Town of New Salem Selectboard

Meeting Minutes

 July 12, 2021

Town Hall, New Salem, MA

Convened: 7:00 pm

Present: Randy Gordon, Wayne Hachey, Hugh Mackay, Selectboard; Nancy Aldrich, Town Coordinator; Joe Camden, Chief of Police; Stacey Senflug, Town Clerk; Joe Cuneo, Fire Chief; Claire McGinnis, Finance Committee; Jean Derderian, Historical Commission; Gabriele Voelker, Town Treasurer; MaryEllen Kennedy, MLP Director; David Briand, Board of Assessors; Kathy Soule-Regine, Tax Collector; Joe Camden, Chief of Police; Julia Shively, Leverett Selectboard; Scott Winkler, Leverett Chief of Police; John Hillman, New Salem Cider; Arthur Adams; Ken Bright; Alfred Ohlson; Bob Treutlein; Nick Santucci

Selectboard Reviewed & Signed the Following:

  • Payroll & Vendor Warrants
  • Town Accountant Contract Renewal
  • Appropriation Transfer Requests if Needed

Discussion Items

Fire Chief’s Vehicle

Randy outlined the proposal that has been suggested by the Finance Committee and by Wayne regarding the provision of a vehicle for the Fire Chief. In the past a prior police vehicle once retired from police service has been repurposed for fire. Joe clarified that he’s looking for funding for the procurement of a new vehicle. He would like to see a warrant article. Randy noted that we are past the Annual Town Meeting and are not ready as of yet to call any Special Town Meeting. Still he returned to the past practice of using an old police cruiser. Claire noted that the past plan was to buy a new police cruiser and to, yes, move the old cruiser that would be replaced to fire. But Finance Committee hasn’t discussed this since March. Finance Committee is not in support of outright funding a new vehicle as it just hasn’t been part of the paradigm. All respect to the Fire Chief. The current vehicle was essentially free as she recalled. Joe interjected to explain that it was acquired about 2010, is a model 2007 vehicle, and was a surplus government vehicle. Regardless, the department is different today than in the past and he feels this is a requirement and something that is needed long term. A police vehicle may be okay, but in his mind a new vehicle is the best approach. Even if we go with a police vehicle we’ll still need a funding source to convert it for suitability to fire work. In the past Wendell has expressed interest in sharing that cost or burden and that could be accounted for. Randy submitted that a meeting will need to be held between the Selectboard and the Finance Committee on this with possible participation by Capital Planning. Claire suggested some form of public hearing to allow citizens to make comments in an appropriate setting. She, for example, had some thoughts that she would prefer to represent in such a setting as a private citizen and not in her capacity as a Finance Committee member.

Randy suggested that a big part of this is brainstorming to see what we can come up with and then that may shape what could be put before a town meeting. This could cost around $48,000 to $60,000. Joe noted $48,000 is pretty complete. Hugh asked if vehicles are capital planed or come out of department budgets. Wayne explained that New Salem does them via capital planning. Randy further elaborated that we have several stabilization accounts, including a vehicle stabilization account, which essentially allows the town to save for purchases when the need arises. Hugh asked Joe to find out for certain if Wendell is interested in participating in this purchase. Joe responded he could ask, but really the Wendell Selectboard would need to be asked by New Salem’s Selectboard. Randy noted he has reached out to Wendell’s Selectboard Chair. The response was that while requests have been made, no serious discussions have occurred and Wendell is in the middle of a cash crunch. He agreed to ask them again, but reminded that their budget scenario is that things are tight. Joe conceded that they aware of his needs and the current condition, but yes they have a tight budget situation. Wayne suggested it may be better for New Salem to do this alone in order to maintain full control. Joe was fine regardless of that arrangement. Randy asked Claire to reach out to her committee to determine when a joint meeting may be possible. Hugh asked whether securing a vehicle through surplus could be done again. Joe responded it’s possible, but highly unlikely. He usually checks yearly and it truly is a being there at the right place and right time to achieve it. The last time the town just got very lucky and all the domino’s fell into place. Hugh had a few other questions about the program(s) which Joe briefly elaborated on. Discussion concluded soon afterward.

