Town of New Salem Selectboard

Meeting Minutes

 August 9, 2021

Virtual Meeting via Zoom

Convened: 7:00 pm

Present: Randy Gordon, Wayne Hachey, Hugh Mackay, Selectboard; Kathy Neal, Town Coordinator; Joe Cuneo, Fire Chief; Joe Camden, Chief of Police; Claire McGinnis, Finance Committee; Gabe Voelker, Town Treasurer; Jean Derderian, Historical Commission; Rebecca Torres, Shutesbury Town Administrator; Sergeant Kristin Burgess, Shutesbury Police Department; Melissa Makepeace-O’Neil, Shutesbury Board of Selectmen; Lisa Finestone, Tree Committee; Nancy Slator, New Salem News; Karen Duplissie

Selectboard Reviewed & Signed the Following:

  • Payroll & Vendor Warrants
  • Certificate of Adoption
  • Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness Plan

Discussion Items

Future Police Regionalization Discussion

Randy briefly went over the ground rules for the discussion. They are largely the same as the past two meetings. He again asked folks present not to repeat prior statements made at past meetings. This is about information gathering. He then asked those present for Shutesbury to introduce themselves. Melissa introduced herself as a member of the Shutesbury Selectboard. Kristin then introduced herself as the current head of the Shutesbury Police Department in the absence of a Police Chief. This is a unique situation as she is a Sergeant. This said she expressed excitement to talk to New Salem. She then asked those present what is working for the town and not working and what the vision of the town is. Randy responded by outlining what New Salem has. We have two-part time salaried employees. A Chief of Police and another officer. We’ve had as many as 4 to 5 officers. We have officers that do patrols and respond to emergencies in some cases when an officer is on duty. We often rely on State Police and other departments via intermunicipal mutual aid. As a result, Orange’s police often respond in such circumstances. Our current Police Station is in need of repair and potential replacement. Citizens have access to the police, but the office hours are limited. Our current officers are close to retirement and we are also grappling with the police reforms. So the concern is whether or not our small department can continue as is. The main concerns are about service and cost. A big question for New Salem is the comfort level with having another town provide police services. One of the main issues there is with response time. Particularly with geography such as the Rt. 122 area. We are also dealing with some issues like the partying down by Branch Bridge. New Salem has talked with Orange and Leverett to date. Kristin then began by explaining that her department is very community based. Shutesbury prides itself on community policing and how it interacts with its citizens.

This is more than just events, it’s something that a police officer brings into themselves. Since she’s taken charge she has been flooded with resumes and the department is fully staffed. They have officers from 7 am to 11 pm 7 days a week. She appreciated concerns about the situation with police reform but was confident that Shutesbury is rising to the challenge. She felt that the right people will come to the department if leadership is there. She did concede that the reforms are posing some challenges. Once officers of a part time status have gone through the bridge academy they will be equal to a full time trained police officer that’s gone through the full time academy. In her mind officers already working for the department should already have quality. She stressed that all officers respond to the same calls and have the same responsibilities regardless of their hours being full time or part time. The only costs of bridge academy training are the pay and possibly ammunition for fire arms training. A few other things are unknown, but that’s mostly what is happening. With the reforms being implemented it provides a chance for change and growth. Further new officers will be able to come forward as some choose to retire rather than bridge. As for response times, she stressed that Shutesbury has provided mutual aid to New Salem on several occasions. Still, she wanted to talk about ways to further strength the bonds between the two towns no matter what decision is made by New Salem. Kristin then submitted that she would seek to tap the towns existing officers as resources. She felt that we can talk about the immediate and how assistance can be had now, not just in the future. She then asked what New Salem views regionalization as. Wayne introjected to note that Joe Camden is on salary and is more or less on call 24/7 when not working his primary job. The town has generally had good coverage over the years, but the department has always been small. We’ve trained some officers, but sadly they often move on when they can find full time jobs elsewhere. He expressed concerns with the logistics of regionalization. New Salem is a large landmass and most of the towns near it aren’t that close as to geography. Hugh then put forward that what the town is looking at from a community basis. The community wants to know the officers and for the officers to know them. We’ve had the same Chief of Police for 33 years.

In fact, the turnover we’ve had in recent years has unsettled many. So he asked Kristin how she felt the two towns could work together. Shutesbury and New Salem are reasonably close, border each other and the two town centers aren’t too far from each other. Hugh also asked how Shutesbury’s setup would work and how the departments would coexist or if Shutesbury would just provide policing services. Kristin started by expressing deep gratitude for Joe Camden. He has always been incredibly helpful to her and her department. She stated she isn’t interested in coming in to push him aside. This is a discussion to her for how Shutesbury can help now and help in the future. That said what she’d like to do in the future would be to create a partnership. She doesn’t believe that we should have just one department. She felt that there are a lot of similarities between the towns views on police. For the immediate she felt that Shutesbury could step up its answering of calls under mutual aid. In the future she’d like to see a shared Police Chief with each department preserved in its autonomy. Some officers might be shared, but in each community they’d be police for that community in uniform for that community. She felt that would best answer the desire of the community to know its officers and to keep its departments. She conceded it is difficult to retain officers. But stressed that having officers feel that they can grow and learn in their departments is what keeps them. She suggested thinking outside the box and granting officers positions of trust as well. As for Shutesbury’s facility, it’s typical of what most small towns have. Currently the police have offices in the Town Hall. She has toured New Salem’s existing station. She noted the station is okay, but like Shutesbury, a more conducive space is needed. Hugh noted that he understands that Kristin is acting as Chief, but wondered if she would be the new Chief or if a new one would be hired. Kristin deferred to Melissa. Melissa responded that Shutesbury is going through a period without a Chief.

