Town of New Salem Selectboard

Meeting Minutes

 October 18, 2021

Held Virtually via Zoom

Convened: 7:00 pm

Present: Randy Gordon, Wayne Hachey, Hugh Mackay, Selectboard; Kathy Neal, Town Coordinator; Joe Cuneo, Fire Chief; Nancy Slator, New Salem News; Gabriele Voelker, Town Treasurer & Finance Committee; Stacey Senflug, Town Clerk; Tamara Conde, Cemetery Commission; MaryEllen Kennedy, MLP Director; Jean Derderian; Jen Pottee, Cam Dunbar, Board of Health; Claire McGinnis, Finance Committee; Dan Hammock, New Salem Academy; Peter Fisher; Marny Ashbourne; Polly Johnston; Sousan Cloutier; Jeanne Clayton; Brian Casey

Selectboard Reviewed & Signed the Following:

  • Payroll & Vendor Warrants
  • Appointment Slips for Veterans Memorial Committee, New Website Committee, and Tree Committee

Discussion Items

Appointments

  • Appointments for Veteran’s Memorial Committee

Kathy reported that Susan Reilly and Lori Lunn have requested appointment to the Veteran’s Memorial Committee. Randy noted that others may be attending who wish to be appointed and invited them to announce themselves. He reminded that at the last meeting those interested in joining were asked to make the commitment to attend. Wayne agreed noting that we’re in no rush. Most towns are still working on their monuments. We have a stone in place and we need to figure out how that’s going to be arranged. Kathy interjected to submit that Lori Lunn was unable to make it due to a conflict with tonight’s meeting. Hugh suggested that in that case this could be put on the Selectboard’s next agenda. Randy agreed noting he’s hesitant to appoint without them being at a meeting to discuss the matter with the Selectboard. Tamara objected to putting this off to another meeting. Lori has expressed interest in the past and waited for a while to get on the committee officially. She’d like to see the committee appointment so it can begin meeting. Randy suggested that the committee can meet, there are two people on it, and Lori can always attend and participate as a volunteer until she is formally appointed. He felt it reasonable to establish that a person be able to attend the Selectboard’s meeting before they are appointed. Tamara asked about Susan. It was unclear that Susan was present and Randy felt that she should also wait, but invited her to speak if she was present.

  • Appointments for New Website Committee

Randy proposed creating a new ad hoc committee for the proposed new town website. It is unclear if the warrant article will pass at the Special Town Meeting. But if it does, it would be advantageous to have a committee setup that can immediately take action upon any STM authorization. Hugh expressed interest in joining the committee. Randy noted a few other names of potential interested parties spanning a wide extent of the towns community such as the Stacy, MaryEllen, and Kathy Soule-Regine. Randy inquired if any one present had any ideas for the committee so far. MaryEllen noted she’s a little leery to join as she’s very busy and sat on the last committee. She felt it important to have newer people. Perhaps some citizens who aren’t involved in town government. She suggested putting out something on the New Salem News. Hugh submitted if it passes the STM he’d be happy to send a post to the New Salem News. Susan noted she’d be happy to provide feedback but wasn’t willing to commit to membership on the committee at this time. She felt that some key department and committee folks should be included to ensure that necessary information goes out.

A motion was made by Randy to appoint Hugh to the New Website Committee. The motion was seconded by Wayne and passed by majority vote with Hugh abstaining.

  • Appointments for Tree Committee

Kathy reported that Susan Cloutier has requested appointment to the Tree Committee. Susan asked to be on the committee. Wayne enthusiastically endorsed the idea as did Hugh. Susan noted she’s present in case anyone has questions. Randy asked if she had spoken to committee members. She responded she has and is very interested. It was agreed to appoint her.

A motion was made by Hugh to appoint Susan Cloutier to the Tree Committee. The motion was seconded by Wayne and passed without objection.

Creation of Donation Account for the Veteran’s Memorial Committee

Randy inquired about the process for opening the account. Gabe elaborated on the process and explained how the Selectboard has the power to establish the account. Wayne asked if this is up to the Town Treasurer and if a donation is needed in hand. Gabe responded that she can establish the account with a simple vote of the Selectboard and a donation. Tamara noted she has a $100 in hand that can be donated. Wayne promised to also donate to the account. Hugh interjected to say the account should be established now. Randy agreed with the stipulation that it be determined who manages the account and is responsible for it. It was the consensus that the Veteran’s Memorial Committee be so designated.

