Town of New Salem Selectboard

Meeting Minutes

 May 18, 2021

Held Virtually via Zoom

Convened: 7:00 pm

Present: Randy Gordon, Wayne Hachey, Hugh Mackay, Selectboard; Nancy Aldrich, Town Coordinator; Gabriele Voelker, Town Treasurer & Finance Committee; Claire McGinnis, Chuck Hartwell, Finance Committee; Jean Derderian, Historical Commission; Jen Potee, Cam Dunbar, Board of Health; Brad Foster, 1794 Meetinghouse; David Cramer, Planning Board; Joe Cuneo, Fire Chief; Stacy Senflug, Town Clerk

Selectboard Reviewed & Signed the Following:

  • Payroll & Vendor Warrants

Discussion Items

FY22 Budget Issues

  • Non-Shared Town Coordinator’s Position – Number of Hours, Rate of Pay

Gabe started off by providing a brief overview of the Finance Committees last meeting. The first thing was the salary benefit impact for the Town Coordinator. They changed the salary amount to $45,000 and added some other things like $3,000 for vacation payout. Claire confirmed the increase is $21,800 to that line overall for New Salem. Randy asked how many hours this would cover. Gabe responded it would be 30 hours. Randy asked if this would be the top end amount. Gabe responded that what you do is you put a range in the ad depending on experience. This would indeed constitute the high range. But it really depends on your applications. She stressed the need for grant writing and a few other items. Claire agreed noting this really was the ceiling as far as Finance felt for what was needed. Randy noted that Wendell is doing a pay cut to their version. He felt that it was a wrong direction expressing the feeling that the $40,000 range is better. Claire suggested that they may have put out a low number. Nancy agreed submitting they are willing to hire someone without much experience. Wayne reminded that you don’t want to go up, you want to hire them and if they turned out to be very qualified you then negotiate it. You don’t want to start at a high number then negotiate down. Gabe stressed that you want to hire the best candidate for the best you can pay. You want longevity and for them to do a good job. She reminded all of the history of Nancy’s tenure. The town hired someone else first, it didn’t work out, and Nancy was hired thereafter. The town should do better this time if possible. Hugh concurred, if we have a number like $45,000, we should advertise for lower like say $42,000 so there is room to negotiate. Randy felt that perhaps it would be better to leave out a specific number. He suggested using Wendell’s ad as a template. Gabe expressed the opinion that a wage range is best. You cannot legally ask people what their current pay is at an existing job. So seeing the wage helps weed out people who would expect higher wages. Hugh agreed with that noting that lots of people job search with that in mind. Randy noted a few things to consider as to what could cause a shift in the range for wages feeling we should have some flexibility. For example, we could find someone whose great who can do it for 24 hours instead of 30 hours. Hugh submitted that could be part of the interview process too. He stressed that the direction is to expand the role a little bit. If someone can do it in less than 30 hours that might work. It would depend on the candidate. Randy submitted that the range could be based on hours simply 30 hours running $41,250 to $45,000, and for 24 hours it would be more like $33,000 to $36,000. Claire noted this budget is for the highest possible combination of things done in order to allow room to negotiate. Randy suggested having an ad say 24 to 30 hours with starting wage of $25 an hour. Randy noted he crunched those numbers and it makes sense. Nancy agreed to work up some language of the ad. It will be posted in a number of places including MMA a newspaper, and possibly something like Indeed.

  • Tree Committee Budget – Reinstated?

Gabe began by conceding a strong argument was made for keeping this. Tree Committee is now cooking with gas and spending its money. So Finance Committee is happy to restore this. Hopefully things will continue to follow through and this much needed work will be done. They have close to $20,000 accumulated over time. Chuck noted that in previous years the new amount put in was $5,000, but this year it will be $3,000.

