Town of New Salem Selectboard

Meeting Minutes

 March 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; Tim Newton, Board of Health Agent; Jen Potee, Karyn Briand, Cam Dunbar, Board of Health; Sarah Kohler, Planning Board; Marny Ashbourne; Dan Keller, Gillian Budine, Laurie DiDonato, Wendell Selectboard; Claire McGinnis, Finance Committee; Joe Cuneo, Fire Chief; Mary-Ann Palmari, COA; Nour Elkhattaby Strauch, Life Path; Larry Eaton; Lisa Finestone, Tree Committee; Fred Heyes

Selectboard Reviewed & Signed the Following:

  • Payroll & Vendor Warrants
  • Seasonal Pouring License – New Salem Cider
  • Age & Dementia Friendly Community Letter of Support

Discussion Items

Meeting with Wendell Selectboard

  • Discussion Town Coordinators Position, Advertising, Hiring, Contract & Budgeting for Transition

Randy began by asking about the dates to post a job position as well as where to do the postings. Claire responded by outlining the budget situation and noting that so far there is only a $3,000 increase in the budget. Randy noted that Wendell’s recent process for conducting interviews for another position really worked well and was streamlined. He suggested New Salem and Wendell do something similar in a manner that would consist of both Selectboard’s acting jointly. Nancy interjected to note that the Town Treasurer has come up with an amount to budget for the transition, including two weeks training and her remaining vacation time. This has been shared with Wendell’s Finance Committee. There was a question from Dan regarding the question of advertising suggesting The Recorder and a few other papers. Laurie felt that if the advertising was done in May it could work. Gillian agreed saying that it should be the first week of May. Randy suggested working in April to get everything ready for start of May. It was so agreed. Dan then put forward that the interviews be done either as two full boards or a subset of the two Selectboards. Wayne felt confident both Selectboards could act jointly. Randy agreed. Dan further suggested separate joint meetings to conduct interviews. Randy agreed asking how the postings would work. It was submitted that joint postings in both towns with both Town Clerks should be done. Claire then weighed in to say that it’s important to ensure all parties commit to the meetings so that it is the same interviewers and that there be no swapping of attendees. There was some discussion of what night to meet on. Wendell’s Selectboard usually meets on Wednesdays and New Salem’s on Mondays. It was suggested meeting on the alternate Mondays that Wendell doesn’t hold a meeting and perhaps a few Thursdays or Tuesdays. Gillian asked that the dates be scheduled quickly. Randy agreed but noted it’s hard to predict when interviews will occur until applications are received. Otherwise everything is theoretical. There was then a question of evenings versus day. It was generally felt that evening would be preferred. Jean noted she’s flexible and schedules her work days around meetings. Randy suggested Wendell decide what dates work for it and New Salem will consider them as its members are a bit more flexible. Hopefully there will be overlap.

  • Fire Chiefs Benefits

Randy started off by proposing New Salem consider sharing the costs of the Fire Chief’s health insurance. Randy noted that this is something Wendell did, and in his opinion it was because it was the right thing to do. Randy asked that the Finance Committee consider if it might be viable for New Salem to share the cost. Randy reminded that Chief Cuneo may retire in the near future and finding another great Fire Chief could be challenging if there aren’t benefits. Dan responded by thanking Randy for this idea noting Wendell would truly appreciate it. Wayne reminded that New Salem supplies a vehicle to the Chief and felt that if New Salem and Wendell are to share this cost of benefits that should be part of the calculus. Randy returned to the retirement situation noting that the town really needs to address its future endeavors with clarity of purpose and cooperation from the start. He submitted the proposal of acknowledging where the towns should be. Claire noted that Finance Committee will be holding a meeting soon and asked that if the amounts in question, whether for Town Coordinator or for Fire Chief, that they be provided between now and March 26, 2021. Nancy interjected to remind that the Town Treasurer has done an analysis of the Town Coordinator budget. Claire responded that she was aware of that analysis and asked that if there have been any changes since that was done that they provide them to Finance Committee. Claire then reported on a capital request from the Fire Chief for a replacement of his vehicle. Before addressing that request the committee has been waiting from the schools. Doing so will assist with putting the final pieces of the budget together. Joe noted he is in favor of the sharing of the benefits for his position. Claire then asked about the establishment of memorandums of understanding suggesting they should be in place for both positions. If any exist, we need to know the expiration dates. Joe responded nothing is in place for him now but there is one for Nancy. Randy submitted that the Selectboard will need to look at previous MOUs and develop something.