A motion was made by Hugh to establish a Veteran’s Memorial Donation Account and to establish that the control and management of the account fall to the authority of the Veteran’s Memorial Committee. The motion was seconded by Wayne and passed without objection.

Swift River School Capital Expenditures, Chlorine Levels in Water, PFAS Update, & Grease Trap

Randy invited Gabe to start the discussion. Gabe started by addressing an agreement with Wendell about how to share the assessment and the capital expenditures in 2013. At the time, it was agreed that capital expenditures would be 50/50. The last couple of years have been hard on Wendell as they have reached some of their tax maximums. They haven’t voted for capital improvements for Swift River in the past few years. New Salem did vote such, but only on the basis of 50 percent. She has received requests from Swift River for payment of 50 percent on one invoice and 100 percent on another. She reminded them of the agreement and received no response. So she reached out to the company that did the work. They told her the total expense for two grease traps was over $6,000. So 50 percent is a little over $3,000. So then she received a call from the school that the billing was done wrong and 100 percent should be paid by New Salem for both bills. Gabe reported that a conversation ensued and she asserted the commitment is 50/50. The school is asserting that Wendell is holding that New Salem should pay 100 percent. Gabe disputed that saying we shouldn’t pay Wendell’s share just because Wendell cannot afford to do so. But it isn’t her authority to determine what should be paid and put it to the Selectboard to decide. She cautioned that if we establish the precedent of paying 100 percent, it could result in Wendell not paying in the future. And the process disturbed her. If she hadn’t noticed this, we’d have paid it none the wiser. It was slid through without any consultation to New Salem. Wayne submitted that we should stick to the 50/50 as that to his mind is reasonable. Kathy interjected to report her own conversations. She was able to locate the agreement and it was quite clear for it to be 50/50 and she sent it to the school. Randy asked what would happen if we simply pay half the bill, would the school be considered delinquent? Gabe responded the school had no authority to do a capital improvement that wasn’t voted. We have to have a town meeting approved budget that appropriates the spending of a capital plan. She had no recollection of the school making a request on the grease traps. Her recollection was regarding carpeting for some of the reasons.

Wayne backed that recollection. He noted that he attends Finance Committee meetings. He had no recollection of the request. Hugh asked if this is truly capital or something else. Gabe responded all such expenses are 50/50 even if not necessarily a capital matter. Wayne inquired about the reasons for the work. Gabe responded that both traps failed and they had to conduct repairs as it would be a Board of Health issue. Hugh submitted if it is 50/50 and we have an agreement, it’s in place and we should pay the 50 percent. We’ll have to keep an eye out for any further attempts to induce New Salem to pay in full. It is up to the school to send the other 50 percent to Wendell. He hated to put the school in the middle, but there is an agreement. Gabe noted we’ve paid 50 percent so it is up to the school. Randy asked when the failure happen. He was concerned that they might have simply had a failure, seen the replacement done, then attempted to bill. Gabe responded she couldn’t really answer. Randy noted we used to have a strong communication with the school’s office. But the superintendent and the business manager need to be stronger as their predecessors were. Randy then turned to the other matters under this agenda item. The PFAS we heard about we heard about from Wendell and not the school. So somehow the Wendell Selectboard found out and New Salem didn’t find out until they reached out. As for the chlorine we received a letter dated for the same date as this meeting from the school announcing that this matter and informing New Salem that Wendell’s Selectboard was previously informed. The cost is $8,800, and the school would seek $4,400 per town. Wendell has approved.

