Town of New Salem Selectboard

Meeting Minutes

 November 15, 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; Stacey Senflug, Town Clerk; Nancy Slator, New Salem News; Jen Potee, Board of Health; Sarah Kohler, Planning Board; Amy Fagin, Zoning Board of Appeals

Selectboard Reviewed & Signed the Following:

  • Payroll & Vendor Warrants
  • Appointment Slip for Assistant Constable

Discussion Items

Vote to Schedule a Special Town Meeting on November 30, 2021

Kathy reported that that the location would be the Town Hall and the time would be 7 pm. Discussion quickly turned to the proposed articles and the accommodations for assisting the Selectboard members.

A motion was made by Randy to call for a Special Town Meeting on November 30, 2021. The motion was seconded by Hugh and passed without objection.

Proposed Special Town Meeting Articles

  • Purchase of a 2022 Ford 550 Diesel Pickup Truck with Dump Body & 9 Foot Plow

Wayne explained that this purchase would be for the Highway Dept. and would be accomplished in its financing by a transfer from Capital Stabilization. The total cost is expected to be $73,000 which includes a $2,000 trade in for a 2011 truck. He reported it would be a dually with a single cab. Hugh asked if this could have a sander part added on. Wayne responded that it may or may not. We’d have to buy a sander for it. But this is electric and they’d prefer a hydraulic apparatus for sanding. Still, the sander could fit in the back of the truck. Hugh suggested that it could be budgeted for the necessary conversion in FY23. Wayne concurred noting it would help cut down on time needed for sanding.

A motion to place this article on the warrant and endorsed it was made by Hugh. The motion was seconded by Wayne and passed unanimously.

  • Short-Term Rental General By-Law

Kathy explained that this by-law would define and regulate commercial use of residential housing for short-term rentals. It would also help provide a process through which certain residential premises and rooms within residential premises could be registered and licensed with the town for short-term rental use. The proposed by-law would also provide for orderly operations of short-term rentals including providing for annual inspections and maintenance of a guest register. It would also implement health and safety standards to minimized public safety risks for guests and visitors alike while aiming to minimize nuisances for abutters. Wayne noted that the big thing about this is it being a by-law. When it was last proposed many residents hadn’t had time to really examine it. So it was put off. A committee was formed to study it and to work on it and this is the result. Amy noted it took about 3 meetings to do, but this is the finished product. There will be a virtual hearing on the by-law on November 18 at 7 pm. Wayne recommended residents read it before the town meeting just to ensure that they know what it says and can have their questions ready for the meeting. Stacey reminded that when this was brought it was brought by citizen petition which meant a certain amount of signatures were gathered to get it on the warrant. She asked why now? And why is this showing up again on the initiative of the Selectboard for a Special Town Meeting? To her mind things reasonably anticipated should be on the Annual Town Meetings warrant. In her opinion something like the truck matter belongs on the STM warrant, but a by-law like this should be for an ATM. Further turnout for STM’s are lower than ATM turnout and she expressed some concern about this as it doesn’t absolutely have to happen. Wayne asked if this passes at STM would it hold up with the AG? Stacey responded that she is advising on her opinion not the law. Historically speaking STM’s have considerably lower voter turnout in New Salem and we usually barely make quorum. Having 9-10 people vote on a change of this magnitude isn’t the right place, again in her opinion, for this to happen. 

Wayne responded then in that case it is legal and this is an extension of what happened at another town meeting. It has been reworded to take into consideration public comments at a prior town meeting. Stacey responded that it wasn’t just that the residents felt it wasn’t the right time, the process for bringing that by-law forward wasn’t legal and had it passed and been submitted to the AG it would have failed. It was a zoning by-law that wasn’t presented by the Planning Board. The discussion that ensued was the proposal to change it from a zoning by-law to a general by-law and now to her mind that change has been done and there is a rushing through of this. Wayne noted this was presented to the Clerk’s office prior to being placed on the warrant at the last town meeting and asked why this opinion it wouldn’t pass muster wasn’t provided to the sponsors. Stacey responded it was her place to inform the Selectboard, not the petitioners. She doesn’t have an opinion one way or the other about this. This isn’t personal, her issue is as the Town Clerk who is responsible for not just elections but recording town meeting records with the Commonwealth. Randy asked if there is a pressing need for this by-law. Wayne responded that there is a public hearing coming up on November 18 and if we wait from then until the Annual Town Meeting few will remember what the hearing was about. Randy determined to abstain from this decision as he had no strong opinion on it. Hugh noted he wasn’t aware this was being proposed. We just had a STM and then this truck died and his understanding was this STM was necessary for this. There hasn’t been any discussion by the Selectboard on this by-law during his tenure as member of the Selectboard. Wayne responded by outlining how it got added and stressed it is perfectly legal to put this on. If no one shows up to the hearing, we can pass over it. Kathy interjected to say for it to appear on the warrant there need to be two members of the Selectboard to place it on the warrant. Wayne offered a motion to place the article on the warrant for the STM. Hugh declined to second the motion and in light of Randy’s abstention the motion failed. Stacey stressed that she isn’t claiming people’s intentions aren’t pure. She just feels that the timing isn’t appropriate. We have about 800 residents qualified to vote. More turn out at the ATM than the STM. If only 10-15 people show up at an STM it can proceed and that’s a very small group of people to approve something like this.

