Town of New Salem Selectboard

Meeting Minutes

 April 5, 2021

Held Virtually via Zoom

Convened: 7:00 pm

Present: Randy Gordon, Wayne Hachey, Jean Derderian, Selectboard; Nancy Aldrich, Town Coordinator; Nancy Slator, New Salem News; Joanne Tresback for Blackinton Rd; Joe Cuneo, Fire Chief; Lisa Finestone, Calvin Layton, Sue Dunbar, Tree Committee; David Cramer, Planning Board; Jen Potee, Karyn Briand, Board of Health; Lynn Layton

Selectboard Reviewed & Signed the Following:

  • Payroll & Vendor Warrants

Discussion Items

Blackinton Rd. Paving

Joanne started off by asking if there is any plan coming down the road to either do some more paving of Blackinton Rd, or to at least begin the process to work on necessary culverts. If there is no plan in place, then residents would like to know how to start it. Wayne responded that there is a plan and it was to pave past Joanne’s house to an intersection. But that has changed. South Main Street is also on the list and will have to take precedence given funding limits. But the hope is next year it will be possible to get that done. In the meantime, Highway Dept. will work on culverts in preparation. There will also be some gravel. Otherwise Wayne promised to ensure the culvert work is done and to address some problem spots including a spring in the road that’s near the crossing over to Orange. Joanne noted that is really a big part of the problem. There’s also the issue of the road serving as a throughway for a lot of traffic cutting through as a short cut to avoid Rt. 122 coming from Orange. The situation really does create a chronic issue and every spring people have to be towed out and cars can get damaged. Wayne noted his work with the former Highway Chief Tom Swan, and promised that he would see to it the new Highway Chief Jake Cooley would be able to see further work done and more improvements. Joanne asked that Blackinton Rd be addressed before Branch Bridge. Further work on Branch Bridge might create an issue with traffic from Athol. There’s already, pre-pandemic, an issue with partying on Branch Bridge. Joanne thanked the Selectboard for listening. Wayne thanked her and noted that the town really has been putting thought and effort into this. The money hasn’t been there, but it may be possible to obtain other sources. Joanne agreed suggesting a call to the State Representative. Wayne was unsure that it would help on Chapter 90, but any call is worth it as it could help. Joanne then asked about a petition with the Post Office to move their mail boxes. Residents asked if the Selectboard might be able to provide support. Wayne responded it’s a federal agency and the Post Office is currently in some disarray facing its own potential overhaul by Congress. But he suggested the Selectboard could offer a letter of support.

Comprehensive Emergency Management Plan

Joe asked the Selectboard to consider signing the plan. It’s fairly boilerplate. He then went over a few key points. The plan is designed to formulate policies that protect life and property within the community and provides guidance for strategic thinking for emergency situations and encourages guidelines, plans, and policies. Initiates and establishes the emergency command and identifies lines of authority and communication for emergency situations for EMS personnel. This has also been passed by MEMA and is based on a federal framework and is compliant with national systems and guidelines. The plan is 75 pages in total and the Selectboard chair would sign it in three places and Joe would sign off on it as well as a few other Department Heads. Wayne asked if there would be any cost to the town. Joe responded there are no costs to the town. Jean asked if this is reconciled with MGL. She noted a few places in it that deviate, but acknowledged MEMA’s role. Still she wasn’t sure if they were saying it was reconciled or not. It could change a few ways New Salem handles things. She also wondered if it would start now under the current pandemic or with the next emergency. Joe responded he understands it to be reconciled with MGL through MEMA and their approval of it. Essentially we have one of these in place now and likely would take effect in the next couple of weeks. Jean noted the process for local states of emergency declarations and asked about a provision that appears to place this declaration power into the chair of the Selectboard rather than the Selectboard as a whole. Joe responded that such power already currently exists within the chair. The Selectboard vote is just good policy. Wayne asked about training for this. Joe responded that some existing training helps cover this as its basic FEMA training but there could be an updated training. Joe then noted that most updates have things to do with current individuals who hold positions and various things that exist in town that should be targeted for inclusion and to make sure that information in the plan about them remains mostly current. Randy recalled the ice storm roughly 12 years that caused an almost immediate state of local emergency. That really needed this and this looks similar to previous plans. Jean noted she still had outstanding questions about changes in the definition of a state of local emergency and would therefore be in opposition at this juncture.

Wayne made a motion to approve the plan and authorize necessary signing by the Selectboard chair. The motion being seconded by Randy and passing by majority vote.

