Town of NewSalem Selectboard
July 29, 2019
Stowell Building, New Salem, MA 01355
Convened: 7:00 pm
Present: Randy Gordon, chair, Wayne Hachey, Jean Derderian, Selectboard; Nancy Aldrich, Town Coordinator; Gabe Voelker, Town Treasurer; Gail Spring, Animal Control Officer; Claire McGinnis, Capital Planning Committee; Cam Dunbar, Board of Health; Steve Blinder, David Cramer, Sarah Kohler, Planning Board; Ken Bright
Selectboard Reviewed & Signed the Following:
Ø Payroll & Vendor Warrants
Ø Chapter 90 Paperwork
Ø Appointment Slips for Agricultural Commission
Ø Appointment Slip for Cultural Council
Ø Farmer Winery Permit for New Salem Cider LLC
Ø Town Warrant for Debt Exclusion Election
Future of Town Buildings
Claire started off by giving a background on New Salem’s prior capital planning and noted that the focus has been on equipment, vehicles, and the like but there hasn’t been a lot of spending on buildings. So the committee is seeking to determine the interest in looking at the towns buildings. They would like to do an inventory, and put together some kind of schedule of maintenance, determine current use, and gather other relevant information. Wayne noted that the last survey was done about 7 years ago. Claire suggested conducting research on what other towns do with their buildings in the region. All of this would be part of a public process. Jean recalled being on a building action committee in the past and she briefly reported on the work that was done. Their work included talking to various departments and committees to determine things like needed storage space and office space. Gabe noted that one of the big things is a schedule of maintenance, like when a roof needs to be repaired. When was the last time it was done, when does it need to be done again? The town is very reactive and not proactive with this kind of maintenance. Claire stated that the town has department heads who have learned to be proactive about equipment needs and to some extent their building needs. But we have buildings that don’t fall under a particular department, and they need attention. Gabe followed by providing examples of ways the town has been reactive and how it can modify to being proactive. Nancy noted that the prior work on this topic was great, but some of it needs to take certain realities into consideration. Not everyone can have the exact space that is ideal. Wayne concurred noting that some of the space issues are simply permanent records and how those are stored is something that should be considered. Particularly in an era where things are increasingly being stored digitally.
Wayne felt that the clear problem is too much real estate owned by the town and not enough funds to maintain it. Claire responded that there have been several reiterations of building committees and the results in the past have not arrived at an end result. So the challenge is to get a plan that can be supported by the voters. Nancy asked Claire and Gabe about the cost of broadband and whether that final cost for the town has been determined and what impact that may have on the town being able to maintain its buildings. Gabe reported a meeting has been scheduled for that topic at the Library on August 13, 2019 at 7:00 pm. The whole point of this meeting is that the Commonwealth won’t cover everything and it is likely that Broadband Committee and the MLP Board will need to come back and request further borrowing permission from the voters. It appears likely the town will need to do an additional debt exclusion. It is therefore paramount that the town is certain of any need and the specific sum in addition to that which has already been approved. Wayne inquired about the monthly billing costs. Gabe wasn’t entirely certain but noted that the billing may have to go up to help. Nancy agreed that there has to be some level of self-support. Gabe gave a few examples on the borrowing and how it would be handled. Claire concurred and elaborated a bit further on the process. Ultimately the debt exclusion puts it on the taxpayer and anything added to the monthly billing would only act to offset. Gabe suggested a Special Town Meeting may need to be called. The timeframe is uncertain at the moment for that. It may have to wait until the Annual Town Meeting.
Gabe further stated that the borrowing has been done to the full extent of the original project cost. Randy suggested it comes down to the costs. With broadband taking up so much of the towns money and the cost of public education not seeing any decrease, we have to have a public dialogue and realistically fundable plans. Jean elaborated on a few of the discussions she’s had with various parties about the towns buildings. She’s seeking funding from the General Court to restore the Town Hall. Her estimate is a cost of approximately $5 million. She then asked Gabe some questions about the towns borrowing capacity. Gabe responded the town has plenty of borrowing capacity, that’s not the problem. The town’s capacity to pay is the issue. As ultimately such borrowings are paid for through property taxes. That can mean a hefty cost to taxpayers. It cannot be forgotten that the town is not only borrowing for broadband, but also for the Swift River Elementary Schools window project. Wayne noted that the Fire and Police are in need as well. Gabe suggested that this brings us full circle back to Claire’s opening. Considering what we have, what we need, and what the costs will be. Gabe noted the costs per square foot for a public building at the moment is high. But once you know what that cost will be for your particular project you can make decisions of how and where to allot it. That said the focus shouldn’t be on new buildings, but on getting a handle on what we have. Claire noted that we cannot have preconceived notions of what the conclusions should be, rather the focus must be on seeing how to improve upon the current situation. Discussion concluded with agreement to meet on this topic again in the future.
