Town of New Salem Selectboard

Meeting Minutes

 January 25, 2021

Held Virtually via Zoom

Convened: 7:00 pm

Present: Randy Gordon, Wayne Hachey, Jean Derderian, Selectboard; Nancy Aldrich, Town Coordinator; Nancy Slator, New Salem News; MaryEllen Kennedy, MLP Director; Kathy Soule-Regine, Sue Dunbar, MLP Board; Calvin Layton, Lisa Finestone, Bruce Spencer, Tree Committee; Rose Lyman; Jackson Goddard; Marney Ashbourne; Jeanne Clayton

Selectboard Reviewed & Signed the Following:

  • Payroll & Vendor Warrants

Discussion Items

Update on Broadband System & Finances

Kathy started off by providing an update since the last meeting. The fiber distribution network is complete with one exception. The ongoing issue being an access issue on East Eagleville that requires a project by National Grid. In the meantime, support from various parties is there to keep the fire under National Grid. In the meantime, the town has connected with Shutesbury and Wendell. The installation for the free standard installations for those who signed up during the project has wrapped up. Now a $300 subsidy is what is offered for offsetting the costs for installation. These are for those who didn’t sign up originally. There are some houses under construction or waiting to be rented that are in process for signup. One of the challenges this year has been COVID-19 which struck during the beginning of the installation process. She noted that Whip City Fiber helped a lot, mostly by coming up with an exterior installation solution that allowed installations to continue despite the pandemic. Eventually they were able to go back to interior installations once the Commonwealth worked out the protocols. Still their work speaks volumes. Kathy then reported on a monthly partners meeting which is an ongoing meeting with towns either under construction or beginning the process. This has been integral to the Federal Life Line Program where people can get a small subsidy just over $9 from the Federal government. This has been somewhat tricky as the signup process has to be done through the Federal system and that’s been something that is been in process. She then reported on the work being done for enough interconnections needed for this. It would bring in around $52,000 in total funds to the MLP to benefit the town. Kathy then turned to WiredWest. WiredWest really makes things easier for the town has they handle all of the administrative work.

There are ongoing contract negotiations and research on a variety of things that as we move forward will become part of operations. She noted that Whip City Fiber has already begun setting up a network to increase the stability of the system. This will allow additional opportunities to roll over to different resources should something fail. She then noted that the public Wi-Fi remains in place. There are sufficient funds remaining to complete the remaining build out when its ready. Full operations have been in place for about three weeks. There are six months’ worth of operations before that that demonstrate that this system will be self-sustaining and be capable of absorbing its own costs. The town has been saved significant resources by connections between offices to the new broadband fiber system. The savings from dropping Verizon services alone has been significant. Work will be done with the Town Treasurer to rapidly repay the second borrowing for this project. That borrowing was necessary because of the lag time between when the funds would be needed and when and if additional state funds would come in. The state funds came through as hopped so the second borrowing can be paid off. The first borrowing continues and the MLP will contribute towards that debt service and will also include discussion with the Town Treasurer. In the meantime, the MLP Board is meeting regularly. This will continue for a while with roughly weekly meetings. The MLP Director continues to meet with various officials at the Commonwealth level. After over two years of work and a bill at the General Court, the town has finally obtained its formal easement from the Commonwealth for the Quabbin Reservoir land. Kathy then formally thanked other members of the MLP Board. They have all been through this thick and thin.

Proposal to Appoint Deputy Tree Warden

Randy started off by noting that the document the Tree Committee sent was sent in Pages and was not openable. Lisa responded that she’s resent it in a different format that should be openable. She then summarized. Many towns have Deputy Tree Wardens. This is common because the Tree Warden position is often combined with the Highway Chief position for many reasons, but it also means that the Tree Warden is often very busy with other duties. So having a Deputy Tree Warden assists. Tree Wardens according to MGL can appoint a Deputy Tree Warden. So that appointment would be up to the Tree Warden but it is assumed that the recommendation of the Selectboard would carry weight. Jean asked how things would be different with the Deputy. Lisa responded that this official would be responsible for keeping an eye on the trees in town and fielding community member’s comments on trees that might be dangerous. Then that official would look at the trees, tag them, and arrange with the Tree Warden for removal of hazardous trees. The Tree Committee has been doing the identification of trees and working with the Tree Warden to remove the trees. But this hasn’t been happening in a timely fashion and having this Deputy Tree Warden would assist in that process. Calvin noted that the General Court has been working on a bill for several years that would require the Tree Warden to have credentials. This tracks with what was done with Animal Control Officers and other similar officials. So towns really should work towards getting a certified arborist among other accreditation. There was a question regarding how that bill would impact Tree Wardens which are in some towns elected.

Calvin responded that while it is appointed in New Salem, those towns that do have elected ones will likely have to determine within that new statutory process how to respond. Jean then asked about the proposed stipend and whether the propose amount would attract the type of person needed and how costs budget wise would be dealt with. Lisa responded that the Tree Committee has the budget to support those kinds of costs. She noted that many towns pay around $1,500 or so a year. This often doesn’t really cover things for many but that is what is generally paid. Jean expressed the understanding that this is essentially a volunteer position like most such positions in town and she wondered if the proposed $500 for this now would end up needing to be increased. She submitted that we really have to look at these things as positions and not just at who is willing to volunteer for what amount. Lisa responded this would be a good start and hopefully any successors over time would be qualified and any increases needed would be addressed. Randy asked where the funding would come from. Nancy Aldrich submitted it would likely need to come out of the existing budget for the Tree Committee. Jackson then asked about the news of the Emerald Ash Borer. Lisa responded that it has been found in Orange and Wendell and seen in Petersham. Calvin felt it likely to be in New Salem already just not officially found. Wayne then asked if this decision could be tabled until the next meeting due to technical difficulties he was experiencing. Lisa responded that it would be fine to wait as details may still need to be worked out. Still she felt this would be an improvement that would free up the Tree Committee as well as the Tree Warden. Randy expressed support for the creation of the position, but agreed that this should wait for Wayne to be able to better participate.  