  • Acceptance of MGL Chap. 64, Section 3A

This would impose a local excise tax on short-term rentals. The rate would be 6 percent. Randy noted this article is related to the short-term rental matter. Wayne concurred and elaborated that it would be up to the Selectboard to monitor this along with the Assessors. This article was not placed on the warrant due to its connection with the second article. Kathy agreed to reprint the draft warrant so that the final version ready for signature would only reflect the first article.

Vacancies in Town Positions/Update

The positions currently vacant include the Library Director, the Assistant Assessor, and the Board of Health Clerk position. Jen briefly reported on Board of Health. They have two candidates and expect to pick one to make an offer to at their next meeting. They hope to have them start at the beginning of December. Randy then asked about the Library Director vacancy. He’d heard about a concern regarding the potential difficulty in locating someone given the hours and lack of benefits. The downside to an increase of hours is the cost of the benefits. The Library Trustees will have to propose what they think is best and then the Finance Committee will have to determine if that’s affordable. After that a public dialogue can be had. Kathy briefly reported on her talks with the Library Trustees. They’ve only just begun with forming a search committee and redesigning the job description. Randy noted that informally the acting director has suggested that it is hard to do all the necessary tasks of the job in the 19 hours. But that’s not officially been determined. He then turned to the Assistant Assessor job and asked Kathy if there are any option such as hiring a firm. Kathy responded that she’s spoken with Eric Hamm the chair. He’s informed her that the Assessors have formed a search committee and are looking at various options including a firm that provides such officials. Wayne interjected to note he’s on their search committee and they haven’t had a chance to do much work just yet on this. Randy was fine with that as long as it’s proceeding. Wayne responded one option is to talk to FRCOG. It’s tough to fill this sort of position as there are a lot of qualifications for these kinds of clerk positions. Hugh asked what the hours are. Wayne responded about 8 hours a week or so. Most certainly less than 20 hours. Kathy noted that Ken Holmberg never worked 20 or more to her knowledge. He only worked one day in the office and a little from home. Randy suggested talking to Wendell as well as it might be possible to develop a shared position.

Old Academy Building Status

Randy reported on his discussions with the Trustees of the New Salem Academy. They have some ideas of who we can talk to about ideas for the building and various things that can be done. They’ve talked to a few folks like Greg Lyman in Orange. Greg does renovations on historic buildings and may have some ideas. Per the Trustees he’s not interested in the work but could list things that should be done. Randy felt it important that we have a clear plan for what needs to be done and how to go about doing it. Wayne agreed and suggested looking at various Commonwealth programs like the Sheriff’s Department. Hugh noted that the Sherriff has such a program in Franklin County. It’s free labor and the only thing the town pays for is the cost of materials. They are supervised and it is a well-run program. It could help. Wayne concurred and noted he’s shut off the water in that building for the season and noted some other winterization he’s done. Randy interjected that the issue isn’t just labor. We need a clear plan. Wayne responded that he’s submitted a plan in the past to the Historical Commission. Randy responded he’s the only member of that Commission currently and asked it be resubmitted. He proposed that the Selectboard remain involved. Our budget is limited. Still we need to find ways to maintain this building properly. Wayne stressed that there are some issues that need to be addressed. He agreed to locate his proposal and resubmit it along with a quick drawing. Randy then turned to the basement noting there’s a little difference in opinion, but it should be addressed nonetheless. Wayne responded that it needs work so we need to resolve that. Randy agreed but submitted no matter what we do we need proposals and cost estimates. Hugh noted he can ask a few architects he works with who might be able to help. He felt Wayne’s thought processes on this are likely accurate, but we need to think about ways to control the problem even beyond what Wayne is proposing. Longevity is important. Randy then suggested we seek ways to address water. The building doesn’t have gutters and we need to think about historically acceptable alternatives.