  • Succession Planning for Future Including Potential for Other Shared Employees

Randy suggested the creation of a new shared employee. He asked that for perhaps a year or two from now that the towns create a shared Assessors Clerk. New Salem’s Assessors Clerk has been with the town for a long time and is mostly retired but will be fully retired soon. He suggested the two towns could find cost savings on many fronts including costs of any benefits. The towns can only do so much with part time employees who can only work a few hours. Dan felt it sounded good expressing the feeling that Wendell’s Board of Assessors would benefit. Wayne reminded that professional Assessors Clerks have more training then an ordinary elected Assessor. Gillian asked what the hours were. Wayne responded about 12 to 20 hours. Gillian submitted Wendell’s hours are similar and a combined position could likely attract more applicants. Nancy reminded that Wendell’s Assessors Clerk is 24 hours a week and is benefited. Randy felt that this demonstrated that the idea is viable.

Driveway Permit – Recommendations from Tree Committee

Lisa reported that Tree Committee isn’t quite ready and asked to be on the next agenda or perhaps the one after. It was so agreed. 

Age & Dementia Friendly Community Letter of Support

Jean started off by expressing her commitment to accessible equitable for all people access to public works and for providing dementia and elderly resources. She further thanked Nour for coming back. Jean then noted some of her research and asked Nour about that research. This included what she saw as AARP’s goals and noted some concerns with the idea of mixed use community centers. They’re a great idea for purpose, but in process it may require a certain kind of zoning which would also be uniform and would eliminate some of the Planning Board’s powers relating to Special Permits. To her that means a loss of local control. She conceded this isn’t mandatory and so far that hasn’t been what’s happened in towns in Massachusetts that have adopted this. But nonetheless it is a very long term goal of the plan. With knowing that is an end goal, she felt as a former member of the Planning Board that we really need to take into consideration Planning Board and their oversight role. She conceded nothing could ultimately be mandatory as it would require votes. All that she found was sent to the relevant parties, Planning and the Selectboard, and she submitted that the parties be aware of the intentions. She had no intention to challenge good policy. She also noted some of the vectors for this already covered in the town and are also being proposed by initiatives being done by other groups in the area. Nour thanked Jean for her words and expressed appreciation for her research. He stated that she was right to look at what the ultimate goals and intentions are. In terms of policy and zoning changes that might come, AARP makes it clear they are from the age friendly process, and he stressed that there would be all sorts of things done to collect data which would result in an action plan that would make recommendations. That would include physical projects for grant funding application. AARP does make it clear that they like to share work between communities and often that includes policy changes that have worked elsewhere. But it’s understood that not everything works in every town. He noted some nearby towns that have already been working on this and suggested that there is a great opportunity here. Life Path’s goal being to have a person like him to help with collaboration between communities and to help each community develop a plan.

He reminded that Massachusetts has a lot of programs and groups and there are many areas to look at grant funding. Again this will only be for resource sharing and nothing is mandated. Further data gathered would be shared with Planning Boards in towns participating. Jean asked about that data and asked about privacy issues and how that data would be controlled. Nour responded in terms of privacy all data as to identity is done anonymously. The data will be shareable and disassociated for any individual. They’ll employee multiple methods like community surveys done on paper and online. Some interviews may be done, but again the data will be anonymous in how its presented. They’ll look at percentages of older adults and determine various things being dealt with. The idea being to identify issues and courses of action. The data would otherwise be protected and Life Path does follow HIPPA. All sharable data will be anonymous and shareable as data points. No personal information would be shared. Claire asked about a “frame” around this asking what in simple terms is being proposed. Nour responded that the proposal is a project that enrolls towns into a network of age friendly cities and communities with multiple phases that would build toward finding solutions and bringing about action. He then suggested some sharable materials that go into further detail. Claire asked if this is a vote to sponsor the policy or whether it goes to town meeting. Nour responded that they have created a steering committee for the region with representatives from different towns. They’ll then create working groups within that. No hours are mandated. Participation is voluntary. This is community lead from different stakeholders, sectors, and organizations. They are asking at this point for the letter of support. Mary-Ann interjected to say that there are a lot of small groups working together here and what is being proposed will help move that forward. Claire appreciated that noting that the town is aging and we need to do things to both help older people as well as attract younger people. While she agreed that all things should be done to help people age in place, the town is also balancing in terms of zoning and community to be good for all age groups.

