers in the area," said partner Peter Hopkins. The space will be within the Hillside House, and partners have already been approved for a second class liquor and beer license.

* The Select Board also took action to promote safety on Pownal streets, lowering the speed limit on Sweet Road from 35 miles per hour to 25. Resident Larry Baker, who has lived on the road for nearly six years, said it is ATVs which typically speed on the twisty backroad. Baker said he appreciated having the speed limit lowered and would look forward to having a speed limit sign posted on the road, which had my previously existed.

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