Request to Contact Town Counsel / RE: Fines for Illegal Burning

Joe began by asking permission to consult Town Counsel. He would like to do so to protect the town and ensure that his response is lawful. Hugh asked about the ability to assess fines and the mechanism to do so. Joe responded the town would have to take the offending party to court. It would involve more expense. In the interim DEP has assessed a fine. Still Joe expressed the desire to ensure that the steps taken are in conformance with law. Randy noted that the town has obtained new counsel. He asked that questions be kept direct and succinct. Hugh agreed as did Wayne. Wayne noted he’d rather not need to do this, but it seems necessary.

A motion was made by Wayne to authorize the Fire Chief to consult Town Counsel on this matter. The motion was seconded by Hugh and passed without objection.

One Day Liquor Licenses for Meetinghouse Events

Nancy reported that New Salem Cider is looking to partner with the 1794 Meetinghouse to serve hard cider at their events. She has consulted the ABCC and they recommend issuance of a series of one-day liquor licenses. They will need to decide if the one days will be issued to the Meetinghouse or New Salem Cider. Randy agreed noting that we need dates certain. John Hillman reported he is with New Salem Cider. Right now they have two dates in mind. The first one is August 1 and the other is a date in September. This would all depend on which events that the Meetinghouse would like them at. They are considering some other dates, but likely nothing exceeding five. This would only involve pouring during intermission. Randy asked if the license has any variability or has to be the same for each event, including the fee charged. Nancy felt it would be best to have uniformity. It’s been a few years since we’ve issued one. The liquor license for the General Store is roughly $300 for an entire year. One days in the past have been as little as $15. Hugh clarified if the cider business would get the license or the Meetinghouse. John explained that the Meetinghouse would obtain the license and they would simply be hired to provide the cider and pour it. Nancy then went over the rules and noted that this structure would be legal. Randy suggested approving the August 1 date now with any subsequent application be approved later once that date is known for certain. Discussion then revolved around the fee amount. Wayne felt it should be waived if there is any fee, but was okay with $15 per day issued if need be. Randy asked if a specific policy needs to be put in place. Nancy looked at the paperwork and noted there this no required amount to her reading and it can be a fee set by the Selectboard. Hugh suggested $2.50 given that the intermission is only about 20 minutes. He also asked that a formal policy for these be formulated for the future. Nancy then asked John to ask the Meetinghouse to get in contact with her and to determine any future dates. It was so agreed.

Hugh made a motion for $2.50 per event for a nonprofit for this one-day liquor license and to approve the August 1, 2021 date. Wayne seconded the motion and it passed without objection.

Future Police Regionalization Discussion

Randy began by welcoming Julia and Scott to the meeting. He then elaborated on the general rules for public participation. Right now there are changes that have occurred as a result of reforms passed by the Massachusetts General Court. In response New Salem has to consider how to respond. There are also retirements that will occur in upcoming years that may change the options. New Salem is now hearing from various other towns about potential options. Tonight is the Town of Leverett, then the town will hear from the towns of Orange and Shutesbury as well. The representatives of Leverett will speak first and then a QA may occur afterwards. Scott began by introducing himself. He’s been in law enforcement for 20 years and Chief in Leverett for 4 years. Leverett has been working on a regional police department with Wendell and the final agreement will be in place soon likely in the form of a 3-year contract. He believes that policing for small towns is going in this direction. Small towns need to work together to share resources and find ways to work together. He acknowledged that Leverett is a distance from New Salem, but Wendell borders both towns. He then elaborated briefly on some scenario’s that he felt could be offered. But it truly depends on what New Salem is looking for. That involves hours, patrols, whether an officer is to be in town so many hours a day, etc. With Wendell there are response to calls, with regular patrols scheduled through, and roughly 4 specific hours a week. Those 4 hours usually involve addressing specific complaints like speeding on a specific road and having an officer patrol. There are certain aspects including avenues for additional towns to join, so the agreement with Wendell could eventually allow New Salem and other interested towns to join. Grant funding was obtained from the Commonwealth to work on this collaboration and Wendell and Leverett have put a lot of time and effort into this. This didn’t come lightly as the current agreement was the result of roughly 2 years of talks.