Randy noted if Wendell can pay half of this bill, why wouldn’t they be able to pay half of the grease traps? And no background information as to why this is important has been provided. There is no context. Just will you pay extra? If there is an important factor it needs to be provided. This request is in his mind unacceptable. Kathy noted she’s asked school officials to appear at this meeting to address these concerns. But they were unable to. Hugh noted that we are about to vote on the PFAS issue which is $20,000. Wayne suggested that $4,400 is still a substantial amount of money. We haven’t really been kept in the loop since the sodium issue. We complied with their wishes on salting the road nearby and to his knowledge that is resolved, but he can’t be sure as they haven’t provided any updates. We must hear from them. These are serious issues. He noted he only found out about the PFAS from a friend who read it in the Greenfield Recorder. Claire submitted that to her mind they should have an equipment line item for something like $8,800. It’s barely a capital item. Gabe agreed noting we don’t have an account to pay it out of anyway. Claire noted without background information and research it’s very hard to comment on this. She agreed that they should come to a meeting and present their needs. Wayne noted that from what he’s seen the PFAS numbers appear to be dropping. He still supports doing something, but we just need to know what’s going on. If it’s lead or something like that they need to make sure it’s not sinks or other fixtures. The school needs to respond to the town, provide reports and numbers. Randy went over a report that was received regarding lead. It does appear to be the result of two sinks. The problem is what has been provided is a lot of documents without any clarifications or details. It comes down to presentation.  The school needs to answer the towns questions. Randy asked Kathy to contact them. The most pressing issue is the PFAS and New Salem will hold a STM to address its share of that remediation. Still the town should seek alternatives like potential ARPA funding. The STM vote will allocate funds otherwise, but we shouldn’t rush to spend those.

Jen then updated on a letter being sent out to neighbors that the Board of Health has approved. Every resident in town will also receive the letter. The letter will provide information on free testing and the Board of Health Agent has reported that there isn’t money to address if there is a positive test for remedying private wells. But still concerned residents can find resources to help. That said, Randy expressed some concern that we have enough information for town meeting for the vote. We do have a letter from DEP. But as Wayne noted, DEP’s position appears to be that as long as the towns are working to resolve the matter, they will forebear. Gabe suggested we reconsider passing over this article with a request for more information with the suggestion ARPA funding be used. We don’t really know enough yet. Randy was concerned about both the lack of a plan as well as the potential for DEP to take action. Hugh suggested setting aside the PFAS matter for discussion by the Selectboard and Finance Committee prior to the STM. Claire noted that we could consider passing this but making it clear this is a failsafe should ARPA funding fail to be available. She felt this unusual that these requests aren’t coming through School Committee. It’s from the administration straight to the town, or via Wendell. Randy felt there may be a communication issue between the committee and the administration. School Committee may also be experiencing issues with information being provided. Hugh was most comfortable with appropriating this with the expectation of receiving documents in support for the need. Otherwise we would have to call another Special Town Meeting. Wayne concurred with that idea, but suggested if we haven’t heard anything new and school officials fail to appear at the meeting, we should consider passing it over. Randy noted we can spend ARPA funds without a town meeting. Kathy confirmed this.

Historical Commission Regarding Old Academy Building Repairs, Stone Wall Repairs, Quorums, & Budget Process

Randy noted there was a warrant article in the past for repairs to the OAB for mold and dampness issues. There was a question that’s been posed about who should be managing that sum which is roughly $16,500. It appears about $800 of the funds appropriated have been spent. There was an expectation that the Historical Commission would provide feedback. It is also expected since this is a town building that the Selectboard would hold the authority to approve expenditures under the warrant article. Dan provided a few key points about the moisture. It can result in rot. Particularly damage can occur to the overhead joists and floor joists. There should also be some drainage work done in his opinion such as splash guards and adjusting ground slopes around the building. Further he submitted there is some painting needs for window sills. The New Salem Academy presently rents the OAB, but it is town owned and the responsibility of the town to maintain. Dan further contended that the moisture issue also prevents use of the building by the New Salem Academy nonprofit. If you touch the joists in the basement ceiling they are wet/damp. The building is a historic treasure and should be maintained. They are not interested in the politics. The nonprofit simply wishes to see maintenance done. Wayne noted he made a number of suggestions 7 years. We should level out the clay basement floor and cover it with something like a poly tarp with perhaps some crushed stone covering it. But he noted that the window problem down there also needs to be addressed. He also had a question about the $800 spent and asked what it was used for. The funds were designated to fix the problems in the basement. He then noted some work done on the entry way. The work was done to shore things up, but it wasn’t done well and wasn’t made up to the floor level. This puzzled him. Jean stated that Nancy Aldrich approved the $800 be expended for repairs done by Tom Chaisson who does work for the town on town buildings. It was apparently for painting. Randy had concerns with that being related to the warrant article. Wayne concurred. Jean contended that the Selectboard approved this as well. Jean further noted that to her recollection that article wasn’t limited to the basement, but for general repairs on the building.