Driveway Permit – Recommendations from Tree Committee

Randy stated his opinion for the record that Tree Committee has the lead on this. Calvin then responded by noting that the current permit has only a sign off from the Highway Chief. His research shows that both the Planning Board and the Tree Warden should be signing off as well. So Tree Committee has created a sheet that explains the process as well as an updated version of the permit. This sign off ensures that provisions of MGL have been attained and once the sign off occurs the person can obtain the driveway permit. Lisa then asked about the Wendell version of this. Calvin responded that it had its own issues. It still has it as the Highway Chief as the sole sign off and assumes that officer will consult with Planning Board and Tree Warden (if not the same person as Highway Chief) prior to sign off. Nancy Aldrich asked about the status of the draft replacement permit. Calvin didn’t have it just as of yet noting he’s still constructing the permit and ensuring its conformance with the appropriate statutes. So Tree Committee will be back. Wayne noted this is basically a forerunner to the ultimate Building Permit. Calvin responded affirmatively. The town applied the Scenic Road Act to the whole town, unlike most towns which specified certain roads over others. So anytime anyone puts a hole in a stonewall without approval they’re violating the act. Lisa asked for a progress update on hazardous tree removals. Calvin responded by reporting a contractor will be in town in the next week to start on trees on South Main Street. He’ll be marking trees on Prescott Rd. which will be next. He’ll be doing a more detailed tree survey. Some roads in town really aren’t bad while others are. There are a number of future threats to consider like ash trees with the emerald ash borer. Another thing is he is working with National Grid to get as many trees done that fall under their jurisdiction as they are responsible for those and at their own cost. It’s in their interest as the work will protect the utility network in town including broadband. Karyn asked about two dangerous trees on Prescott Rd on the non-wire side. She asked who to report to. Calvin responded report to the Tree Committee and Tree Warden. Still he’s heard it and reminded he’ll be working on Prescott Rd as Deputy Tree Warden. Jean asked about National Grid and wondered if the Selectboard could help encourage National Grid. Calvin responded there may be but he has a good relationship with them and felt he could move things along. Lisa noted that one tree has been identified with the emerald ash borer. So we now officially know they are here.

Request from Planning Board to Contact Town Counsel

David presented for Planning Board. The board has two questions it would like to ask Town Counsel regarding Special Permits and if ownership of a property changes hands if the Special Permit stays in effect for a new owner or not. The towns zoning does not specifically address this situation. The hope is Town Counsel may have some experience as to how to handle this. It was his understanding that a Special Permit runs with the deed and so regardless of who owns the deed it should remain and new owners don’t have to reapply for a use that continues on with the new owner. But this is something that the Planning Board would like to know in general and going forward as it applies to a particular situation that is before the board now. Wayne noted his own experience on Planning Board and felt confident that it would depend on how the permit was worded. Randy asked if there was any useful information provided from the Zoning Enforcement Officer. David responded that the ZEO isn’t an attorney and isn’t Town Counsel. There’s no legal backing to any interpretation he makes and the town could get into a situation where someone could sue the town for not requiring a permit when its required or for not allowing a permit when they should. Jean noted her understanding is that a Special Permit is more of a contract between an individual and the town and isn’t transferable unless specified in the permit. But the question to her mind is what the default is and so she supported Town Counsel being consulted. We don’t want to make a mistake here. Randy wasn’t personally in support of consulting Town Counsel in this fiscal year as the town is over budget on legal fees unless it is an emergency.

He didn’t feel it to be fiscally responsible. So if this is just a like to know type thing it should wait. David responded that this isn’t entirely urgent and if the Selectboard feels more comfortable with waiting it could wait until next fiscal year. But that still poses some risk in the intervening time. Randy responded it is a little bit of time but July 1 isn’t that far away. Wayne reminded that both ZBA and Planning Board are represented by Town Counsel. So perhaps we can find some way to combine the questions. The legal budget will likely be impacted for sure regardless. Jean felt that as long as there is nothing pressing at this moment, but should this issue that is posing the question happens before July 1, we will need the information. But if it can be postponed she was okay with that. As to Wayne’s idea that would depend on Town Counsel. Randy felt it likely that any question will have a cost. It is simply a matter of when to spend the money. These are important questions, but we are 35 percent over budget on legal fees this fiscal year. It is not ideal. Still he asked David and Planning Board to return with this question should it become urgent. Randy then suggested some ways to perhaps find answers alternatively such as by asking other towns or FRCOG. David was open to talking to FRCOG. Wayne encouraged talking to FRCOG thinking they actually might have that answer and know what towns to talk to for more information. David submitted the transfer in ownership may also need to consult their attorneys in process as well. Randy finished by reminding town officials we need to be cautious in our spending as we must remember the consequences. Karyn asked for clarification as to the comparison of liability to financial. She expressed fear that the cost could be worse if the town incurs liability.