They are currently reviewing the department and the community’s needs. They’re still in an information gathering phase. Once they have that information they will move forward with filling the position. Like New Salem, Shutesbury is attempting to determine its options and the best path forward. Kristin briefly interjected to suggest that the similarities between the towns really make a partnership viable. Becky then spoke on a few things. She noted she has for the last few years always kept in touch with her counterpart in New Salem. With us being neighbors with overlapping needs it makes sense to work together. We have shared officers before between the departments and they have worked well. Part of Shutesbury’s police efforts include these discussions. In the past Shutesbury’s Chiefs of Police have long felt New Salem the best fit for any combined or partnered departments. For much of the reasons Kristin elaborated on. She then noted the existing Police Station in Shutesbury is indeed in the Town Hall near her office. There has long been talk about possibly moving the Police into a larger space within the lower office area of the Town Hall. Another potential is to move the Police into the existing Library building should the town ever build a new Library. Hugh responded by asking about the current planning process and how long it’s been in place. Melissa responded it’s been about 5 months, but there’s been a push by prior Chief’s to study this for a while. So really the talks started several years ago with the hiring of the last Chief. Claire then asked a few financial questions. These being the typical hourly wage and the department budget. Becky responded the budget is over $200,000. The hourly wage for the Police Chief was about $65,000 and current officers make about $21 an hour. Melissa then stressed a few ways officers can get to know residents. These include virtual and in person events such as coffee hours. These really bring the community in and to provoke conversations. Kristin then noted a few exciting things Shutesbury is doing. This includes a bicycle patrol. Another department donated some and this allows a nice way for some officers to patrol in a nontraditional way. Hugh noted this is only the third discussion that New Salem has had to date.

He asked when Shutesbury’s policing group meets and if he could attend. Kristin noted they are public meetings that meet roughly twice a month. Becky interjected to provide some information on how the meetings will be held. Likely with a hybrid both in person and on Zoom. Otherwise Hugh was welcome to attend the next meeting. Hugh noted that New Salem is in process of setting up a committee to study its policing and it may be illuminating to see how Shutesbury is doing similar. Kristin then reiterated that Shutesbury is willing to help out in anyway it can. Wayne then asked whether Shutesbury has any marijuana establishments. Becky responded that they do not at this time. Wayne asked how Shutesbury would approach marijuana. Kristin went over how Shutesbury currently handles things like liquor licensing and gun licensing and wellness checks. For something like this, she felt it wise to establish a regular presence in and around such a facility. Randy then turned back to the committee New Salem is setting up. It’s four people so far. There is a member from the Selectboard, a member from the Finance Committee, the Town Moderator, and a retired Police Chief in town. What we’ve gotten so far in these discussions in his opinion is that New Salem needs to determine its vision and what the level of services it wants. We need to determine what value for our funds we are getting and what we could obtain. Our existing budget is just north of $100,000. We don’t, in his opinion, have much in the way of emergency response as when the department isn’t on duty we rely on State Police who are slow in response times or mutual aid which poses its own response time challenges. He noted that Shutesbury’s model is intriguing as it is different than what the other towns have proposed. Orange would provide services entirely as the Orange Police through a contract and they would hire an additional officer. Leverett would likely have a Wendell based officer who would respond to New Salem. This prompted Kristin then addressed how coverage happens currently and how many officers are on duty.

Shutesbury tries to have at least one officer on duty, two where possible with shifts that overlap. For holidays and other similar events like town meeting, they double the officers on duty. She’d like to have more overlap and even potentially having two officers routinely on duty together. Kristin then turned to how she’d envision coverage for both towns. She’d like to have officers based in the town through its department. That way you have an officer in New Salem on duty for some hours. That could work into the overlap. One example could be an officer on duty same shift in each town providing backup to each other with the Chief either working in one or the other town on any given shift. Wayne asked about suicide prevention, not just for civilians but also police officers. Kristin responded by acknowledging the importance of the topic. Police see things on a daily basis that are difficult even in our small towns. She then elaborated on the policies in place including an officer wellness policy. When a difficult call comes in the department always has checks on them to ensure they are coping and resources are provided to them. Randy then noted we are likely to see our current officers retire in the next two years. We aren’t in a rush, but it would be nice to have a plan for after they retire to be in place in a year. New Salem also needs to obtain more community feedback. Kristin noted one more thing, she has at least two officers who are looking to be appointed in New Salem. She felt that would solidify the relationship more. Melissa then invited New Salem to continue the conversation with Shutesbury. We are essentially doing the same research at the same time and our needs are likely similar. Kristin then submitted that she’s open to talk to anyone who wants to stop by and visit her at Shutesbury’s Town Hall. Becky stressed that Shutesbury’s timetable is also similar to New Salem’s. Any discussion like this can get complicated, but there isn’t a need for it to be complicated if we have an open dialogue. Wayne suggested that we consider many options including better ways to utilized mutual aid. Discussion concluded with the Selectboard thanking Shutesbury’s officials for attending.