Randy then reported on some other known needs for the building including basement piers that need reinforcement. At this point we have the funds and we should use them. Dan noted he has little expertise, but one of the Trustees does have experience with historical restoration work and he’s suggested that there may be a more effective way then what Wayne’s suggested. This is not to question Wayne’s opinion, just to encourage the town consider all options. Wayne noted that this was considered by the Historical Commission, and they were okay with what was proposed, but the work was never done. Most of the cost of this kind of work isn’t on materials but rather on labor. Tamara interjected to report on discussions held with specialists. When she was helping with maintaining the building, they used a dehumidifier. Putting the plastic down with rocks on top in her opinion traps dirt and we’ll have growth down there. A pump could be run for dealing with rain induced flooding. Drainage around the building is certainly an issue too. Jean noted that there have been four different proposals. Hugh submitted that if we go to four different companies they’ll likely come up with four different ideas. He suggested he could ask around in his profession for some companies to consider. Gabe noted that Whately did a beautiful job of restoring its historical Town Hall and suggested contacting them to find out who their company was. Kathy agreed to call them. Randy also asked Jean if copies of the various proposals could be sent over to the Selectboard. The key thing in his mind is this can’t continue to linger. The number came from something and must have been based on some proposal or idea of a solution. Wayne reminded that for 25 to 30 years he’s done this work. He’s done a lot of basements that have had dirt floors and similar issues. What he’s proposed he’s done before and it’s worked. He’s never seen standing water there. It does sink into the ground. The issue is long term moisture or dampness. So whatever we do we must also ensure we don’t undermine the foundation. Dan reminded another thing to be addressed is some paint needs for the steeple. Randy then turned to some other accounts related to the OAB. This includes an endowment. The endowments interest may be used to fund some repairs. There are also a few other accounts that could provide a frame of reference. For example, the stonewall across from the Stowell Building is in need of some repair and there is a question of how to fund this. Kathy agreed to explore the matter further. Randy then reported on the Quabbin Cemetery which has an annual parade. Town officials need to attend. He then reported on the quorum for the Historical Commission which is in need of further appointments, he is currently the only member. Tamara volunteered to join. She’s served in the past and would like to return to service. Wayne noted we need new people for this. Too many folks in town who sit on committees are reaching burnout. So anybody who hasn’t volunteered before should consider it.

Scheduling of Evaluations of Police Chief, Fire Chief, and Highway Chief

Randy started the discussion by suggesting a mechanism be put in place for feedback and evaluation measures. The Chief’s aren’t really getting feedback, it’s hard to have clear discussions with them in the pandemic and we need to address that. In the past we’ve had forms that are filled out. The department heads would fill out a self-evaluation and then meet with a member of the Selectboard. Having participated in that process he felt it often didn’t really truly provide feedback. He didn’t feel the need to schedule anything at this moment. Wayne felt that we should hold off on this for a little bit. Especially for the Police Chief. Kathy agreed noting that the committee considering our police services is intending to come to a Selectboard meeting soon. Hugh asked on scheduling this and why for only three employees. Randy responded that the Selectboard has supervision over these three and Kathy. Otherwise the other employees fall under other elected bodies or are themselves elected. So for example the Library Board of Trustees would oversee the Library Director and those under her for evaluations. Hugh asked about the school and if they would be included. Randy responded that the schools usually have their own process with the Superintendent being evaluated by the School Committee. Hugh asked if there is a schedule for every department. Randy responded that it hasn’t been done regularly. Some departments like the Library have done it routinely, but others haven’t. Randy returned to the process and how to conduct it. Wayne recalled that the Selectboard previously decided to abandon its process as it didn’t work. The self-evaluations weren’t really helpful as employees have little incentive to grade themselves low. Further evaluators often had difficulties being able to truly judge if performance was at a high level. There was also no pay increases tied to the process so even if an employee was rated as stellar there was nothing that was received from that. So basically the process didn’t provide substantive feedback, left evaluating parties unsatisfied, and there was no incentive to conduct the process for any of the parties. Hugh noted that in the business realm they do often have a self-evaluation portion and the supervisors often are forced to respond by informing folks they aren’t at the level they think they are. So it is awkward. But he still felt it necessary to have a process and a way to set goals for department heads under the Selectboard’s purview in particular. Wayne suggested that this also include these department heads acting like others such as the Library and evaluating their employees and passing that information on to their elected board the Selectboard. Randy reminded this is all part of supervision and ensuring that employees understand what is expected. He didn’t feel this should be rushed and we should look at what other towns are doing and consider adopting best practices. This should be discussed further after some independent research.