Direct Local Technical Assistance Project Request Form

Nancy reported that this has been setup a little different then from the past. This is from the FRCOG and is a list of various projects that the town can express interest in. Nancy reminded this is a list where the town can suggest it wants help from FRCOG for technical interest. So they’re looking for a contact for each project and so forth. Randy noted that New Salem has done this just about every year. Given the technical difficulties for Wayne in participation Randy asked if this could wait until the next meeting. Nancy Aldrich had some concern with waiting noting the timeline for submission, but conceded that New Salem has been late in submission in the past so it could wait. Nancy then went over some of the options. These being: a community food assessment, the next is culvert assessment, managing flood risks, pollinator habitat corridor, regional water supply study, brownfields redevelopment support, community economic development projects, creative place making, the Deerfield River outdoor recreation study, housing planning and implementation technical assistance, incentivized opportunity zones, the small town housing working group, local official continuing education workshops, fostering of municipal engagement and involvement, rural policy plan implementation, and vaccination planning, delivery, and review. Nancy provided commentary on each as to what the town has done in the past and what doesn’t apply to New Salem. She then noted some other services such as the IT services sharing, other municipal services sharing, HR sharing, public purchasing ideas, public health sharing, and the similar. Nancy noted some ways that these can be utilized by the town among others. Transportation topics include EV charging station assistance, older driver mobility and safety, recreation marijuana assistance, open space and recreation plans, regional planning assistance for things like large scale utility projects. Other things include zoning and by-law support as well.

Randy noted a few items that might be useful. These include trainings, the vaccination planning, shared services for things like public safety, and the transportation services and training make sense as well. Jean stressed that succession planning is a good idea. The OSHA compliance is important and takes special expertise. So shared services on that would be great to look at. She noted that we still need to house the police in a better facility. Randy asked for clarification. Jean responded that the specific box is shared public safety on the FRCOG list. She then noted some other things that came to mind would include consideration about food security. In the given situation a food assessment would be really important to make sure nobody is suffering from food insecurity in town. She acknowledged the programs that are in place, but very much felt that in going forward it’s a good idea to do a food assessment. Randy noted that the town can check off a lot of these, but ultimately only three can be listed as the top choices.  He asked Nancy Aldrich what the significance of that top three choices are. Nancy responded that there’s no guarantee and that all that is committed to is to do best to get the top three for the town. Nancy then went over a few priorities for department heads that have some impact on the discussion such as vaccination deployment and planning. Speaking for herself, Jean felt that the succession planning and the food assessment and the OSHA choices are the top three to her. Randy had a different top three. He felt the local continuing education workshops, the COVID-19 responses, and a lot of other things that fall into the third. Perhaps the fostering of municipal engagement or the sharing of municipal services. He felt that there needs to be recognition of the situation significance of the COVID-19 response topic, but for the other topics there are a lot of candidates. It was agreed that Nancy Aldrich could check with Wayne outside of the meeting for his top three given his technical difficulties. He can hear but cannot speak in the meeting. Jean noted she also supports the local continuing education workshops. Randy further noted that the food security program appears to be more farm oriented and that it may not be precisely what is thought. In the meantime Nancy agreed to contact Wayne and to proceed with working on this topic.

Request for Dropbox Outside of Stowell Building

Nancy reported on a request for a dropbox. This is necessitated by various officials in the building who have paperwork or payments and other things that need to be dropped off. The town doesn’t need something as formal as the drop box in front of the Town Hall, but perhaps a simple box on the Stowell Building that’s a lock box could be useful. Randy was in favor of it but noted that it will need to be tracked as it being a general box would require some sorting. He further submitted that it be controlled as to how many keys are issued and how many officials have access. Nancy agreed to research the matter further.

Veterans’ Flag Holders/Flag Requests

Nancy noted there is an inquiry about any need for flag holders. It was agreed this was a question that could be answered best by Wayne. It was agreed by Randy and Jean that this could be addressed by him outside of the meeting.

Municipal Aggregation of Electricity/Low Income Discount

Nancy reported there are 28 customers in New Salem who qualify for this program. This program has been developed by Colonial to enhance renewable energy goals. The aggregation supply would remain the same, but Colonial would work to facilitate this option and it should be at no additional cost. Nancy asked for authorization to further explore the concept. Randy felt it reasonable with little downside being apparent. Jean felt anything that helps people stay in town and staying afloat is something that is good and she was totally in favor of it.

Zoom Account Purchase

Randy noted that Claire McGinnis has purchased a Zoom account with town funds and may be able to help committees, boards, and commissions with virtual meetings.

Meeting with Wendell for Succession Plans for Town Coordinator

Randy reported that talks have begun with Wendell. This is on the horizon, but the town really needs to think about this and other succession plans going forward and careful planning will need to be instituted.

Minutes

The Selectboard considered the minutes for December 14, 2020 and December 28, 2020 which were both tabled at the last meeting of the Selectboard, as well as the minutes of January 11, 2021. Jean submitted some updates for the December 28, 2020, minutes. It was agreed to continue tabling those minutes as well as the January 11, 2021 minutes. In the meantime, it was agreed to approve the minutes for December 14, 2020.

A motion to approve the December 14, 2020 minutes was made by Jean and seconded by Randy. The motion passed by majority vote.

A motion to adjourn at 8:01 pm was made by Jean. The motion was seconded by Randy and passed by majority vote.

Respectfully Submitted

Jakob K. Hamm, Selectboard Clerk