Town of New Salem Selectboard

Meeting Minutes

 April 20, 2021

Held Virtually via Zoom

Convened: 7:02 pm

Present: Randy Gordon, Wayne Hachey, Jean Derderian, Selectboard; Nancy Aldrich, Town Coordinator; Lisa Finestone, Tree Committee; David Cramer, Planning Board; Jen Potee, Board of Health; Brad Fisher, 1794 Meetinghouse; Hugh Mackay; Ramona Hamblin

Selectboard Reviewed & Signed the Following:

  • Payroll & Vendor Warrants
  • Town Election Warrant
  • Cemetery Deed

Discussion Items

Brief Announcement from Selectboard Chair Regarding Rules for Meeting Participation

Randy explained that because we are meeting online it can be hard to recognize who wants to talk. So there are several ways to be recognized. Zoom allows multiple ways to raise your hand and he elaborated on various methods through Zoom both on a computer and on your phone. He submitted if there is ever a case where a person is uncertain, to avoid any talking over each other issues, people need to communicate in some way that they would like to speak. That can include waiving your hands at the screen if you have video.

1794 Meetinghouse / Proposed Purchase from Town  

Brad brought things up to date. Through Nancy Aldrich he’s obtained the latest documents from Wendell from their experience. He then converted to text, and edited the document to reflect New Salem and the 1794 Meetinghouse. This has allowed him to create a base model for an agreement. He felt that in reading through it and processing it that there were some clauses that could deal with most of the towns concerns. He suggested the best way to preserve the 1794 Meetinghouse is to sell it to the nonprofit. In light of all the discussions that the nonprofit 1794 Meetinghouse has had they’ve realized that they often already deal with things that owners deal with rather than tenants. There have always be grey areas and it would be great to clarify them and that’s something that this can do. Renovating and restoring this building really needs this. There are several projects like the shutters that need to be rebuilt and restored. But the issue of prevailing wage makes everything far more expensive. The best thing is for the nonprofit to own the building in order to devout itself to caring for it. He asked the Selectboard for its thoughts and any concerns or objections to moving forward. Wayne suggested that if the parties proceed down this path a purchase and sales agreement should be written with various protections for the town and the nonprofit alike. There will need to be rights of first refusal for any future sale or transfer and the purchase and sales should spell out all that should be in the contract to be agreed too. Brad submitted that the agreement he’s put together covers all of that. Wayne asked about a timeline. Brad’s response was to suggest this can’t wait a year, so if there is a Special Town Meeting in the late summer that would be doable. He understood it’s probably too late for the Annual Town Meeting. All of this said he conceded a feeling he’s pushing this, but submitted there’s so much involved. This is a precious building and we need to talk about it and that’s why he’s pushing this. He expressed the belief that the town’s concerns are completely dealt with in the document currently put together. Obviously there may be some remaining details to resolve, but the broad strokes are there. Wayne responded that there will need to be some time to review what’s been put together. Otherwise he saw no reason why this couldn’t go to a town meeting sooner rather than later.

Jean expressed the feeling this is one of the most important historical resources and buildings in town. It is in the center of the town which is where all the government is and where commerce happens. She was not prepared to say at this moment whether it should be sold or not. She expressed the desire to see the town get more feedback and suggested a public informational hearing where the 1794 Meetinghouse nonprofit can answer questions. Ramona expressed agreement with Jean noting this is a very important building for New Salem, but she also agreed with Brad that this really needs an organization to care for it. Her understanding of the buildings history is that the nonprofit was created to do just this, protect and care for the building. But still, it might be too soon to add this to something like the Annual Town Meeting and agreed generally with Brad’s feeling of waiting for a Special Town Meeting. Waiting a year is a serious concern. So she asked about the town meeting options. Nancy Aldrich submitted the first step is to go to town meeting to approve the sale of the building. So town meeting would authorize the Selectboard to sell the building and the details would need to be worked out after that. Randy asked Brad to put forward some materials that can be published in The New Salem News for citizens to digest and also asked if it might be possible to do some virtual public events. Brad was open to doing that, but submitted with fair weather an outdoor socially distanced meeting could be done. Ramona suggested it would be worth it to publish something in The New Salem News, and maybe allow email responses with a single meeting later. This would at least give people an opportunity to participate. Brad returned to what Nancy had said about the process. He then framed how the public discussions would happen in relation to that. Jean suggested that having the document that’s drafted so far as a starting point. She agreed with Ramona that it would be good to have a couple different kinds of formats. Even in this last year, not everyone has the full capacity to do this virtually. She favored having a few different meetings in different ways noting the limitations to people. A couple of venues would be advisable. She submitted the case be presented that elaborates on what the nonprofit intends to do. A full and open transparent format with the opportunity for all to speak. This is really about a body of people that have been dedicated to this mission. She noted she was a member of the nonprofits board for decades. Rushing this isn’t a good way to do it, building support is and that happens by letting everyone have a chance to participate in the process.

