Town of New Salem Selectboard

Meeting Minutes

 February 22, 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; Calvin Layton, Lisa Finestone, Bruce Spencer, Tree Committee; Dan Hammock, Brian Casey, New Salem Academy; Brad Foster, 1794 Meetinghouse; Zara Dowling, Green Communities; Nour Elkhattaby Strauch, Life Path; Denise Allard, Mark Cappadona, Colonial Power; Mary-Ann Palmieri; Jackson Goddard

Selectboard Reviewed & Signed the Following:

  • Payroll & Vendor Warrants

Discussion Items

Age & Dementia Friendly Initiative

Nour began by briefly introducing himself. He works for a company called Life Path. He was present to talk about the Age Friendly Communities Program which is an entity that has a global community and has gained some grant funding. The program includes a focus on older adults. In the past 100 years the demographic makeup is changing considerably due to many advances in health and life span. Communities are now looking different. By 2034 there will be more adults over age 65 then people 18 or younger. This has already happened in Franklin County as of 2016 and will happen nationwide. He noted that public policy and infrastructure really hasn’t addressed this. This program started with a World Health Organization program. There are four phases that take 3-5 years each. This starts with enrollment, assessment, implementation, and planning. AARP is a partner and has helped develop a framework for implementation. Things to consider are housing, transportation, social inclusion, communication, information, as well as other things like public spaces. Their work also includes integrating dementia friendly policies. There are about 500 communities across the country and 70 communities in Massachusetts. In Franklin County the only community is Deerfield, although Sunderland has begun the process. He then noted a few different models for initiatives. Brookline established a home sharing advisory service to promote better use of existing housing to meet the need of seniors. He contrasted larger communities from smaller ones and how the projects and programs would be substantially different. Projects part of the innovative are community driven. To receive the designation there is a commitment letter that must be endorsed by the Selectboard. He then went over free training that can be provided to assist the town with the process. Entities in the town to be partnered with would include the Council on Aging, non-profits, interfaith organizations, and other community stakeholders. Lisa asked about housing and any assistance with obtaining funding for age friendly housing and if this innovative might help.

Nour responded that affordable housing for seniors is a substantial challenge, but yes, this innovative would work to assist seniors in a number of ways for affordable housing mostly on the policy level. Massachusetts has less than 40 percent of what is needed to provide adequate affordable housing for seniors. Some funding might be available including some private ones such as Tufts and AARP. But he stressed that the process is community driven and if this is the subject New Salem wants to focus on it could be pursued. He also stressed that part of what this innovative can do is provide a conduit for ideas from community to community as New Salem is not alone in this concern. Brad noted he is involved with a non-profit, the 1794 Meetinghouse, and asked to be included. Nour was happy to provide contact information for follow up. Jean asked how Nour found New Salem. Nour responded he’s from Hatfield, but Life Path has been working to connect to communities via a lot of different ways. He just did a presentation for Wendell and has been working with the Village Neighbors. Mary-Anne responded by noting that Village Neighbors was very glad to hear about this project and to bring this to the town. Jean asked where the funding is coming from, whether it is the WHO, or otherwise. She also asked for further resources from Life Path. Nour responded that this isn’t a direct affiliated WHO program. Just an innovative that originated with the WHO. He then outlined the general terms. The program is really about supporting the community with an end goal of hopefully assisting communities to achieve improvements for seniors. Because this is built on what a community wants it will be driven by that community, but Life Path can also assist in a number of ways including helping share information from community to community on what works and what ideas have been thought of. Jean asked about the timeline and what the letter of commitment entails and whether there are any restrictions as part of this program. Nour responded that the timeline accepts that each stage can be 3-5 years. They would start with a needs assessment. For the commitment letter it actually isn’t substantive in the sense that it only requires the town to basically promise to be more age friendly. It isn’t binding beyond that. So there are no community restrictions, no dues, fees, or mandates. Jean asked for examples of policies. Nour responded by outlining a recent example. Wayne asked if there is a boilerplate letter that the Selectboard can review. Nour provided a template letter the town could model off. Wayne asked if the entire Selectboard needs to sign or whether it would just be the chair. Nour responded that it can be either. Randy noted that fundamentally and generally speaking all of this makes sense. He noted that New Salem has limited means, but assuming there is no rush the Selectboard would review and potentially approve the letter at another meeting. Nour assured there are no financial hooks to this and the timeline isn’t so urgent that the town needs to rush.