Electric Supply Contract – Sun Wave Gas & Power

Randy briefly went over this. We have a contract for electricity. Our charges are billed via the utility invoice and there are a few different plans available. He then asked a few questions which Kathy answered. These included some questions about green options as well as term lengths which ranged from 1-3 years. All of these, she noted, are cheaper than what would otherwise be paid. There was some uncertainty about the 3-year term. Hugh asked if this is an annual process or not. Kathy responded that it’s a multiyear term and our last one just expired in July. There wasn’t a big difference between the 1 year and the 2 year. Wayne was in favor of the 3 year with a backup plan of the 2 year. It was also agreed to pursue the green option for .1142 cents. If that option is not available, we would default to the .1174 for 2 years.

A motion was made by Wayne to contract for the 3-year term for .1142 cents and if that option is not available to contract for the 2-year period for .1174 cents. The motion was seconded by Randy and passed without objection.

Marijuana Host Agreement Application Policy

Kathy noted there is little new to report on this. She put this forward to see if there are any more comments after some time has passed to read it. Randy reminded this is mostly for going forward and won’t apply to any existing Host Community Agreements. He stressed this can be revisited. Wayne noted a reference in the third paragraph of the policy that he had some thoughts about. The main item being an escrow account. Randy provided some background. This comes from Wendell and a situation they experienced. The escrow covers the potential for legal fees to cover anything that could come up. Most of these places are coming in with a fair amount of capital. They do get their money back assuming no problems arise that would utilize it. It proved crucial for Wendell in the end. So if the town has to use Town Counsel to address an issue the business is creating, it could cover those costs rather than see the town overrun its own legal funding. Gabe noted in Orange they have a $5,000 escrow in their HCAs. Every HCA should be reviewed by Town Counsel. Part of Orange’s application process is to have that escrow which is refundable. She noted that one of the things the town can do is not only bill legal services but also other costs associated with the process. Randy asked that a copy of the Orange policy be sent over to Kathy. Gabe agreed to do so. Hugh suggested considering both and taking the best of each one to create a policy for New Salem. Wayne asked if this could go into the marijuana establishment being mooted currently. Randy recalled that the HCA was already signed, but it was unclear at this stage. Wayne recalled that the matter may not be settled. Gabe noted if the agreement hasn’t been signed then the town can go back. But if the HCA is already in place then the town can’t apply this retrospectively. It was agreed to review the minutes and to determine if the HCA has been signed.

Policy on Personal Use of Vehicles

Randy reported that information is still being collected and at this point there isn’t enough data to really talk about it.

Resolution Adopting the Town of New Salem Hazard Mitigation Plan & Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness Plan

Joe Cuneo reported that this is a process so that we can take part in this subset of grants. So when the next round of MVP grants comes out we can fully participate. These grants allow for many different kinds of things and there is no cost to the town to participate. He asked the Selectboard to sign this. Kathy noted we had a grant to do this plan in the first place and it has ended as of the end of fiscal year. Hugh asked whether there is anything for review. Joe responded the original grant was for planning. So we developed the documents with the help of FRCOG and took several months and multiple public meetings. There are public documents available which he can provide on request. Hugh was otherwise pleased with the obtaining of grants, he just expressed the wish to see some of the documents. Otherwise he saw no reason not to approve the plan. This was the consensus of the Selectboard and it was determined to proceed.

A motion was made by Hugh to adopt the plan as presented. The motion was seconded by Wayne and passed unanimously.

Date of First September Selectboard Meeting (Conflict with Labor Day)

Since the next meeting would fall on Labor Day, and the Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashanah follows, Randy suggested a later date. Wayne concurred submitting we should conduct a virtual meeting for this as well. Hugh put forward the idea of holding the meeting on September 13. Randy’s concern was that it would be too close to the meeting ordinarily scheduled for September 20. Further the need to sign documents relating to the payroll and vender warrants was a concern. Gabe noted these don’t have to be signed in a meeting and suggested that the Selectboard could hold its meeting when necessary and sign them as otherwise needed. It was agreed to consider the potential options and to consult with Kathy prior to posting.

Minutes

The Selectboard considered the minutes for July 26, 2021. The Selectboard saw no changes that needed to be made and adopted the minutes as written.

Hugh made a motion to accept the minutes of July 26, 2021. Wayne seconded and the motion passed without objection.

A motion to adjourn at 8:27 pm was made by Wayne. The motion was seconded by Hugh and passed without objection.