Town of New Salem Selectboard

Meeting Minutes

 December 13, 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; Ken Holmberg, Assistant Assessor; Eric Hamm, Board of Assessors; Jen Potee, Karyn Briand, Board of Health; Nancy Slator, New Salem News; Brendan Kuntz; Marney Ashburne

Selectboard Reviewed & Signed the Following:

  • Payroll & Vendor Warrants
  • Re-Precincting Paperwork
  • Letter of Commendation for Zachary Warner

Discussion Items

Tax Classification Hearing

Ken reported on the work behind this process. The Assessors request a vote for a minimum residential factor of 1.00 which means a single tax rate. It’s what we’ve done the last 5-6 years and it seems to be working well. It’s less complicated and creates less confusion than having a shifted multitier tax rate. Most towns utilize the single tax rate. Given how few businesses we have in town it makes sense and this is what the Board of Assessors recommend. Randy asked what the proposed rate is. Ken responded the rate last year was $19.63 and this year with increased values averaging 10 percent, the estimated rate would be $19.07. That’s per thousand. He emphasized the estimated part given the fact that DOR still has to grant final approval. Still the estimated amount would see the tax rate drop a little. Randy asked whether the assessments being higher would create a lower rate. Ken responded that it won’t result in lower taxes, the average bill will actually increase by a little over $300 despite the rate per thousand dropping. This is a result of increased home values. He noted this tax rate must be approved before the end of the year to avoid borrowing by the town. Ken then recalled that the process is a little different this year. DOR has changed the rules so the Selectboard doesn’t sign the LA5 form anymore. It’s a new process involving various officials like the Town Clerk now. He then went over some exemptions that can be offered and explained why the Assessors recommend avoiding them. No other towns in the area offer them. So it doesn’t make sense. New Salem has never adopted the small business exemption or residential exemption. Randy clarified the motions. Ken elaborated it’s two motions, one to adopt the residential factor and the other for not adopting the exemptions. Randy then asked about the replacement process given Ken’s pending retirement. Ken wasn’t aware of where things stand. Eric interjected to report on the progress of the Assessors. They’ve put together a formal job description and are currently going through the process of advertising and eventually interviewing.

A motion was made by Wayne to adopt a residential factor of 1.00 as recommended by the Board of Assessors. The motion was seconded by the Hugh and passed unanimously.

A motion was made by Wayne not to adopt the small business exemption or residential exemption. Hugh seconded the motion and it passed unanimously.

Re-Precincting Based Upon 2020 Census / Vote to Adopt Single Precinct Authorization

Stacey started off by briefly explaining the process. Really the materials including the precinct map need to be signed off by the Selectboard. Randy asked if there is any reason the town might not want to be one precinct. Stacy responded it isn’t needed given our population and would result in more complications and costs for elections. She didn’t feel that it would be helpful as our current option is very central to the town and highly accessible. She suggested if anyone would like another precinct they should propose it. But she didn’t see a need for it. Stacey then asked when all parties would be able to sign the paperwork noting that once signed it has to be sent to the Secretary of the Commonwealth’s office. Wayne reported he could do so within a business day. Hugh responded that he could sign it within the same timeframe as Wayne. He then offered to bring the paperwork to Stacy. She responded that wasn’t necessary and asked him to simply email her once he had signed.

Wayne made a motion to accept the single precinct and to authorize signing the requisite paperwork. Hugh seconded the motion and it passed without objection.

MVP Grant Letter of Intent / Review Proposal for Digitization of Town Records

Joe reported on this letter of intent. It has to be filed by January 7, 2022. The goal is to apply for funding to digitize records in the town. There are a few options available that the grant could fund. In light of the potentials, he felt this grant the best way to proceed. He asked for the Selectboard to provide feedback and potentially sign the letter of intent. Hugh asked what the cost would be. Joe responded none, but also the grant application doesn’t require that at this stage. It wants details about a project. Kathy agreed noting it doesn’t ask for a cost. Hugh asked what the maximum the grant would pay. Joe responded he isn’t aware of a specific maximum, but we’d likely get most if not all of what we need. Hugh submitted this kind of a project is daunting, especially with permanent records. Wayne asked where they would be stored and backed up. Joe outlined how that question would be answered. Goals would include search ability and cloud backup. Kathy recalled that Salem has done this. Theirs was very costly, but they’re a city and much bigger than New Salem. She further noted that the Commonwealth officials involved with this grant are very intrigued by the idea of the project. Joe agreed noting that when asked what might stand a high likelihood of being funded, they indicated this would be likely. Wayne asked about public access. Joe responded once done it could be accessible on the towns new website that’s being built. Hugh felt that this was worthy of pursuit and suggested that digitizing records would free up space and make records easier to search in the event of public records requests. Joe concurred reminding those present that many of the old records are stored in multiple buildings and not always stored in a fashion that will truly preserve them. Wayne’s only concern was the ultimate cost. But he was willing to find out by pursuing this further. Joe felt it important to start. Jen asked if this would include all bodies of the town. Joe responded it’s at an early stage. Ideally everyone would be included. Jen responded this would be very helpful for Board of Health given frequent records requests for things like Title 5’s and related septic plans. Joe agreed noting he had trouble locating some documents relating to the Fire Station and its construction and felt strongly this would be helpful to all. Randy clarified that we just need to write a letter. Joe elaborated there’s a form for creating the letter of intent that he can work on with Kathy. The actual application comes out in April. Kathy concurred outlining that you first submit the letter of intent in January and then they provide feedback that is relevant for the grant application in April. Randy felt in that light that this is a great idea. We have many very full filing cabinets. It was agreed to proceed.