Julia then spoke to address bigger picture issues. The Commonwealth is trying to move to full time officers over part time. That is an incredible burden for small towns. She wasn’t certain that will actually happen, but it is something that has to be considered. This proposal essentially allows for shared resourcing that would allow the towns to continue to have the level of service they desire as opposed to whatever the Commonwealth mandates for every department. All the permitting such as for guns would be covered as well. Leverett and Wendell have been doing this since October 2020. To her knowledge it has gone well and the response has been positive. The focus for Leverett is community policing. That means you have police who get to know the community and their presence isn’t just to enforce but rather to keep things rational and cooperative. Scott then turned back to the reforms. Currently the Commonwealth allows for part time and full time officers with differentiated training. The reform changes that so that all officers have the same level of training. Right now there is special bridge training for officers to obtain certification under the new system. The new training includes new fitness standards. These are pretty high and are required for the bridge academy. There is a 3-year cycle for this and at the end of it, if officers have become certified it is as a full time officer. If the officer does not obtain it, they are decertified and may not work in the Commonwealth. Scott noted he’s already lost part time officers who aren’t interested. He expects he’ll likely lose at least one more. There are approximately 1,400 officers in Massachusetts that need to be trained and certified through the bridge academy. With drop out, you’re still looking at recertifying 1,200 officers statewide. For Leverett there’s likely 3 officers left to be trained. In the meantime, Leverett has 3 full time officers certified. Scott then addressed some aspects such as the Police Station. In Wendell a grant was obtained to renovate their Police Station. Likely things like gun permits would be done at the Wendell Police Station. Similar for sex offender registration requirements. He as Chief would continue to be the primary authority for issuance. That said he intends to have another officer trained and authorized to do so as well.

Scott then turned to budget. Wendell had a budget and Leverett has run services off that budget and billed for any extra work requested. There would be a learning curve, obviously, and so it would take some time to determine if that approach or a different one would be appropriate. With Wendell they obtained 5 years of data and still are collecting more. So they’re still formulating what the best way to base future budgets off is. So similar would be done with New Salem. The floor was then opened up to questions. Gabe asked how many full time officers there are. Scott responded 3 full time officers with 6-part time. Gabe asked fi the number stayed the same. Scott responded it actually went down. She then asked about hours. Scott responded there are 32 calls a month in Leverett. Scott then elaborated on the way his offers respond to those calls. Gabe then asked if Leverett has provided mutual aid to New Salem in the past. Scott responded it’s occurred a few times in the past. But not perhaps as substantially as other towns in the region. Hugh asked about the grant process and if the same timeline would be needed for New Salem and Leverett as was the case for Wendell and Leverett. Scott explained that it wouldn’t take as a long noting again the way the Wendell agreement is structured to allow more towns to join. It would likely still take some time, a few months perhaps, to negotiate terms. But otherwise it shouldn’t take as long. Julia concurred. Hugh asked if this would be a model with further expansion. Scott responded that this can only grow so much and the expectation isn’t to keep adding towns. Leverett just expects that this is the way policing in this region will go and it makes sense. He then noted a few other towns likely to join with each other for regional policing. He reminded that mutual aid already happens now with departments assisting by responding to calls in other towns and hinted that it may be possible to see savings, but that’s not guaranteed. Hugh asked if New Salem officers would be offered priority hiring. Scott responded they would be assuming they can obtain the required certification. They would seek to keep such officers because they’re known here and they would also keep first priority for shifts in New Salem as well as receive the option to cover shifts in Leverett. Arthur noted the challenges of Rt. 202 and its needs. Scott responded that Rt. 202 is well known and they’ve seen the accidents that occur on it.