Municipal Aggregation of Electricity/Low Income Discount – Next Steps

Mark began by broadly explaining the program. The town is nothing more than a facilitator. The program works by the town signing off on a contract that it would take part in a solar program where the solar developer gets additional incentives from the state to sell to a low income participant. The town is already aggregating and Colonial as part of that is now aware of the households that would qualify. This would be opt-out and if they don’t opt-out they’ll see a lower rate. The savings is .02 cents. And if the towns broader aggregation plan saw an increase of its rate the discount would still follow and those on this program would still have a further discounted rate. So what the town can do is say yes we’ll take the power for low income takers in town who are identified. If customers don’t wish to participate they can opt-out without feel or penalty and they can always return to the program without any fee or penalty. He did note some DOER and DPU considerations that are part of this. But the town can get its ducks in a row and participate. Wayne asked about the strictness of the program. Mark responded that it would be for residential. Zara asked how different this rate is from the standard rate. Mark further elaborated on how the bill works and how the benefit occurs. Zara then asked about the solar developer. Mark responded they get a .06 cents adder. Zara felt that the incentive is far larger for the developer. Mark responded that the initial proposal was .01 cents. It took a lot to get this to the .02 cents. He then outlined how this works in the Commonwealth and the SMART program. He noted that the adder is an incentive to ensure some of the later solar programs work and that clean energy can be brought affordably to low income people. Zara felt the town may want to consider other options before agreeing to this. Especially if this involves some sort of 20-year commitment. Mark responded that the town could always add other programs. All the town is doing is facilitating here and if another program comes along that can be pursued as well. He suggested that there are some ways to customize and noted ways New Salem could partner with Wendell.

Mark also reminded that there really haven’t been a lot of programs like this in recent years for low income specifically. Zara asked about that 20-year commitment again. Mark responded that there is a lot of flexibility in this program and the discount can be adjusted. This model being built into existing Commonwealth programs would result in streamlining with the bills so very little confusion for citizens. Zara asked if the town could switch to another program. Mark responded it comes down to a commitment to accept a certain amount of power. The town can always add further programs. This isn’t a hard sell, but as time moves on the discount may lower. Still the town should do its due diligence. Nancy Aldrich interjected to note that this contract is with the solar developer and Colonial is only the administrator. Mark stated that was correct and elaborated on the precise relationship and agreements which would be entered into. Colonial would be included only for the administration piece. As for the timeframe, they’re all for 20 years. Zara asked what would happen if the town dropped down to only one individual. Mark responded that they would assist the town is re-directing that obligation to buy the power to another town. Colonial has a substantial enough customer base to assist. Jean asked how many people would qualify and also asked about the opt-out. Nancy responded there are 20 low income customers in town at this time. Mark then responded to the opt-out part of the question and elaborated on how customers would do so. Jean asked to see copies of the documents. Mark was perfectly happy to supply everything. Randy asked what the timeline would be. Mark responded broadly that there is likely plenty of time and New Salem can very much conduct due diligence. This isn’t something that has to be done tomorrow. Nancy Aldrich then noted that Colonial has been a great partner to date for the town in getting its aggregation setup and is helping people in town save money. Randy agreed noting that most people are a fan of hearing, “we want to help you save money.” He expressed general support but agreed that the town should take its time to ensure all are comfortable. Mark felt the town had time but also promised to let the town know if something changes unexpectedly.  