Police Dept. Update / New Part-Time Officer Charles Brooks & Letter of Commendation for Zachary Warner

Hugh provided an update in the absence of Police Chief Joe Camden. There was a recent shooting in town. Officer Warner handled the situation and did so professionally. He secured the crime scene until Massachusetts State Police arrived and assisted the victim. He’s also demonstrated professionalism for other residents of the town in other similar circumstances. He felt it appropriate to issue a letter of commendation. Hugh then read the letter outlining the points contained therein. Randy and Wayne were both in favor of the letter. Randy then turned to the appointed of a new part-time officer. There was a question about the appointment relating to whether the Police Chief has to make it or the Selectboard. Kathy recalled if the Chief is a “Strong Chief” then it’s the Chief. Jake concurred noting that is the legal distinction, most towns follow the custom of still having the Selectboard make an appointment and sign a slip as a formality. Discussion shifted to the officer’s qualifications. Charles Brooks has already completed all necessary training including the Bridge Academy. He holds another position in another town and they’ve paid for the training. This officer was recommended by Zachary Warner. Wayne felt that to be good and was pleased to hear it. Randy asked that the new officer be asked to attend a future Selectboard meeting so that the face can become familiar to the Selectboard and others in town. Kathy felt that feasible and responded she would make the request with the Police Chief.

A motion was made by Hugh to approve and issue the letter of commendation for Zachary Warner. The motion was seconded by Wayne and passed unanimously.

Update on PFAS Remediation at Swift River School

Randy reported that a joint meeting with Wendell will be held on December 14, 2021 at 6 pm. This will include both Selectboards, School Committee members, officials from Swift River, and both towns Finance Committees. Kathy reported she’s sent out the link for this meeting which will be held virtually. Randy noted that for his part what he’d like to see from the school is a complete plan. If they’re suggesting we do the PFAS remediation and the chlorine change and also have an issue with the drain in the boiler room, he’d like to get all of the work done rather than have it linger. Wendell might have a different perspective. But with the ARPA funds we may have an opportunity to fix multiple things. Karyn noted that the link has been included in the New Salem News. She then asked if the principal and the superintendent will be present. Randy responded they’ve been asked to attend. Jen noted that unfortunately the Health Agent won’t be available for this meeting. But he has stressed that we really must follow DEP guidance in regards to the remediation. Wendell isn’t in favor of doing this. He will provide a statement that she intends to present at the meeting. The remediation has to be approved by DEP. So whatever course of action we take has to follow their guidance. She expressed concern that if we don’t do that we could expend money which could be in waste. Wayne asked if DEP would sue the towns if this isn’t resolved. Jen responded that would be likely as an enforcement action. So it is very important we stay with DEP. We don’t want to throw good money after bad. Wayne noted that there are two lots across the street that could be used for a well if the property tested negative. He didn’t have that in writing, but noted it would work with the 200 feet distance requirement. Then we’d run a water line across the road. Jen responded that DEPs guidance isn’t in favor of the drilling of a new well.