  • Fire Chief Benefits 

Gabe reported on the Finance Committees position. The committee remains firm in not being in favor. This position was never combined and New Salem never agreed to benefiting this position. This position is unanimous. Randy reminded that this won’t impact Chief Cuneo as his benefits won’t change. The party that would benefit most immediately from this would be Wendell. Hugh asked if this is something we might revisit in the future. Nothing changes for the current person, but what about the future. Gabe reminded that this was never joint and Wendell has already parted from New Salem over the Town Coordinator which was joint. So if we do in fact do this we have to have a written agreement. Thus if New Salem wishes to hire someone jointly with another town that’s fine, but we must have a written formal agreement. Chuck submitted that the town should consider various things like regionalization of fire services. And the retirement of the Fire Chief someday will provide the town that opportunity to consider change. Hugh agreed noting that this situation with the Town Coordinator, while somewhat unfortunate, is allowing for reassessment of the job and the vision for it. He expressed the desire to prevent harm to the person in the role now. There was then a question about providing benefits if the job wasn’t combined. Gabe responded it would have to become a 20 hour a week position per MGL. Wayne noted that New Salem is unique as to being 20 minutes away from virtually any support. So we cannot rely purely on regionalization. We need someone in town. Plus, regionalization could see our resources and trucks moved outside of its boarders for storage elsewhere which could reduce response times. We’re fairly close to Wendell which is why that arrangement works. It was agreed a motion should be done so that a vote is on record. Not that this cannot be overturned, but so that there is no ambiguity at this time. Joe Cuneo voiced his position. He expressed strong disagreement with going forward without benefits. He felt that the position should be 20 hours and that this should be a combined position with Wendell with written contract. He understands it doesn’t take anything away from him currently, but he isn’t far away from retirement. Further he felt it wrong that his replacement might have to fight for this to be done and would prefer to hand the job off to them with it in place. Randy responded that he has been extremely torn on this as he deeply appreciates Joe and the Town of Wendell. But he must agree with Finance Committee. Wendell made a unilateral decision. He personally supports it, but he cannot allow those personal feelings dictate this in his role as a Selectboard member. Hugh concurred. He recognized the desire to make this fairer, expressing the desire to avoid making a person not financially whole.

A motion was made by Wayne to uphold the Finance Committees recommendation on the benefiting of the Fire Chief’s position and maintaining the status quo. The motion was seconded by Hugh and passed unanimously.

  • Update on Mahar Budget

Gabe reported that Mahar has decided to use more of their E&D to reduce their assessment. So New Salem’s assessment is down even with the dam debt. They gave all the towns a decrease. Petersham really made a good case. New Salem wasn’t hit as hard as Wendell, Orange and Petersham were. What wasn’t funded was a restoration of the athletic budget. They had wanted to restore it but they took that out. They also have a retiring teacher they aren’t replacing. They decided to still hire the new assistant principal. Randy suggested they are just replacing a person. Gabe responded that they are adding an assistant principal. Randy thought that they were replacing someone who left. Gabe conceded that the position used to exist but it was eliminated years ago so it may be that this can be considered a restoration. Her understanding is that they need this. Randy felt that in his experience it really is hard for a principal to function without an assistant principal. He acknowledged it can be expensive, but this is his experience. Claire suggested that the real issue was how they were adding it back in given the circumstances. They restored it during a time of reduced revenue rather than increased ones. Hugh asked about things that might hit next year. Gabe responded that this year they did have a special education student come in, they’re covering with school choice. But they warned that they may not have the funds next year so that could be an increase. Mahar didn’t speak to really anything else. But they likely will ask for the athletics to be restored next year. The main issue is the Commonwealth allowed them to use CARES Act funds to balance their budget, but that isn’t being allowed anymore. The problem with these sort of funds is they are one time, so when they disappear there’s a hole in the budget. The new American Rescue Plan Act will create some more of this kind of funding, but who knows how long that will last.