Assistant Constable Appointment

Randy reported on information he obtained from various resources. There was a lot to process and there are certainly measures that can be used. He asked if various officials have any idea we need to hear them. Kathy noted that we use a Constable to serve the warrant and they are also in attendance of elections and town meetings. She did a survey and many use Police Officers to do much of the work. There are some statutes that permit Police Officers to do some of this as well. Stacey noted that was news to her. She’s always had a Constable to turn to in town. So reading the citations was a surprise. It does appear that the Selectboard can utilize others like Police Officers for warrant postings. She wasn’t otherwise sure about it. To her mind it makes sense to have a Constable. Especially for elections. Not necessarily at town meeting, but at elections certainly having one there is important. Whether it’s the Constable or a Police Officer doesn’t necessarily matter. It isn’t prescribed in law that one be there for town meeting, but it is for elections. Hugh interjected to remind that the last Constable was unique in his status and particularly devoted. There was a question of whether the resignation was tendered to the Town Clerk as required. Stacey responded she hasn’t received one and noted a few other offices that appear to hold vacancies where official resignations haven’t been received. She recalled that most folks are good about submitting them, but some people just aren’t quick about it or don’t realize that they need to do it. Jake interjected to note that vacancies don’t exist until resignations are submitted to, and received by, the Town Clerk’s office. Stacey concurred and again stressed most submit them and suggested that we make sure that those we are aware of thinking they are resigning do so as we don’t want to make wrong assumptions. She then noted there’s a way to proceed without making an appointment, that being requesting a Police Officer.

Then we can seek to have a new Constable lined up for the next election. The Constable is elected in New Salem rather than appointed. The Selectboard can appoint an interim Constable or an Assistant Constable. Randy asked if there can be multiple assistants. Stacey wasn’t entirely sure but suggested consulting Constables in the region as well as their association in Massachusetts. Randy stressed that for the short term we need to know we can post the Special Town Meeting warrant. Kathy responded that she can ask. Hugh asked if they must be a resident of the town. Stacey responded they have to be a registered voter. As for posting the STM, she felt it reasonable given her reading of the statute that a Police Officer post. Stacey stressed that the last Constable really assumed a lot of responsibilities just because of his good character and willingness to volunteer. It would be nice to find someone of similar personality and standing, but really we need someone available and willing to serve. Jen noted that Board of Health has used the Constable in Orange over the years to success. That has worked well. Stacey elaborated that she didn’t realize this was something that the towns Constable could do and has always utilized the Sheriff’s office. So it’s something to consider that any new Constable might be asked to fulfill other duties such as serving notice for her office or the Board of Health. Randy asked if we must have a Constable for the STM. Stacey responded we do not. It was agreed to continue discussions and the hunt for a replacement. Stacey then finished with one last thing to consider. Assuming the current Constable’s term does expire at the next Annual Town Election, it may be worth considering if we can make this appointed in some way. Jake noted that there is a statutory scheme that can be adopted which would allow for appointment and it would be something to consult with Town Counsel about.

ARPA Funds Discussion

Randy reported we have these funds and we need to consider more seriously what we should do. He suggested asking town departments to submit ideas for things and we can determine if they can be approved. He submitted we don’t need to decide today, but we need a plan and we do not want to waste this opportunity. Wayne concurred and reminded we should consider climate change. We have culverts that need to be replaced. Randy interjected to remind we have that bridge on Cooleyville Rd. that needs work too. Wayne concurred. This would be a good project to pursue as well as others. Randy suggested getting feedback from the towns representation in the General Court. He also felt this should remain on the Selectboard’s agenda. The goal to his mind is a comprehensive plan. This shouldn’t be a candy store approach. It’s serious. Kathy noted some of her reading on ARPA indicates that if there is lost revenue the use of the money is expanded in its allowance for any government function. But we’d have to prove that. She suggested consulting with the Treasurer and possibly the Accountant and Assessors. Randy then went over some information provided by Sen. Comerford’s office. In the meantime, Kathy agreed to research what towns in the region are doing and to talk to the Senators office as well.