Sarah then spoke. She noted that the Planning Board was late in hearing about this. She expressed some concerns for her and Planning Board about this and asked the Selectboard to wait and give Planning Board some due diligence. The main concern is with the availability of grants and the understanding of grants being available only to participants. They won’t meet until April. Nour responded there is no requirement that the town be a part of this to participate in most if not all of the grant applications. Being part of the network certainly helps, but it’s not a requirement. He further noted the Commonwealth’s grants and the fact that the Commonwealth considers age friendly projects for some of its grants. Life Path has the grants to do the work for needs assessments and action plans. Nothing is binding and the town doesn’t have to provide financial support. It does not restrict any board or committee from doing their work. It just connects communities and towns to share best practices. Towns are able to decide if any of it makes sense for them or not. And there really aren’t hard deadlines and towns can always study projects over years. Often this helps bring three or four towns together to share and work toward common goals. He noted that New Salem already does that by example of this meeting, such as shared positions with Wendell. This kind of program just encourages that sort of idea and thinking but especially towards age friendly projects. Jean noted in light of Sarah and Claire’s questions that it might be good to wait on making this decision. She was not opposed, but felt that due diligence must be done. This is a specific model and it may or may not be in the best interests of the town. Wayne noted back at the original presentation Nour said New Salem could opt out at any time. Nour confirmed that. He acknowledged Jeans concerns but clarified that the models are examples and are not the ultimate goal. The AARP model is the needs assessment with a tailored action plan thereof. What results here will be unique. Randy noted he’s read the materials presented as well as what Jean has sent. Everything appears optional. By joining this zoning laws cannot be forced. No matter what the legal process stays the same. All that changes are that we join a network. He expressed support for signing the letter of support. He conceded that Planning Board may have concerns, but again, nothing can be forced to change by this that is outside of the normal process as set out by MGL. Mary-Ann asked if this could be voted on. Wayne noted that while he supports this, it should not be forgotten that this is a Planning Board matter to some extent but again Randy is right that there is a legal process and they will be in involved. Randy then responded to Mary-Ann’s request by asserting control of the floor as chair via the mute function and asked for a motion.

A motion was made by Wayne to approve the signing of the letter of support. Randy seconded and the motion passed by majority vote.

Tim Newton, Health Agent, re: Lovers Lane

Tim reported he’s here in regards to 16 Lovers Lane. It is in extreme disrepair with one side of the house falling down. There was a tax taking and a foreclosure. It was unclear to him if any of this was executed on. He condemned the property in December 2020. He asked if it would be all right for him to consult with Town Counsel to determine the legal response from here. If this property isn’t cared for by the 12 owners, the town should consider taking it, demolishing the unsafe structure, and place a lien on the property if that has not already been done. Wayne noted he’s researched the matter. It’s pretty obvious to him with any luck that the town might break even, but it could cost the town. The issue would be the lot sold wouldn’t likely fully recoup the costs. He was uncertain if there are any options to charge the owners, but that seems unlikely. As far as he can tell it’s complicated. Randy reported that the town has taken this through Land Court per the Town Treasurer. It is the towns and under her offices control. She can lawfully auction it and could require any purchaser demolish the building. Tim noted the structure is very much in disrepair and is unsafe. It really must be demolished. Some action must be taken. Randy noted that the process according to the Town Treasurer will take months to complete and submits that the town consider obtaining a liability policy for that particular property. Obviously no one should be going there, but the town in his mind should consider such a policy. Wayne asked Cam about Fire Dept. and any structural burns. Cam responded he’d have to defer to the Fire Chief. As for his Board of Health hat, his position is that it be demolished or rehabilitated whichever is quicker and cheaper. Wayne conceded that while it’s a nice lot in a good location, this will be a challenge. Cam agreed and suggested putting some kind of barrier or fencing up. Joe then interjected to say it’s too close to another house to be safely control burned.