Gabe asked the Selectboard about the new website as an impasse has been reached. A big part of it is that people are not adopting the new town issued emails. This was part of the towns website and was done to help with the record keeping required by MGL. There are also security concerns. The town has been working with its information technology contractor to secure emails. Nancy reported some challenges she’s faced with hers in New Salem and outlined what Wendell has done to solve a similar problem they faced. Randy asked for a list of how many people have town emails and what they are. It may be an issue of awareness. If people need to use town emails they need instructions. Gabe agreed to reach out and request that. She then outlined a few problems which are institutional. The town went with a low cost option and the website was not built for some of the things the town should have. Towns ordinarily pay contractors to build town websites from the ground up. These include companies like Virtual Towns & Schools and Civic Plus. These are professional websites that have security, intranet, and the like. Security is a huge problem that can be solved with simple security measures. Shutesbury a few years ago got hit with crypto locker. It was something simple that hit their system. Athol had its police department hit by one as well. So the question is whether the town should stick with the economical version it has or go with something new. The existing website doesn’t have the bells and whistles that it should. So the town needs to make a decision. Randy asked what the webhosting costs are. Gabe noted that they don’t have to be high. Some towns do pay a lot for it, but Orange has been able to do it very affordably. A town like New Salem probably needs one person to act as a webmaster and it just cannot be volunteers as that doesn’t work. Shutesbury has learned that lesson as well. It was agreed to research the matter further and consider the towns options.
Gail reported that the changes are pressing and she stated that if they cannot be achieved she doesn’t feel that she can continue as ACO. There are issues that require immediate attention and they cannot be done currently which makes things untenable. Nancy reported on her discussion with Town Counsel and the need for the town to adopt several by-laws which would allow for things like fines. Gail elaborated on her experiences with the Commonwealth and several Clerk Magistrates and noted how these underline the need. She is limited in her powers, she can’t currently do anything about nuisance dogs, and can’t fine for noncompliance with licensing. David outlined what is already in place as to zoning by-laws. Steve asked how the Planning Board can help and Sarah made suggestions as to how to handle any proposed changes. It was agreed that really there need to be two tracks, kennel licensing and enforcement. To illustrate some of the issues, Gail outlined a recent issue she had with an illegal kennel. There’s no paperwork and the person operating it refuses to change that. She reminded that the town has had to deal with dangerous dog complaints as well as nuisance dog complaints. Without serious by-law changes she is limited. Sarah expressed some confusion as to what the existing by-law’s limits are. She suggested seeking further legal advice to determine the best way forward. Gail stated that there is little definitive about that existing by-law. Wayne noted that the by-law is from 1998. Gail elaborated on some of the grey areas that are occurring under the existing by-law. Sarah reminded that a kennel cannot be operated without a special permit. Gail responded by providing a number of examples of how this process hasn’t been handled correctly. Nancy inquired about what remedies the town has. Jean noted the requirements under MGL and suggested adapting the towns by-laws to be equal to that basis. Gail generally agreed, but noted the need for specificity beyond the MGL and gave a few examples of what other towns, like Athol, have done.