Old Academy Building Lease Extension

Nancy Aldrich began by reporting that Town Counsel has said the 5-year renewal is all that the town can do under the existing lease. Anything longer would require an RFP and a longer term lease through that process. Randy noted that it may be worth just pursuing the 5-year renewal with the thought that a longer term lease can be pursued later. Still he asked Nancy if a future lease could readily be done for a long term period through a simple RFP process. Nancy responded that once the value exceeds $25,000 the town has to advertise in the Central Register. This would require the substantive RFP process that 1794 Meetinghouse is going through now. Jean was curious to know why 5 years is the limit for an extension. Still she didn’t see a reason to not go through the RFP noting they really aren’t a big deal. Nancy interjected that the current lease outlines renewal as a 5-year period which is why that’s the limit. Dan noted that the rent is around $2,500 a year so the longest the term could be to avoid the $25,000 rule would allow a roughly 10-year period. In the meantime, he would consult his fellow Trustees as to their willingness to go through the RFP process. Randy clarified that the lease defines renewal for 5 years. Nancy responded that it does and she was not sure the 10 years would be allowed noting it is not as simple as adding years to the agreement. Randy felt that there is clearly no opposition for the Academy to use the building. This isn’t a matter of determining between competing tenants. If the current ability to renew for 5 years is acceptable then that is worth doing. If the Academy is looking for grant funding like the 1794 Meetinghouse is looking for then perhaps the RFP process is worth going through. Dan wondered if the town and the Academy could simply change the lease for a different period. Nancy Aldrich responded that MGL doesn’t permit that.

Jean noted we have to look to the language of the lease. Still she had a question as to what triggers the $25,000 threshold. Nancy responded it’s the value of the lease. Wayne expressed favor in signing the a 5-year lease renewal. The lease expires in April and there’s no reason not to just extend by 5-years. Dan was amendable to that with the hope that a later addendum might be added if it’s possible to add time to the lease. Otherwise he had no issue with considering the RFP process. Brad interjected to explain what the 1794 Meetinghouse is doing and why. He couldn’t speak to other things, but in terms of an RFP the 1794 Meetinghouse would be willing to help with models for the Trustees of the New Salem Academy. Brian asked if the information regarding the RFP could be shared so that the Trustees can consider the process. Nancy agreed to provide a sample. Brian asked if the town has any concerns with the Academy doing the RFP process. Nancy responded she had no concerns and left it to the Selectboard. Randy reminded this is mostly just about following applicable law and doing it in the most efficient way. Dan responded that pursuing the 5-year renewal would seem prudent and consideration can be made for the RFP process for the future. Jean noted that the value in a lease can be contingent on a number of factors that aren’t always included. Perhaps the threshold value can be considered in a different way. Randy submitted that the cost of this lease is mostly based on funding maintenance of the building. The real cost being currently the cost of an alarm system. Wayne and Jean both noted that system has been required by the Fire Chief. Wayne in particular noted that there may be a cheaper option. Randy submitted that if that could be done he had no issue with considering a lower lease amount. In the meantime, it was agreed to pursue the 5-year extension. Nancy submitted that would only require a vote.

A motion was made by Jean to extend the lease by 5-years of the existing lease for the Old Academy Building with the Trustees of the New Salem Academy. The motion was seconded by Wayne and passed unanimously.

1794 Meetinghouse RFP/Lease Proposals

Brad recapped the current situation and comments provided by Town Counsel. Most of Town Counsel’s changes were fine, but there were two clauses that we of concern. One was a clause about the lessee having to abide by rules the town would have to abide by which arouse the concern about the application of prevailing wage. It appears that solely because it is a town building prevailing wage applies. Brad then turned to the other concerns which added together appears to indicate this may be the wrong path. He suggested the town consider selling the 1794 Meetinghouse to the nonprofit. This would address the concerns and would allow for the buildings preservation. The 1794 Meetinghouse’s board is in support of pursing an option either to continue the RFP and lease matter or the potential purchase of the building. Still He acknowledged that a sale would likely require town meeting approval. Jean felt that this a fundamentally significant property and that this would be very different from the agenda item for discussion. She submitted this should be brought back on the next agenda. Nancy Aldrich agreed. Wayne interjected that any repairs under $10,000 could potentially avoid prevailing wage. That said, he conceded that the 1794 Meetinghouse wants to do far more work than that. Nancy responded that everything is at prevailing wage. The under $10,000 has nothing to do with the bidding requirements that would be necessitated here. Wayne otherwise was not in favor of selling the building, but noted it likely wouldn’t be up to him. Randy felt this best on a new agenda as there will likely be a need for further public input.