Randy submitted the liability cost won’t be entirely cheap, possibly as high as $1,500, but the town should likely obtain it. The end goal would be to do whatever possible to at least break even. Tim asked that if this can go to auction that it go, but again stressed that some resolution has to happen to the building. He felt caution tape and/or fencing with postings not to trespass be put. A disclaimer and the like. If we can do that we can satisfy the health concern. Wayne suggested if we can simply sell it with the understanding that the lot has to be cleaned up it could be possible to break even. Jean asked what the cost to the town would be to clean up. Randy responded that there isn’t an established cost at this stage but there are some concerns and hazards that must be dealt with. It is currently unsafe and must be addressed. The Land Court process only recently concluded. Joe suggested that the town should research the posting issue as in a private capacity there can still be liability should someone trespass and injure themselves. Wayne interjected that he did get a rough estimate years ago and it was about $50,000. But the lot at the time was only worth about $45,000. Randy asked Nancy if she could do a little research on the lots dimensions and assessed value. The lot is in a nice location near an orchard and has good views. In the meantime, the Town Treasurer will continue to do her work which should hopefully help with obtaining some kind of market value or valuation for the property. Regardless the town will need to protect itself from liability in the near term. Randy then asked who should put up signage and any fencing needed. Wayne submitted that he has some fencing he could donate and Highway Dept. could likely put it up. Cam felt that Highway would likely be the best and they can potentially bill Board of Health for some of it. Even orange snow fencing might help. Anything that discourages and makes it tougher to access the property. He suggested that Board of Health will meet soon and can discuss this as well. It was agreed all parties Health, Highway, and Selectboard would work together to answer the questions and pursue action on this.

Old Post Office

Lisa asked about the Old Post Office and its status. Randy responded that the concern with Lovers Lane is dangerous. The Old Post Office is more of an eyesore but isn’t unsafe at this time. It’s sort of in a spot where potentially the town could stretch its land a bit more or perhaps the abutter could buy it. But the town has kept it. Regardless, he agreed to ask the Town Treasurer about its status. Lisa noted that building is surrounded by not only some trees but also some invasive vines that we may want to consider dealing with. Wayne noted that the building wouldn’t be hard to deal with. It’s rather small and could be cleaned up. Randy recalled that it’s a rather old building and it should be determined if its historical or not prior to any demolition. Jean asked if Highway Dept. could help with both. Wayne responded it would be beyond their abilities and could hold liability. But the Old Post Office he could do himself as it’s such a small building.

Police Reform Law – Part Time Officer Training

Randy reported on the new legislation that the General Court is considering as further reform after its recent police reform law known as the Act Relative to Justice, Equity & Accountability in Law Enforcement. If the additional reform law being discussed passes there will be a time period where part time officers will need to sort out their required training and accreditation over three years. The training is something like 400 hours. So part time officers would have a challenge in obtaining those hours. So the town needs to be aware and we’ll see what happens. Randy then reported on work being done on the county level as well as the conversations being had between towns and the State Senator for the region.

Highway Dept. Clerk Position

Randy briefly outlined the position which would help the Highway Chief with some of the paperwork and bills to ensure they are done appropriately and on time. Wayne noted that there’s been some difficulty with that and this position is not a new one, it’s just been vacant for about a year. Wayne recalled that Jake Hamm offered to fill the position with it to be a stipend position. The cost would be $2,600 annually. Jake interjected to say this is just processing bills and as for Chapter 90 only bill processing would be done. No gathering of other substantive work like bids or chasing vendors as that would be the Highway Chief’s job with support from the Town Coordinator. It was so agreed.

A motion was made by Wayne to hire Jake Hamm to this position. The motion was seconded by Jean and passed unanimously.

Date for Annual Town Meeting

Randy suggested an evening in June be considered. Cam wearing his Town Moderator hat suggested June 14. Nancy agreed with that date feeling it would provide enough time and submitted that June 15 be the date for spill over or as a rain date. Cam felt that it should start no later than 6 pm given daylight. We’ll want to hold this outside like last year. Randy proposed 5 pm. Cam agreed with that and suggested the same time for both dates. It should provide at least 3 hours of good daylight.

Quote for Replacing Stowell Building Front Door

Wayne reported that he was expecting a quote before this meeting but hasn’t had it. Randy noted that the number really needs to be sorted out. Wayne agreed wanting a solid number. He asked this be postponed to the next meeting. It was so agreed.

Seasonal Pouring License – New Salem Cider

This is an annual license that is issued. It was agreed by the Selectboard to sign off on the license.

Minutes

The Selectboard considered the minutes for February 22, 2021 and March 8, 2021. It was ultimately agreed to approve the minutes for February 22, 2021 and to table the minutes for March 8, 2021 until the next meeting.

A motion to approve the February 22, 2021 minutes was made by Wayne and seconded by Randy. The motion passed by without objection.

A motion to adjourn at 8:00 pm was made by Wayne. The motion was seconded by Randy and passed by majority vote.

Respectfully Submitted

Jakob K. Hamm, Selectboard Clerk