Report from Fire Dept.

Joe began by providing an update on what Fire Dept. would hope to do with ARPA funds. The main thing is a generator for the Fire Station and possibly some generators or improvements for other public buildings. As for general report, this is the busiest year ever for the department. Fire is also having significant maintenance issues with one of its older trucks. Mostly in hunting down parts for it. There are some grants he expects to apply for that will help the department. These have included grants issued by our insurer. Sadly, out of a $10,000 need MIIA was only willing to provide $2,000 so that didn’t quite work out. Hugh asked about the grants and if any are annual. Joe responded they tend to be annual and this time of year is usually when the grants are open for application. So you can call it “grant season.” Although there are some that come open for application in the spring. Kathy noted that most are open now, but a handful are spring oriented. Joe stressed we may have further funding opportunities given bills before Congress. Randy noted that the Selectboard is hoping to establish this kind of report on a more regular basis. Likely a handful of times a year. Joe expressed willingness to do this and was happy to be the first.

Board of Health/Public Health Nurse Update

Jen reported on this unexpected item regarding some concerning case numbers. Even folks who are vaccinated, including those with boosters, are coming down with COVID. This is a little scary. The majority of cases remain unvaccinated persons. This is the most number of COVID cases in one time we’ve had in New Salem. We have 8-10 active cases currently. Her understanding from the Commonwealth is that at the end of this month she can’t turn over cases to the Commonwealth. She’s only had to turn a few cases over, but this is a lot of work. She noted there is a Board of Health meeting coming up and she asked for the Selectboard’s feedback regarding several related matters such as the current face mask mandate. These kinds of rules require seriousness and potential enforcement measures. So if we are going to keep them, like the face mask mandate, we need to consider things carefully. Hugh submitted if numbers are going up, there’s no reason why we wouldn’t want to keep rules like mask mandates. He personally keeps his mask on in most public places. He does it not only for himself but also for fellow citizens. He found it inoffensive and a matter of public health. Jen noted she isn’t actually proposing dropping that mandate. She is speaking as a public health nurse and not necessarily as a Board of Health member. This is consuming a great deal of time and energy and she expressed personal concern about not just public buildings but also private businesses in town. The Town of Orange has a universal mask mandate everywhere. So private businesses and town buildings have to follow it. Ours is only applicable to public buildings like Town Hall, Library, Annex Building, Stowell Building, etc. Athol and Orange have been high, but so has New Salem. Hugh noted we don’t have the same number of public places. Wayne interjected to say as our public health nurse he supports Jen. If she and Board of Health wish to expand the mask mandate he would support it. Randy asked if that is necessary. Jen responded Board of Health will receive a report from her in her capacity as public health nurse on this and they will make a decision. Randy asked if Board of Health has this power. Jen responded they do. Randy asked if this is to inform the Selectboard or to ask for endorsement. Jen responded this is more a curtesy and an update. She expressed concern about the public becoming complacent and expressed worry that fatigue is causing people not to isolate or to take the precautions they should. Hugh expressed support for the decision, whatever it is, within the interests of public health that is made by the public health nurse and the Board of Health. This was the consensus of the Selectboard.

Green Communities

Kathy brought up this unexpected item noting that the Commonwealth has asked the town regarding some reporting data on this. This really is asking for actions taken by the town and metrics. Wayne noted a few things done and the work that the Green Community Committee has done. The pandemic kind of put a wrench in things. The biggest thing is replacing a police cruiser with a hybrid. Kathy noted she’s already collected the necessary data on the fuel usage and other metrics like that. She just really needed to know about projects or initiatives. Randy wasn’t certain how to ask about that. We don’t have a big town so there isn’t a lot of things to change as there isn’t that much town government. Hugh concurred. Nancy Slator suggested with buildings closed we should see differences in metrics regarding building heating and lighting.

Minutes

The Selectboard considered the minutes for November 1, 2021. The Selectboard saw no need for amendments or changes and determined to approve.

Wayne made a motion to accept the minutes of November 1, 2021 as written. Hugh seconded and the motion passed without objection.

A motion to adjourn at 8:26 pm was made by Wayne. The motion was seconded by Hugh and passed without objection.

Respectfully Submitted

Jakob K. Hamm, Selectboard Clerk