Oldest Citizen

Nancy Aldrich reported that the most recent Oldest Citizen has passed away. She can put together a certificate for the new Oldest Citizen. This is usually presented in person as part of another event like Old Home Day or something the Selectboard puts together. Wayne wasn’t against delivering in person as he’s fully vaccinated. He recalled a pin to hand out as well. Nancy promised to contact the citizen to find out his preference.

Review of Selectboard Annual Town Meeting Submission

Nancy Aldrich reported that this will have to wait. She’d hoped to have it ready for this meeting but it’s time consuming and not yet ready. It should be ready next meeting.

Cover for the Annual Town Report

Nancy Aldrich went over a few ideas for a cover including some humorous ones like a picture of the COVID-19 vaccine since the ATR looks back a year and will be the 2020 Annual Town Report. It was agreed to ask Nancy Slator to put out in the New Salem News that the town is looking for an idea. Wayne asked about putting a noted citizen on it. Randy responded that in the past there has been somewhat of an incidence of those who appear on the cover passing away shortly thereafter and as a result people have been less interested in appearing on the cover. Understandably this usually includes reluctances from the Oldest Citizen too.  

FY22 Budget Concerns

Nancy Aldrich submitted that any known items should be sent over to Finance Committee. They intend to present the draft budget soon within the next month or so. Randy asked Wayne about the most recent Finance Committee meeting. Wayne had no specific recollections of anything new. Nancy Aldrich asked about the Stowell Building’s front door. Wayne responded that the buildings maintenance account should have the funds to cover it. Randy reminded that one of the discussions was the question about the benefits for some employees like, for example, those for the Fire Chief. There is clearly a continuing discussion about the pro’s and con’s on that. He’d heard from some that Finance Committee was not in support of paying for some of the benefits for the Fire Chief. He suggested a formal joint session with Finance Committee is in order to discuss the matter further.

Thank You Letter Regarding Recent COVID-19 Vaccine Clinic

Nancy Aldrich reported on a thank you letter that was received. The letter was from Stephen and Betsy Pelz. They thanked specifically the Board of Health for their work specifically for helping organize the clinic for 75 and over citizens of New Salem. They also commended the further work for all residents noting a lot of behind the sense work done to help. They went above and beyond and devoted untold hours to help. Randy thanked them for their letter.

Approval of Ad for Shared Town Administrator/Coordinator

Randy reported on a request from Wendell to include this at the meeting. Wendell has approved an ad for the shared position. Nancy Aldrich essentially wrote it. Jean noted that this includes room for refinement and was fine with approving it. Wayne concurred.

Jean made a motion to approve the ad as written. Wayne seconded the motion and it passed unanimously.

Patriots Day Reminder

Nancy Aldrich reminded all that Patriots Day is a holiday so the Selectboard’s next meeting will be on Tuesday, April 20.

Schedule Executive Session to Discussion Open Meeting Law Complaint

Randy reported this item came in too late to be included on this meeting’s agenda given the normal posting practices in place to ensure compliance with the OML. He asked if members could meet in a week on Monday on what would usually be the Selectboard’s off week. Wayne noted this is an Executive Session and outlined his availability for that date. Jean was also available. It was agreed that Nancy Aldrich would take the minutes rather than the Selectboard Clerk. The matter will be posted as required but will not be open to the public.

Minutes

The Selectboard considered the minutes for March 8, 2021 and March 22, 2021. It was ultimately agreed to approve the minutes for March 8, 2021 and to table the minutes for March 22, 2021 until the next meeting. Wayne in particular wanted the March 22 minutes to wait. Jean noted the formal agenda didn’t include them so it would be prudent. Randy was concerned about some timelines for providing those minutes. Jean responded they weren’t on the agenda and therefore lawfully have to wait. Wayne concurred, they didn’t arrive until very recently and may remain in some limbo.

A motion to approve the March 8, 2021 minutes was made by Wayne and seconded by Randy. The motion passed by without objection.

A motion to adjourn at 8:02 pm was made by Wayne. The motion was seconded by Jean and passed without objection.

Respectfully Submitted

Jakob K. Hamm, Selectboard Clerk