  • Any Other Budget Questions from Town Coordinator in Preparation of Annual Town Meeting Warrant

There was discussion about adding an additional $50,000 in Free Cash to stabilization. This year’s Free Cash was high so it makes sense to save some of it for future needs. Randy asked if we can let Free Cash roll over. Gabe responded it can be allowed. She then provided some more information on Free Cash and how it is certified. The town can spend whatever it has by town meeting allocation throughout the year but must stop by end of June until it is re-certified by DOR. Still it’s cumulative as it can roll forward. Stabilization doesn’t require that and the town can access it by town meeting. So it’s easier. Especially if Free Cash isn’t certified quickly enough. Chuck noted that this increase is on top of what the town usually does. All this would be doing is moving from Free Cash to Stabilization. Hugh asked how the planning goes into that. Wayne noted that the town has a few different stabilizations like the Vehicle Stabilization. Chuck clarified that there are three accounts. Capital, General, and Vehicle. Traditionally we put about $50,000 into each on a yearly basis. Gabe noted we do use these to pay for things. That’s the whole purpose of them, to allow the town to save and pay cash and not use as much borrowing. She noted that that even with these titles, we can use the money in them for other things. So the general funds can be used for capital, for example. Gabe then went over a few general items. Claire then followed with some background as to how some things like the re-cap are done by the Accountant. The town has been very conservative in its numbers.

Gabe then noting some levy limit is being left on the table which will provide a small tax break to citizens. The town cannot do that every year, but this year it can be done. Chuck then turned to the Municipal Light Plant which is operating the towns broadband. There were some complications for certification of Free Cash. Gabe agreed explaining DOR’s position and how it resulted in some bookkeeping changes. Meanwhile, the MLP intends to use its profits to pay down the debt for the cost of the borrowing for broadband. They can offer about $55,000 a year on the debt. The debt is being paid for 10 years with a $150,000 a year. So the town will pay about $100,000 a year until the MLP can pay the whole thing. So a few votes will need to be taken at town meeting and DOR has provided some steps to take. The MLP isn’t an enterprise fund at this stage and so it creates some issues for the town. So DOR recommends a donations account for MLP which would allow the town to accept money from them to use for debt payments. So it’s kind of an unusual vehicle for this but that’s what they recommend. Hugh had questions about WiredWest. Gabe explained their role and how they manage the accounts and how MLP receives its revenue. So MLP can give that $55,000 figure, so this maneuver recommended by DOR will allow receipt of it and its use to pay the debt service. Claire noted it’ll be sort of like how we accept grant funds for specific purposes. So we’ll accept the donation from MLP for the purpose of paying down the debt. Chuck asked if MLP will have enough surplus in the near future for paying this debt service. Gabe responded the plan is for it to grow every year until they can pay the full amount. Right now the borrowing is on a short term loan. Now that we have the $150,000 principal range established we can go out for long term borrowing. So the extra $5,000 can be used for interest or left in the donation account for use for a future payment. MLP still has a lot of grant money still so perhaps next year they may be able to provide more. Wayne asked about connecting Eagleville. Gabe responded that the costs are being established and they have the funds to do that final work. Randy asked about any future profit. Gabe responded in about 10 years we should be able to see MLP have profit. Randy submitted this will need to be clearly explained at town meeting.

Lover’s Lane Property Taken Through Tax Title Process; Next Steps  

Randy asked about how to set a price. Gabe responded by outlining the process. She does her homework and establishes a range. Randy asked if a minimum can be put on. Gabe responded we can say we won’t accept less than a minimum dollar figure. Wayne hoped that the town would at minimum get what’s owed in taxes and that should likely be the minimum. Wayne then reported on some work done to clean up the property. The fence came down temporarily to facilitate that this work and then it will go back up.