Brad acknowledged that. Still he expressed the desire to have full and open discussion with as many people as possible, but he did not want to stall this with endless discussion. Nancy submitted that while these meetings may be helpful, she agreed with Brad that this not drag on. She noted if the town meeting approves the sale it will be up to the Selectboard to negotiate the final agreements and those negotiations could take time. People need to be prepared for that. Hugh asked about mailings that could be done in town to residents asking for comments and suggestions with some indication of favorability to the sale. This he felt would ensure all households in town would be notified. Nancy felt confident a mailing could be done, but there would be a cost and who would pay for that would need to be considered. That cost would include the question of return envelopes. To her recollection the town has had very low response rates when doing these kinds of mailings. She agreed it’s not a bad idea, but wasn’t sure there’d be a lot of responses. Randy felt that what would go on the town meeting warrant would be the authorization to sell. It’s not likely that the nonprofit would suddenly get outbid. He submitted that the nonprofit has to make the case while the Selectboard’s role is to be mostly neutral. Brad was fine with that, but asked if the nonprofit could get access to a street listing from the Town Clerk’s office. He was confident that the mailing expense could be covered. His takeaway was that the process moves forward. He wasn’t sure he’d pay for a return, but giving people notice and an opportunity to respond is positive. He felt doing it in a number of ways would be great as long as it’s not endless. Nancy noted Brad should contact the Town Clerk directly for that information. Wayne suggested the town shouldn’t give up control. In the wording of the model document it’s clear that the town doesn’t. To his mind this is mostly to allow ownership for purposes of grant applications and avoiding certain costs. Brad felt the effective answer is essentially that. The nonprofit would own the building, but if it failed in specific ways to care for the building or wanted to end its ownership of the building the town would have certain options and rights of first refusal. He returned to Wendell’s example noting how that worked out and submitting the same could work here. Wayne expressed support at this juncture and was in favor of getting it to a town meeting. Randy noted that there are still some outstanding questions on the language, but he felt that things can continue to be examined and looked at while still proceeding with putting this before town meeting. Any warrant article will only authorize the Selectboard to go through the process and as Nancy noted negotiations will have to conclude thereafter. Discussion concluded there. 

Request to locate Congregational Church Mailbox Next to Town / Tax Collector Mailboxes

Nancy reported that the Church’s ask for this is because they are discontinuing their use of a Post Office Box. They have confirmed with the Post Office that this would be convenient. In the past they hadn’t been charged for the P.O. Box, but now would and so are asking for this solution. Wayne asked if they would put their own box up. Nancy responded affirmatively. In that case there was no objections.

Mosquito Spraying / Review Information from Commonwealth about Spraying Program & Opt Out Process