Discussion of Strong Chief and Whether it is Functioning in New Salem

It was determined to table this subject. Wayne noted his only report on this is that the town voted in strong Chiefs in 1971. It was reaffirmed around 1988.

Speeding Issues in Town/Police Support on Issue

Wayne suggested that the Commonwealth be petitioned to put up blinking speeding signs on Rt. 202. So many towns have these. This is a state highway and the Commonwealth needs to do something. Hugh noted this is on the agenda at his request. He’s seen traffic speed substantially. Often with folks speeding 60 mph through town in areas posted or 40 mph. Some of these people, who are often out of towners, are brutal in response to attempts and inquiries to see them slow down. Hugh further noted there’s been some speeding on South Main Street as well. That’s 25 mph. Jen concurred and noted that Wendell Road has also experienced issues. Randy submitted that this ties with the amount of patrols we have in town. We should discuss this further after some discussions with the Police Dept. and other officials.

Gas Usage for Police Vehicles

Randy noted it would be useful to have an itemization. Whether for Police, Fire, or Highway. We’ve had an issue in the past. We have special fuel cards for EMS officials which obtains the fuel tax free from participating gas stations and the town is then invoiced. Jake wearing his Highway Administrative Assistant hat noted that Highway mostly gets its fuel from Orange Oil and paid via invoice. Wayne noted he tries to go through the vender warrants very carefully and hasn’t seen anything unusual or out of the line. Obviously there is room for abuse, but he’s never seen it. Wayne did have some concerns about how frequently the police cruisers are washed, but he understands the needs that the department believes are there for that and that the town’s residents want the cruisers to look good. Randy suggested the Selectboard consult with some of the departments to just get a little more information. Wayne concurred and reminded we should purchase more hybrids. There’s no reason that idling town vehicles can’t be on battery. Further it doesn’t put mileage on the vehicles either. It was agreed to put on the agenda a determination of which Selectboard is liaison to Highway, Police, and Fire.

Status of Halloween

Jen started off by reporting on Board of Health’s position. They’ve approved celebrations that are outdoors only. This includes any parades. They strongly suggest that groups such as families stay within their own grouping. So no mingling amongst other families and groups. It will be challenging to see enforced, but it will be posted that this is the Board of Health’s strong position. Tamara then spoke in regards to it. There is a group that wants a parade. She outlined how it will be posted around town, including the New Salem News. The notices will include the Board of Health’s recommendations. Randy asked if it would be on Halloween or another date. Tamara responded it would be on Halloween. Wayne asked if candy would be passed out. If so, he recommended only wrapped candy. Tamara didn’t think anything else is usually passed out. Wayne recalled a few residents preferring healthier options like apples. Wayne asked if trick-or-treating would occur. Jen responded it would.

State Redistricting & Effect Thereof on New Salem

Kathy reported that the General Court has published its latest draft. New Salem would lose Rep. Whipps and would fall under the Rep. currently with Ludlow. So our biggest towns won’t be Athol and Orange anymore but Ludlow and Belchertown. Randy submitted we’ll end up with some new officials representing us in the General Court.

Constable Vacancy

Kathy reported that we are supposed to have a constable at town meeting. The Police Chief was a constable but has resigned from that, and the others are elderly and in poor health. So we should consider exploring how to fill this vacancy. Stacy asked some questions including the need of resignations and appropriate postings in relation to constables.

Special Town Meeting

Stacy as Town Clerk brought up the unanticipated item asking some questions about masking. Jen outlined what precautions Board of Health is putting in place including discouragement of mingling before or after the meeting. People need to come for the meeting and then leave after it’s done. She also recommended strong air circulation. Other discussion involved the timing and how to handle materials. Stacey stressed that she just needs things before the meeting starts as long as we’re sure.

Minutes

The Selectboard considered the minutes for October 4, 2021. The Selectboard saw no need for amendments or changes and determined to approve.

Wayne made a motion to accept the minutes of October 4, 2021 as written. Hugh seconded and the motion passed without objection.

A motion to adjourn at 9:10 pm was made by Hugh. The motion was seconded by Wayne and passed without objection.

Respectfully Submitted

Jakob K. Hamm, Selectboard Clerk