Tax Title Status of Property on South Main Street

Randy asked if this property has been taken. Gabe responded the tax attorney has had trouble getting the decree from the Land Court. So we thought we had it, but we need the book and page number from the Land Court. So it turns out this is in process. Still, Highway has cleaned up the lot. She further noted she can use a tax title account to help pay for that clean up. Hugh asked about any decisions on this property further. Wayne responded until this is settled with the court we can’t take action. Randy agreed and reminded we don’t cut grass for every town property so upkeep for that property is something we’ll have to have further discussion on at a later date when the Land Court part is settled. Gabe noted that both this property and Lovers Lane were put in to the Land Court at the same time. We may already own this, but it’s unclear as we don’t have that decree. Wayne submitted we haven’t made a decision on how to dispose of it. We may want to auction it, or keep it as part of the Town Hall. He also thought the Town Hall’s well may sit on that property. Gabe noted that there’s a technicality here under the law. The land isn’t considered the towns yet, and once the town gets it from tax title, it is a special classification and must be moved by town meeting vote to being regular town land. Essentially accept ownership. Otherwise as long as it’s in tax lien status it has to be sold to satisfy the taxes owed. And normally that’s what you want to do. For example, we’re leaving Lover’s Lane in that status through its auction.

Appointment of Tax Title Custodian

Nancy proposed the appointment of Gabriele Voelker as the Tax Title Custodian. Gabe was mostly certain she has this right already. But Town Counsel wants to be sure of this. So this vote is to ensure that. This is continual until otherwise changed. Hugh asked if this was broad or limited. Gabe responded you keep it broad and don’t limit to a specific address. She then finished by reporting on another property that’s coming up. Randy asked if this is always associated with the Town Treasurer. Gabe responded it runs with the Treasurer position.

A motion was made by Wayne to appoint Gabe Voelker as Tax Title Custodian. The motion was seconded by Randy and passed without objection.

Speak with Potential New Legal Counsel for FY22

Randy reported that there had been hope to have someone from Merrick O’Connell to discuss this topic, but they couldn’t make it to this meeting as planned and so this will have to wait for another meeting.

Update on Opt Out of Mosquito Spraying

Hugh provided an update. There was a discussion last Thursday. The main issue was what the town might be able to do and what departments can make commitments. In particular, there were questions for Highway Department. Otherwise the main discussion focused on how to prepare the opt out plan and how to inform the public of measures. The Wendell plan was somewhat simple and Hugh expressed the desire to have more there. In the meantime, the working group setup by Board of Health will continue to meet. Wayne noted that insects are actually down in their population. He felt that we may have a serious ecological issue with any spraying. As far as Highway Department goes he was willing as the liaison to talk to them about what they may be able to do to assist. It was agreed to invite the Highway Chief to the next meeting of the group. Jen reported that we’re basically going to use Wendell’s plan and add to it. So it will be a model. As Hugh noted, there will be further refinement. But we have to submit a plan as soon as possible. So for the future we can refine it, but we need to submit. Jen then reported on some follow up that is being done. Nancy noted what her office will do and how the actual submission of the opt out plan will occur. We basically provide the minutes with true attestation and the town seal to them along with the opt out plan. Jen then turned to disseminating information to the public. There will be handouts at places like the Transfer Station and so forth with resources put forward.

Notice from DEP Regarding PFAS in Swift River School Water Supply

Randy turned to a Swift River Elementary water concern. Jen reported that the Health Agent is aware of it and is working with the school and DEP. There is a public grant that may help. The school will likely be the application as far as she understands things. Nancy was rather certain that’s likely. The town is working with them and hopefully this will be resolved. Jen noted that the grant shows us that we aren’t the only ones with this issue.