He then noted some grant opportunities for funding speed limit and seat belt enforcement that could help. This has been done successfully in Wendell and Leverett both. There was then a question regarding response times. Wayne interjected to note he has similar concerns particularly in the event of a natural disaster. Scott responded that it would come back down to the agreement and what services New Salem is looking for. One way to do this is to hire a full time officer in New Salem who might also work in Wendell and perhaps keep several part time officers as well. Hugh noted that with the Quabbin, there is a division between the town with an entire area on the other side of the Quabbin from the rest of the town. So that has to be considered for response times. Scott returned to the idea of utilizing the Wendell Station with a full time officer that may be dedicated solely to New Salem and based out of Wendell’s Station if need be. This would take some work to determine what the town wants and what it needs. Jean noted that when she was on the Selectboard she was one of the liaisons for this when talks were ongoing with Wendell. She expressed hope for robust public opinion and input. She then asked what the driving force for this is expressing the opinion that the current department works well and is in place at least for 2 more years. Randy interjected to remind that Leverett was invited to this meeting as are the other towns. Right now New Salem doesn’t have full time police and this is an option to consider more services. Generally, the public hasn’t been in favor of spending more on police, but there may be an opportunity to share services with a neighboring town and to pool resources. This poses an opportunity to hear ideas and to consider what we will do in response to the reforms. Given the reforms New Salem may have to change its department including bringing on board full time officers. Right now the department is only part time. Hearing these towns out allows the town to consider ideas and opportunities. Nobody is getting preferential treatment. If after all the invited towns are heard out and New Salem doesn’t want to stay as is, then it will help start the conversation as to what New Salem is willing to do internally. Again, if the town chooses to make its department more robust on its own that’s its choice. If it chooses to go with a regional option, then that’s its choice. Jean asked if this would be for 2 years from now or immediate if the town decides to regionalize. Randy responded there is no specific timeline. There is no set timeline as it cannot be forced. Hugh agreed noting this was inviting an option and allowing for public input.

Alfred asked if this would work similar to how the arrangement exists with Wendell for fire services. Hugh noted that the Fire Chief is Chief in two different towns and the departments remain separate and distinct despite otherwise often acting jointly. Claire expressed appreciation about this being an open process. The most important thing that she heard was that time was spent with Wendell to determine what they wanted. She noted we’ll get intelligent proposals from 3 different departments and suggested we ask our current department for its own proposals. Everyone will have a chance to be heard. Joe Camden stressed that there are no current requirements for full time officers. Scott agreed, it’s that all officers will be certified the same but they may work part time or full time hours. There was a question about a fulltime department. Scott responded you’d need 7 officers and part time officers to achieve that. Ken noted he is a retired Police Chief. In his recollection, attempts at forms of regionalization in the past have failed. He stressed that there is community pride in supporting the town having its own department. Further the town has made investments over the years in its department and that cannot be forgotten. He also stressed response times noting that in many cases there may only be minutes or even seconds to respond. An officer responding from Leverett to homes off Rt. 122 in New Salem could take as much as 20 minutes. Even with a New Salem based officer is on duty, if they are in Wendell or Leverett, that response time is still a problem. To his mind having a partner town that is two towns away not geographically contiguous only worsens the concerns. He also expressed concerns about response times for calls for the parts of New Salem along the town line with Orange encompassing the Daniel Shay’s Highway area. The town is looking to permit the location of a licensed marijuana dispensary facility and that could result in calls and create other traffic conditions requiring police coverage. Scott noted that there is no separate department. Under the agreement there is one department which is Leverett’s, which then covers Wendell and the labilities and administrative work fall on that department. Randy interjected to note that the marijuana dispensary doesn’t have a Special Permit yet and the issues surrounding it remain open to negotiation as to how they’ll be dealt with under that process.