Driveway Access Permit Sign-Off / Update from Building Inspector

Nancy Aldrich reported that according to the Building Inspector this is usually something that falls under the Highway Chief in other towns but he agreed to adopted it as part of the sign off for the building permit. The Building Inspector would have attended this meeting but had a medical procedure. Wayne felt that by the time the Highway Chief signs off the horse is often already out of the barn. Randy suggested that this can continue to be discussed and refined. Nancy noted that this information can be provided to the Conservation Commission and the Planning Board. But there is no way to guarantee folks will get it in time. Lisa had concerns about having a lot of committees signing off. Nancy responded that this is why having the check off on the building permit will help. Wayne noted that the Highway Chief does sign off, it’s just that its far enough down that things could fall through the cracks. Lisa suggested the information could be distributed widely including on the towns website, provided at the Town Clerk’s office and so forth. This isn’t that unusual or out of the ordinary. Bruce noted that history and reasoning behind why this is such a concern for Tree Committee. He felt it important to represent the interest of the townspeople to be notified in order to protect trees. Jean asked about whether this also deals with stonewalls. Bruce responded it does include stonewalls. Jean submitted that the Historical Commission should be included as one of the entities along with Conservation and Planning.

Randy stressed that this is both about protecting the town as well as being organized. So we want something that will help without having too much of a burden. He suggested prioritizing. Jean agreed submitting that you have the priority on the signature with simple notification to the other parties. All of the boards named don’t need authorization, really just notification depending on any applicable MGL. Wayne noted that a lot of these bodies already have to sign off in some way on the building permit anyway. He stressed that this is just getting out in front of the process to prevent damage. Lisa agreed that we don’t want this to be too burdensome. Still she saw no reason why notification can’t be provided to various bodies. Further, having information presented up front helps to ensure that people cannot claim ignorance of the law. Bruce felt that notification is essential. Lisa stressed that this achieves other goals too like updating the general driveway permit to ensure accountability and proper legible sign offs. Wayne reminded that this will go on the building permit. But he noted that if someone just buys a woodlot and doesn’t have intention to build on it, this solution won’t necessarily solve it. So we’ll need to consider that. Lisa suggested that Tree Committee could consider that aspect and report back on any ideas. In the meantime, this feels like the right track. We may not be at 100 percent, but we can still do our best to have every relevant committee and body in town had an understanding of what’s required and that they should communicate on it. Wayne the noted that Finance Committee has had some questions about the budget including the proposed stipend for the new Deputy Tree Warden. Tree Committee may need to discuss with them. Otherwise he agreed to continue working towards assisting in getting dangerous trees addressed. Calvin asked to be included so that he could act as Deputy Tree Warden and work on the subject. It was so agreed.

Schedule Date with Wendell Selectboard to Discussion Town Coordinator Replacement

Randy reported that Wendell’s Selectboard can attend the March 22, 2021 meeting of the New Salem Selectboard. Wayne saw no issue with that date noting it’s already a scheduled meeting. Wayne did suggest reviewing the sample contracts that were sent out noting that there are a number of things to consider. Randy noted that this is really discussion about how the process will work and how it will proceed.

Minutes

The Selectboard considered the minutes for January 25, 2021 and February 8, 2021. It was ultimately agreed to approve the minutes for January 25, 2021 and to table the minutes for February 8, 2021 until the next meeting. Wayne had no objections to the minutes and neither did Randy. It was determined to approve the minutes.

A motion to approve the January 25, 2021 minutes was made by Wayne and seconded by Randy. The motion passed by majority vote.

A motion to adjourn at 8:55 pm was made by Wayne. The motion was seconded by Jean and passed by majority vote.

Respectfully Submitted

Jakob K. Hamm, Selectboard Clerk