Changing to In-Person Selectboard Meetings

Randy asked Jen and Cam in relation to the state of emergency and how that will impact the town for things like meetings. Jen assured there will be further discussion after digestion of the Governor’s updated orders.  The options for the Selectboard at the moment are to keep things as is, or to perhaps use a space with sufficient social distancing. The basement of the Town Hall could work in that event. Hugh felt if the space is large enough to allow for protocols that could work. But he also felt that the Zoom format is favored by many in town and as long as we can do this that should be considered. But he was not opposed to in person. Randy felt the participation is higher with Zoom, but there are pro’s and con’s with each. Wayne noted if in person meetings happen, we’ll need masks. In person does makes warrants easier to sign. Hugh asked if we could do a hybrid. It was unclear if that could be done. Randy noted that unless you have someone managing the computer there are a lot of issues that could arise. It’s not high technology, but we’d have to think about how to manage it. Hugh suggested this discussion should remain ongoing for now. Randy asked if the next meeting on June 1 should be in person or not. Wayne suggested giving it a shot and if it doesn’t work or the townspeople are opposed we can always switch and post to Zoom. The Open Meeting Law requires 48 hours’ notice before a meeting. So we have time before we have to post. Stacy noted that as she understands it there is no internet at the Town Hall. It would be helpful for it to be there, but the buildings uncertainty is why it didn’t have broadband connected. Claire suggested that the Community Room in the Library could be an option as well and has Wi-Fi. It’s large enough to accommodate the Selectboard with social distancing. Stacy then noted some Open Meeting Law considerations to consider for any hybrid. Randy suggested more research be done. In that case Hugh felt it best to schedule the next meeting Zoom. This would allow more time for research then just two weeks. Randy felt that given the time we have we can make the decision closer to that 48-hour deadline. Wayne, then suggested some things that should be in person. Interviews for replacing the Town Coordinator in his mind would be one of those things best in person.

Location of Annual Town Meeting

Randy asked where the location should be. Behind Town Hall or on the Town Common are the most likely. Hugh noted that Town Hall has power. Randy reminded that cords could be run from the Fire Station, but the distance is shorter from Town Hall to the land behind it. Hugh felt that behind the Town Hall there will be less noise from cars. Randy agreed and was more in favor of behind the Town Hall. Jen concurred from a Board of Health viewpoint and felt the parking to be better especially for handicap people. It was so agreed.

Memorial Day Plans

Randy reported the plan is pretty set. Cam and Sue Dunbar will be playing taps. There will be wreath laying. Chief Cuneo will be involved as will be a few other officials. It is Sunday, May 30, 2021 at 11 am starting at the Town Center Cemetery. The whole process and ceremony takes about an hour and a half.

Scheduling Meeting Date with Chief Joe Camden for Police Department Update/Future Plans

Randy started by reminding that the Selectboard hasn’t had the opportunity to hear from department heads like it normally would. The Fire Chief, Highway Chief, and the Police Chief would usually regularly appear to report. Nancy reported that Chief Camden can make it to the next meeting. Randy suggested also making adjustments to allow department heads to do this, so perhaps sometimes there might be a meeting held in the day if need be.

Meetinghouse Request for Outdoor Concert

Randy suggested this is a question for Board of Health. From what he understood with everything changing with the Governor’s orders, this should be permissible. Use of the Town Common, which would be used for this event, would be at the permission of the Selectboard. Brad noted that 1794 Meetinghouse has plans, but only has a tentative date at this point. Brad was glad to know the Selectboard is the entity to give permission for the land. Wayne concurred saying that Board of Health will need to set out any necessary protocols. Hugh agreed submitting things are changing rapidly. Randy suggested coming back with a date certain and the opinion of Board of Health and this can be approved in all likelihood. Jen confirmed that the matter is set to be discussed in the near future by Board of Health.

Interdepartmental Transfer Form

Nancy reported that we’re moving funds from the towns insurance account to the legal line. We had some savings that should help offset the legal cost overruns.

Minutes

The Selectboard considered the minutes for April 5, 2021 and April 20, 2021. Both sets were tabled until the next meeting in the interests of time.

A motion to adjourn at 8:50 pm was made by Wayne. The motion was seconded by Hugh and passed without objection.

Respectfully Submitted

Jakob K. Hamm, Selectboard Clerk