David agreed with Ken on most points. He stressed that this is a personal issue for so many as many residents know the officers personally. Rt. 202 is dangerous with many speeders. Having officers out regularly patrolling constitutes a huge part of keeping that highway safe. Losing any hours would increase accidents in his opinion. He asked what happens if Scott moves on to another job. How much say he wondered would New Salem get in a replacement. Scott noted that in the agreement with Wendell it is understood that while Leverett has a final say, Wendell would get a position on the committee formed to find a replacement. New Salem would receive the same if they joined the agreement. So they would receive input. Scott then stressed that there likely wouldn’t be less hours in New Salem. Rather he would hope to increase hours. He then outlined how officers could provide that coverage for Rt. 202. He stressed that the view of the department isn’t that it’s two towns to be separate. Rather that it’s one area that the department covers. So essentially viewing the two towns as if they are one. David submitted that the end result is that not seeing New Salem on those cruisers basically means that the department is abolished and that’s part of the emotional feeling. Scott acknowledged that noting that Wendell had much the same feeling. While Wendell and New Salem are different towns, Wendell is to date highly pleased with the arrangement to despite some misgivings from residents. Bob expressed concerns about loss of autonomy and control. He asked if Leverett has a union. Scott responded that there isn’t a union as of yet, just an association of the officers. Bob acknowledged that but again stressed the loss of autonomy. He noted he’s spent 17 years in the Department of Corrections and has seen how good intentions don’t always translate well. As far as the bridge academy he noted there are ways to get the towns officers through it. He didn’t see that as the barrier that others seem to think it is. Bob then asked about Class A gun licenses.

Scott responded that he issues those and doesn’t put onerous restrictions on them. Nick He felt that call volume is important and there are a lot of variables to consider. Scott outlined how the data worked out in Wendell and how discrepancies were dealt with between official data that Wendell had and what was discovered in the process. Wayne interjected to say that when our current Chief retires we could simply replace him. Randy reminded about the goals of these meetings. This is again a starting point. Nick acknowledged that and conceded that data is still by and large unknown. Gabe then spoke about her own situation. She lives adjacent to Rt. 122 on the side of town bordering Petersham. Petersham has a full time Chief and Police Department. She appreciated that Leverett is first up and submitted none of the questions should be taken personally. She then recounted her own experiences including a cousin who had a break and enter situation and how the department responded. Gabe then further elaborated on her own experience including trespassers on her land, problems by Branch Bridge, and the like. Further the geography just doesn’t work for Leverett to respond to New Salem. Scott noted he has an officer that lives near the New Salem border and he could serve as a response option. Gabe asked that Petersham be asked to also present to New Salem along with the other towns. She stressed that New Salem is a huge landmass in an odd configuration. Which arose her question as to dialogue with Athol as well. Leverett isn’t responding with mutual aid. Orange often responds to New Salem with mutual aid. And a lot of that is geography. She was also puzzled by Shutesbury not choosing to join this with Leverett. If service was to be offered to New Salem it would make more sense to include Shutesbury. Claire then asked a question about cruiser replacements.

Scott elaborated on how that was handled and how police department property was merged and there are provisions for returning it if the agreement was to resolve. Claire then asked about capital replacements. Scott elaborated on his rotation and how Wendell would contribute. He noted that for the cruiser in Wendell it says Wendell and Leverett on the cruisers livery. Jean asked how secure the department is in their appointments at this stage. Hugh responded that they are 2-year appointment. But it’s not a contract. Still, the point of this is for public discussion. The existing officers in town will be consulted as part of the process. We are attempting to stay ahead of the curve both in the face of retirements as well as the new police reforms. Hugh noted we all want what we want, but we may not be able to afford it. He contrasted with the Fire Chief’s need for a new vehicle. That’s a cost of $48,000 to replace a vehicle that was obtained as surplus for free. Jean stressed that if there is a real financial concern we need to consider that. There was then a question about Wendell being charged more than their contracted amount. Julia explained that they requested services above what was contracted and agreed to pay additionally for it. Randy submitted it’s like a menu and they chose to order more like an appetizer to the meal. Scott agreed, noting that its more requests for extras here or there. Wendell isn’t committed to keep any extras. Julia emphasized the many fail safes in place in the agreement. Randy noted in that we have to consider many facts. Many of our calls are being answered by mutual aid and while we have a great police force, we are also already relying on other towns to augment it. Joe Camden interjected to outline the hours that his department does offer. Randy responded by reminding that we need to look at the data to see how that is working out. Scott felt that this proposal could certainly match what’s covered now to his mind and he felt confident that increased coverage could be possible. Joe Camden asked what full time officers are paid. Scott responded that it’s $21 to $25. Wendell pays $2 on top of that. Joe noted that’s more than New Salem pays. Discussion concluded with a request for a hybrid for the future meetings on this topic with the other towns to allow for residents who cannot come to the meeting to listen. The Selectboard agreed to pursue such an option to the best the town can do so.