Nancy Aldrich noted some materials she’s provided on this. The Commonwealth is looking to be able to spray for mosquitos if EEE becomes a problem. Towns that don’t want to participate have to opt out, but if they do the town has to have an alternate plan. So it’s a lengthy request to opt out. She’s referred this to the Board of Health as well. Wayne expressed hope that the spray being used not be toxic. His only reservations would be the safety of the chemicals used. Some of the conventional ones are killing bees in great numbers. So he’d like to know what they’re using. Jean reported she’s heard from a constituent to oppose this due to ecological consequences. It isn’t her area of expertise, but she has been asked to speak against. She asked that other boards or committees with expertise be consulted as well. Randy noted the town has until May 15. Jen didn’t want to speak for the rest of the Board of Health, but submitted it would go on the BOH’s agenda. She understands Wendell decided against this and is working on a plan. She agreed with Wayne about wanting to know what is in the spray. She understands its done at night, but still has reservations. That said, she also expressed some interest in seeing what the town would have to put in place as an alternative. As that could be labor intensive. Wayne noted a few properties with some junk like tires that have water in them and that could be an issue with mosquitoes. Standing water like that isn’t good. He reminded all in attendance to make sure that any standing water is monitored and dealt with appropriately. He stressed he isn’t totally opposed to spraying, just that he wants to know what’s being sprayed. Randy noted there’s a lot of information put out by the Commonwealth. He reiterated that if we don’t want this, the town has to have a response. We are short on time as we’re only 25 days away from the deadline. So inaction is approval by default. Jean asked about Wendell and whether New Salem could work with Wendell on an alternative plan. Nancy noted that the Wendell Board of Health is working with the Wendell Selectboard to come up with an alternative. She agreed this could be something worked on jointly. Randy agreed but noted that we have to decide who’s going to work on this. Nancy submitted she could ask Wendell’s Board of Health. Even if it’s not a collaboration, if we like the ideas we could borrow them. There’s some notifications and information that would have to be provided to all in town as well as some options to consider. Randy noted if we do opt out there has to be a vote at a Selectboard meeting. So this has to happen between now and the next meeting. Otherwise the town would miss the deadline. Nancy concurred noting it should go on the agenda and allow residents to have an opportunity to comment. 

Proposed Driveway Permit

Lisa reported that unfortunately the Tree Committee wasn’t able to have a quorum for this meeting. Wayne took a moment to thank the committee noting he’s gone around town and noted 38 dangerous trees that have been removed. Lisa responded that’s really Calvin Layton’s work. She promised to let the Selectboard know when the committee would be ready.

Annual Report Cover

Nancy reported that so far there are no contenders. There have been a couple of suggestions, but no actual photographs provided.

Acceptance of Selectboard Submission for Annual Town Report

Randy then briefly went over the submission and asked for any feedback to be provided. Jean responded she hasn’t seen the submission as of yet. Wayne also hadn’t seen it. Nancy stressed this has to be approved by the next meeting as the cut offs for the printer are looming. Wayne asked that it be re-sent promising to jump right on it. Randy noted it was sent out originally on April 7. This is really just a brief overview of what was done over the year and looks retrospectively. He asked if it would be reasonable to ask for preliminary approval and that any concerns be brought to Nancy in a few days and then only if there are concerns it be brought back to a meeting. Wayne was in favor of that solution as was Jean.

Wayne made a motion to approve the submission as written with provision that members could review and return comments to the Town Coordinator for edits. The motion was seconded by Jean and passed unanimously.

Library Surplus Furniture – Virtual Auction

Nancy reported on an email from the Library Trustees regarding the matter and the option for a virtual auction. Jean noted some of her efforts on this, including looking at the furniture in question to determine if they might be of use to any other body in the town. There are three tables in the Library that could be used elsewhere and noted the measurements of them. They’re very nice and if we can use them it great. Otherwise she had no objections. Nancy suggested that the Selectboard has until May 8 to determine if those tables or other items should be kept. Otherwise the Selectboard has already approved the sale. Randy asked what the easiest way to get a viewing of the items would be and where they’re being stored. Jean responded that it’s all still in the Library. She suggested that some of the bookcases in question might be usable. This is an opportunity to reuse what we have, so various bodies and organs of the town should take a look at them. But otherwise there’s no reason it cannot go forward. Wayne suggested it might be too much to ask all departments to look. He felt that if Library is prepared to move on with these items they should be allowed to do so. Lisa wearing her Friends of the Library hat submitted that any items held will need to be moved elsewhere. She emphasized she wasn’t speaking for the Library Trustees. Randy responded that they can be moved to another space noting the Town Hall has plenty of space to store a few items if they should be held back. He suggested sending emails to different organs of the town noting the auction and putting forward that if anyone is interested in the items they should speak now. Hugh asked about MGL Chapter 30B. Nancy responded that the town adopts an article at town meeting every year that authorizes the Selectboard to declare surplus items. This obviously doesn’t cover things like police cruisers but does cover things like tables and bookcases. Wayne then reported on some communications with the Library Director regarding some work being done to the Library. The Building Inspector has notices some clapboards that are damaged and need to be replaced. He suggested that the existing work being done on the building now can include this it should. If it would cost more than that would need to be dealt with differently, but otherwise should be looked at. Nancy noted if it’s a small percentage an amendment could be done to the existing contract. Wayne agreed to discuss with the relevant parties. Randy asked if a vote needs to be held. Nancy didn’t think so, but couldn’t speak directly to it in total. Jean noted that in contracts this kind of amendment happens on a regular basis. She was in support of Wayne working on this.