She then gave examples of other problems like dogs not having tags, getting dumped in town, and struggles with adopting them out. There are also jurisdictional challenges if people take dogs across town lines or in some cases state lines. Jean asked about whether there is anything that addresses kennels. Nancy responded that the town does, but only in zoning. David outlined what the zoning by-law the town has means and noted what enforcement can be done. It appears that something needs to be done beyond zoning. Randy inquired as to the process. Sarah strongly suggested that this be a new general by-law. She thought a Special Town Meeting might be most appropriate. Sarah then elaborated on Planning Board’s discussions on the topic. The main idea being to look at neighboring towns as well as looking at the MGL and perhaps forming a subcommittee to consider it. Randy summarized what is being looked for. Clear rules on kennels, rules and enforcement for quiet times, and rules and enforcement for licensing. Gail agreed noting that the licensing is about ensuring compliance with the Commonwealth’s rabies vaccination scheme. Rabies is a growing problem in Massachusetts. Jean clarified that no domestic dog has had rabies in Massachusetts in about 20 years. Gail agreed that was correct, but there is a growing problem that could risk that record. Wayne asked as to the existing fines. Gail submitted that there really aren’t any currently. Steve asked what needs to be done to achieve fining capacity. Nancy noted that it appears that the existing by-law is out of date and needs to be updated in order to resolve this and an update should fix it. Gail then reported on her conversations with the Chief of Police and what would be done once the matter is resolved to get her the ability to fine. Randy inquired as to where licensing stands currently. Gail responded that a bit over 150 dogs have been licensed to date. The date for licensing was back in March. There are definitely dogs that are unlicensed. It was stressed that the wheel doesn’t have to be reinvented for this, the town just needs to update the zoning by-law and get a general by-law adopted. Discussion ended with the consensus of pursuing a Special Town Meeting to deal with the dog by-law needs as well as addressing broadband.
Roadside Mowing/Sarah Kohler’s Property
Randy started off by outlining the concerns the town has as to safety from the growth of grass along the road and asked for an update. Sarah elaborated on her actions to date. She has done this in recent times. She was injured multiple times in the last few months which has inhibited her ability to carry out the work. She has someone who can help carry out the mowing she has agreed to take care of. In the meantime, the area has a poison ivy infestation that is of concern. The mowing can actually exacerbate this if not done properly. To that end Sarah has special gloves and is slowly removing the substructure of the poison ivy. Sarah then outlined further efforts she intends to see the work done. Wayne inquired about the removal of some brush in the area. Sarah responded that she has and explained her future plans on the front. She has also done some careful mowing as the growth was inhibiting her own sight line from her driveway. She apologized for how long this has taken her. Randy noted that the town is trying to let Sarah be Sarah and respect her concerns for the sensitivity of this area, but it had to be established if the town needed to step in for public safety. Sarah expressed appreciation for the consideration.
1794 Meetinghouse License Agreement
Nancy reported that the 1794 Meetinghouse intended to have someone present to discuss this matter, but unfortunately a scheduling conflict arose. The topic will be rescheduled for a later meeting of the Selectboard.
Vote to Allow Signing of Vendor/Payroll Warrants Outside of Meeting
The towns former Assistant Town Accountant has agreed with FRCOG to help the town for a bit, but as a result the next warrant has not yet been done. It was determined to approve the Selectboard signing the warrant outside of the meeting.
A motion was made by Wayne to allow the Selectboard members to return and sign the warrants once they are ready. The motion was seconded by Jean and passed unanimously.
Nancy reported on a leak at the Library. It wasn’t a big one, but was an issue with the toilet. The towns new handyman was able to repair it. Jean and Wayne both suggested doing a walk through with the new handyman to look over town buildings.
Town Warrant for Debt Exclusion Election
The Selectboard signed the warrant for the upcoming Special Election for the Debt Exclusion vote.
The Commission has requested for an appointment. There are two people who have been participating but only one position the Commission requests one be appointed as a full member and the other as an alternate. It was agreed to by the Selectboard.
The Selectboard signed appointments for the Cultural Council.
Farmer Winery Pouring Permit
Nancy reported that the Commonwealth has issued on their end and now the town just needs to determine its fee and do the same. She inquired with other towns. Hadley charges $25 for theirs. She inquired with various towns and the fee ranged from $20 to $50. Jean inquired as to how frequently the permits must be renewed. Randy responded it’s an annual matter. Jean had a few questions regarding the overall process which Randy and Wayne both elaborated on. The overall number of licenses the town can issue is limited by several factors including population and what the General Court approved as part of the original approval of the towns liquor licensing. Nancy provided further information explaining each category the town has the authority to issue under.
A motion was made by Randy to set the fee at $25. Wayne seconded and the motion passed without objection.
The Selectboard determined to table the minutes from July 15, 2019 until the next meeting of the Selectboard.
A motion to adjourn at 8:59 pm was made by Wayne. The motion was seconded by Jean and passed unanimously.
Jakob K. Hamm, Selectboard Clerk