Letter of Concern Regarding Possible Use of 16 Lovers Lane Property

Nancy reported on the letter. It regards the property recently sold at auction by the town after a tax taking. There is concern that the property could be used for a non-private residence use. The concern for business usage falls under the Planning Board’s purview and the matter has been referred to them. Randy stressed that the Selectboard is aware of the concerns and any use of this property for any business or otherwise would have to appear before the Planning Board and possibly the Zoning Board of Appeals. The Selectboard is not ignoring the letter, simply noting for the record that it falls to the purview of other boards.

Research into Veterans Memorial Grant from 2016

Nancy reported on an update on the matter. The Town Accountant and Town Treasurer have had some difficulties. Still, when a donation is received a record should be there and it should be put into a donation account. If the Town Accountant has no record that is a concern. If the donation can be proven, then the town can establish the donation account and use Free Cash if necessary allocated at a town meeting. Still, it appears it didn’t make it into a specific account. The year roughly was 2016 that the donation was received. Jean reported that she’s spoken to Lisa DeWitt who was involved and she may know or recollect something about it.

Update from Town Counsel on Status of Court Cases

Nancy reported on the work the new Town Counsel has done to reach out to the prior Town Counsel. It doesn’t appear to make sense for KP Law to keep any litigation matters, so Mirick O’Connell will take anything outstanding. The new Town Counsel is Brian Falk who is a partner with Mirick O’Connell specialized in municipal practice.

Set Date for All Board Meeting

Discussion started with picking a date. Hugh suggested August or September. He further put forward the idea of asking Departments about a date that works. He felt a Wednesday in one of those months would make sense. Randy agreed outlining how these have worked in the past and the need to provide adequate notice to departments and officers so they can come prepared. Wayne preferred September, but recalled there could be some conflicts in dates. Randy agreed suggesting looking at September 22 or September 29. Those dates would avoid holidays and a few other issues and provide substantive time for public bodies to respond. Nancy agreed to socialize those date ideas.

Resignation/Reappointment of Custodian

Nancy reported that the Custodian also works for the school and will be retiring from them. So he needs to resign from New Salem briefly and then be re-appointed shortly thereafter. Gabe explained it just needs to be a one-day break. It just needs to be voted. So for example you could have him end on July 12, 2021, and then restart on July 13, 2021. She elaborated that this has to do with deductions for the Custodian. Hugh asked if there is a resignation in hand. Nancy was unclear as he needs to provide a retirement date. She agreed to get a retirement date that is certain and appropriate resignation letter.

Town Accountant Contract Renewal

Nancy provided the documents. They cover the towns participation with the FRCOG program which includes the provision of the Town Accountant and the accounting software used. The Selectboard saw no reason not to continue participating in this program noting that the current Town Accountant has been doing a job by all accounts.

Interdepartmental Transfers / End of Year Transfers

Nancy provided the Selectboard with several transfer requests to cover budget shortfalls. The town is permitted by MGL to do this starting in May and running through to July 15 each year.

Minutes

The Selectboard considered the minutes for June 22, 2021 and June 28, 2021. The Selectboard saw no reason not to approve the minutes and determined to proceed with doing so.

Wayne made a motion to accept the minutes of June 22, 2021. Hugh seconded and the motion passed without objection.

Wayne made a motion to accept the minutes of June 28, 2021. Hugh seconded and the motion passed without objection.

A motion to adjourn at 9:31 pm was made by Hugh. The motion was seconded by Randy and passed without objection.

Respectfully Submitted

Jakob K. Hamm, Selectboard Clerk