Complaint Regarding People Not Picking Up After Their Dogs on the Town Common

Nancy reported on a neighbor of the Town Common complaining about dog droppings and asserting the Town Common has become a dog park. Nancy noted that it is in the towns by-law that people pick up after their dogs, but that enforcement is difficult. Jean put forward a suggestion. There was talk with Recreation about providing a disposal method for people. She wondered if there is a possible solution. She also recommended that there be notification and agreed as someone who lives by the Town Common that this is a problem. Wayne suggested putting a box up with baggies that fit over the hand and then have a disposable bag for pickup on a weekly basis by Highway Dept. Randy asked if the Selectboard would take action or whether this would fall to another board. Nancy responded that a notice could be out in The New Salem News and the Recreation Committee could be consulted. Jean agreed to reach out to Recreation.

Town Coordinator Position – Split from Wendell?

Randy reported on a vote by Wendell. They have voted to hire their own Town Coordinator. This means that after 28 years of sharing the position, the towns will part ways. The benefits were split as well as the wages. As we proceed things will need to be considered. The role will need to be examined. Wendell has opted to have their position become 30 hours and the Town Coordinator would help other boards and fulfill other responsibilities. New Salem would likely need to increase the hours as well and will need to consider the benefits. One of the things sorely missed for a long time is someone who is in a position to grant write. So that’s something to consider. The town has to act quickly. Wendell already has a person in mind. Nancy noted it’s still being advertised and nothing is a done deal. Wayne asked if Wendell has provided formal notice. Nancy responded they have voted on this but haven’t sent official notice. The vote was, unfortunately, unanimous. Randy noted their position was that they needed more hours and for them since they are trying to roll in other positions it made sense. He stressed this will be a financial hit as New Salem will have to increase the hours in all likelihood and will have to pay the full benefits. New Salem will really need to reexamine everything in a short amount of time as Nancy is retiring soon. Wayne asked about the ad put out by both towns. Randy conceded that ad existed, but this has happened and now the town will need to determine how to move forward. Wayne suggested that Finance Committee will need to be brought in. Randy noted that Finance Committee will have opinions on how to manage costs, but the Selectboard will need to consider the other questions like how to shape the job and what it will entail. Nancy noted there are clearly more things she could do in New Salem with more time. But it really will be driven by the vision of what this will be. Tomorrow she could easily fill up 6-8 hours without trying and if you add grant writing to it, that would likely get to that 10 extra. In Wendell they’d already allotted money for a couple different small jobs for clerks that they think they can roll in and use the money as well. This might also be similar for New Salem. But she wasn’t aware of any particular examples. At a minimum the town could hire someone for 20 hours a week to do what she does and the only really cost would be the benefits. Whether that would receive interest would require advertising to test the waters. Wayne asked if the ad we did have could be reworded so it could be approved quickly. Nancy agreed it could. She submitted she has Wendell’s writing and it could be adapted. But we really need to define the hours. She noted any job over 20 hours there must be benefits per relevant applicable MGL. Randy stressed that we will need to work swiftly.