Hugh asked who has DEPs guidance. Jen responded it’s with the school but she can obtain a copy from the Health Agent. Wayne asked if any DEP officials will be present. They haven’t come in to talk to the towns at all. He expressed some frustration. Hugh then asked Jen if we can get the documentation before the meeting. Jen felt confident she could do so. Kathy then elaborated on calls she’s received from DEP on this. They have approved a remediation plan for this and have wondered why the towns appear to be going astray. Kathy explained the situation and suggested they speak to Wendell. Randy noted that all DEP wants is for us to have a plan and to move forward with it within their guidelines. They aren’t punitive at this stage, despite talks about potential for law suit, rather they are seeking assurance that action is being taken. Randy then went over correspondence from Kelley Sullivan. She reported that she and Bruce Turner have met with DEP at Swift River. There are issues with drilling a new well, not only including feasibility but also the question of whether the PFAS contamination extends to the aquifer or ground water in the area. Karyn then shared a copy of the DEP letter that she had. This letter outlined DEP’s understanding of the situation including their direction that the towns investigate the situation and demonstrate that the floor drain is sealed as reported or that is it no longer sealed. The towns and the school must provide response by December 17, 2021. Randy noted this is a little different then he’s seen. Karyn concurred and provided another letter with an amendment. This letter was determined to be substantially similar and then discussion shifted to a follow up letter from DEP from October. In that third letter DEP outlined amended conditional approval of the PFAS treatment system proposed to being stalled at Swift River. This constitutes the solution originally conceived of for the costs proposed at the 2021 fall Special Town Meeting. DEP then wrote a fourth letter where they noted their understanding that the proposed remedy may have changed. DEP outlined the requirements for an alternative such as a new well. Wayne noted that there is another option, we could adopt the federal standard which is higher than the Commonwealths. This he suggested would bring us back into compliance. It was unclear if this was something the town could do and if it would forestall DEP taking any action. Randy returned to the responses from Wendell and the school. It appears that everyone just wants all options and further information. It’s not that we are going to diverge from the original proposal. He stressed that this meeting should bring up more information and everyone should come as prepared as they can. 

Board of Health Update

Jen noted she didn’t have anything new to report. Karyn concurred having nothing to report either.

ARPA Funds Discussion

Randy began by asking Joe if he had any ideas for proposals noting we need to also make sure that any projects proposed are things that can be covered. He reminded that includes multiple pricing proposals. Joe noted the major things would be related to public safety. One such item would be generators for places like the Fire Station and the Stowell Building which hosts the Police Station. Commercial generators aren’t as hard to come by right now, but still it could be challenging. He agreed to put forward some proposals with documentation. Randy submitted it would be useful to include ARPA language. So if we can point out language that would suggest coverage. Joe concurred outlining what he’s done to research. Petersham has successfully used the funds for generators. Kathy noted some other ways to utilize the funds. But she reminded those present that we’re waiting for the Governor to sign legislation that may also allocate further funds. We have until 2026 with the ARPA funds, but the first proposed budget for ARPA expenditures is due in March 2022. Joe noted that if we can qualify lost revenue funding we can expend ARPA on more categories than otherwise permitted. So that’s an area we need to look into. Kathy noted the Accountant hasn’t gotten to it yet as she’s still catching up on end of fiscal year and other related matters like the Schedule A. Wayne returned to the generators asking if they would be propane. Joe responded certainly for the Fire Station. Randy reminded that there are categories, roughly 4 that we can use off the bat. To go beyond that we have to calculate the lost revenue, as that would permit some expenditure beyond those 4 main ones. Kathy felt it likely that we can get that number in the near future. Wayne felt that this sort of thing like work on the Fire Station or generators would constitute infrastructure which is one of the 4 categories. Joe noted that the Fire Station has essentially a residential service for electrical, but with some code upgrades to commercial, the station would gain that. But he felt that we should try to focus on that lost revenue as it would expand the scope of what we can expend for. There was a question of whether work done to the annex attached to the Stowell Building might be possible. For years the town has considered transforming that space into a new Police Station. Possibly more. That would be one project that we should consider. Wayne noted that the local tech school could provide some of the work. A few years ago the cost was likely $150,000. That was years so it would be more now. But it’s worth researching again. It was agreed to keep this item on the agenda for the Selectboard for the time being.

Old Academy Building

Randy reported that he is still waiting on several parties to provide proposals. There is a divergence on what the solutions are, so we should obtain multiple proposals and go from there. Hugh noted he’s traveled a lot for work recently and hasn’t been able to get to helping with this topic. Wayne reminded he’s proposed his idea of what to do. It was agreed to continue working on the subject.

Minutes

The Selectboard considered the minutes for November 29, 2021. The Selectboard saw no need for amendments or changes and determined to approve.

Hugh made a motion to accept the minutes of November 29, 2021 as written. Wayne seconded and the motion passed without objection.

A motion to adjourn at 8:04 pm was made by Wayne. The motion was seconded by Randy and passed without objection.

Respectfully Submitted

Jakob K. Hamm, Selectboard Clerk