Request to Support Making Armored Mud Balls the Massachusetts State “Sedimentary Structure”

Nancy reported on a request from a professor emeritus as Greenfield Community College for this. Armored mud Balls are found throughout the world but are fairly rare. Surprisingly Franklin County has a lot of them. They are large balls of silt and clay coated with a poorly sorted mixture of gravel and sand. They are preserved in geological rock. Jean asked what this would mean exactly. Nancy responded it appears to be another state item like the state bird, or state reptile, etc. Lisa noted a few areas they can be found in Franklin County like in Gill, and recalled that this professor is very well respected. Wayne asked if they are valuable. It was unclear. Randy suggested seeing if a little research can be done and this can go before the next meeting. Jean asked if there are other contenders for this designation. Nancy didn’t think so. This is likely a new category.

Town Election Warrant

Randy noted the election warrant is ready to be signed and asked his fellow members to do so. This approval is more or less a formality under MGL.

Cemetery Deed

Randy reminded that there’s a deed that members need to sign. It was agreed for members to sign the deed when also signing the Town Election Warrant.

COVID-19 Update

Jen provided a quick update. Sadly, things are not entirely getting better. New cases are still rolling in despite vaccine clinics. This area is having more cases and many are coming from gatherings for Passover and Easter. Wayne noted that Wired West has also had some of its staff hit and that’s been impacting their ability to assist the towns broadband. Jen agreed reminding that people can carry COVID and not even know it. So folks need to continue wearing masks and social distancing. This fight isn’t over yet.

Planning Board Request for Town Counsel

Nancy reported on a request by Planning Board to contact Town Counsel with the caveat they would pay for it out of their budget. Wayne asked David for his thoughts. David responded that Planning Board has done well on its budget this year despite having normal costs for advertising hearings and the like. Wayne was baffled by how little was spent noting the Zoning Board of Appeals has had far higher costs for things like ads. David wasn’t certain as to why that disparity exists. Wayne asked the reasoning again. David responded that there’s the old issue on the Special Permit, but they also have a new question regarding short term rentals under the existing by-laws of the town. Wayne asked if this is a request from the whole Planning Board or one member. David responded it was voted on and approved by the whole Planning Board. Wayne expressed the opinion that the FRCOG should be consulted first. He noted the legal budget is far overspent and it doesn’t include some pending issues. Jean recalled that when she was on Planning Board the budget was more moderate and it was increased due in part to the need for funds for legal fees. Things were a little different then, but if Planning Board wants to use their own budget she felt it was well within their authority to do so. David was not opposed to asking FRCOG, but felt that the authorization should be there. Still he was fine with putting that on pause until after talking to FRCOG. The only time limit is the fiscal year end. Randy asked if Planning Board foresees spending any further funds before July 1. David outlined a few items, including a Special Permit for a cell tower. There’s also the marijuana facility which hasn’t submitted its application yet. He wasn’t certain what specifically was left in the budget. Randy was in favor of asking FRCOG first but was otherwise not opposed to the use of Planning Board funds to get questions answered by that board. Nancy noted the hourly rate is around $190 for Town Counsel. Randy was in support as long as Planning feels confident it has the funds. Nancy submitted the invoice will be divided to each topic and the amount due from Planning Board can be paid from their account. But the law firm that provides Town Counsel can be slow to bill so it’s important to know that so we can either pay it by July 1 or encumber the necessary funds. Wayne noted a few other things that might blow a hole in the FY22 legal budget. Randy noted that in this kind of situation it begs the question of where the town finds funds. Does the town have to exhaust its legal fees account first or if other groups have to pay out of their lines? Nancy responded by explaining that how this is dealt with currently is that the legal expense line is exhausted first, then you use reserve funds under Finance Committee’s control, and then we focus on end of year transfers after May from departments. Randy suggested the Selectboard needs to consider the process and budgeting more carefully going forward. Discussion concluded with David promising that Planning Board will be thrifty.

Jean made a motion to approve and authorize the Planning Board to consult Town Counsel and to use monies in their annual budget for costs related thereof for matters before the Planning Board. The motion was seconded by Wayne and passed without objection.

Minutes

The Selectboard considered the minutes for March 22, 2021 and April 5, 2021. It was determined to table both sets of minutes until the next meeting.

A motion to adjourn at 8:34 pm was made by Wayne. The motion was seconded by Jean and passed without objection.

Respectfully Submitted

Jakob K. Hamm, Selectboard Clerk