Town of NewSalem Selectboard
December 16, 2019
Stowell Building, New Salem, MA 01355
Convened: 7:01 pm
Present: Randy Gordon, Wayne Hachey, Jean Derderian, Selectboard; Nancy Aldrich, Town Coordinator; Ken Holmberg, Assistant Assessor; Bill Lafley, Board of Assessors; Zara Dowling, Green Communities; Gail Spring, Animal Control Officer; Cam Dunbar; Bruce Spencer; Sue Turner; Doug Turner; Judith Northrop Bennet; Ken Bright
Selectboard Reviewed & Signed the Following:
Ø Payroll & Vendor Warrants
Ø Standard Commonwealth Contract for Council on Aging Grant
Ø Professional Services Agreement for Police Success Planning
Ø Letter of Support for Municipal Vulnerability Planning Grant
Ø Liquor Licenses for New Salem General Store & New Salem Cider
Ø Class II Used Car Dealer License for Thomas Carey Sr. & Jr.
Tax Classification Hearing
Ken started off by noting this hearing is happening a bit late due to a multitude of factors such as the Town Accountants surgery this past summer which put him behind, plus the snow storm that occurred earlier in the month. This year the levy is roughly just under $2 million. The rate per thousand would be $18.09. They are not recommending split rates. This would be a single rate with a modest increase per thousand. The average tax bill would increase roughly $150 for the year. Ken noted that a lot of the options don’t apply or would penalize a single business unfairly. The residential exemption would be inequitable to some in town given seasonal habitation. So the single tax rate option seems best. Randy inquired about trends as to real estate values. Ken responded that values are going up, but not dramatically with the average single family home being $216,000. He briefly explained how the Commonwealth determines and approves assessments. Some adjustments were made over the year for new construction and other changes, but those are always normal. Land values and building values are otherwise substantially the same as last year. Randy asked if broadband would have an impact on values. Ken responded that Leverett has had it for a few years now and don’t appear to have seen a big increase in values. More sales, but not substantially higher values. New Salem does have a relatively low tax rate as compared to many of its neighbors in the region.
Orange is $20.33 per thousand and Shutesbury is $24.04 per thousand. Wayne inquired about the values of a few parts of town which Ken briefly responded to noting changes, including the museum that’s going in. Jean asked why an increase in the face of the towns debts decreasing. Nancy interjected to note that school assessments have gone up as well as the borrowings for broadband. Ken agreed and elaborated on the way the levy limit works as well as new growth expectations. He also briefly outlined the last re-evaluation of properties in town and how that also impacted assessed values. Bill noted that if the assessment stays the same, the tax rate actually has to increase to make up for the expected growth and for the Prop 2 ½ increase. Wayne noted that while broadband might not increase house values specifically, he inquired as to whether the actual infrastructure would have an impact. Ken elaborated on new methods to calculate the net value of such new utilities. This is new and was only announced last year for this year, but the Commonwealth provided no guidance so the town would have to hire a consultant and even then it would likely have to defend any valuation on appeal. A further wrinkle would be the fact that the infrastructure not owned by the utility companies like Verizon and National Grid would be town owned and likely exempt. Excess levy capacity would be just under $100,000. Given the considerations the Selectboard determined to adopt a factor of 1.
A motion was made by Wayne to approve a minimum residential factor of 1. Jean seconded the motion and passed unanimously.
Green Communities Grant / Energy Committee Update
Zara began by providing a brief update for this year. Green Communities does not have a full board right now, and could use a new member. So if anyone is interested. Jean asked for a description of what the committee does and how many meetings it holds as she had a few candidates who might be interested. Zara agreed to provide the info. She then reported on energy reduction. For buildings the reductions have been solid. Fuel reduction has been less successful. Nancy noted that a lot of that is due to fluctuations in weather, particularly in winter. Zara agreed that weather is part of that, things like plowing can effect things. She then turned to Swift River Elementary. They’ve done a lot to realize energy efficiencies and are down substantially. She then reported on the towns generation through solar. The town has produced a significant amount of energy which is great. She then noted that Street Lights have seen an increase. Randy responded that is likely due to the Transfer Station where Board of Health added lights to allow for longer hours during winter. Wayne noted the new compactor at the Transfer Station might also be responsible, but it makes up for it in other savings.
Zara then submitted that work continues with FRCOG to keep working on Swift River and noted some opportunities for competitive grants. To that end Wayne reminded that some of the work to be supported by that should be rooftop solar on municipal facilities. Zara agreed noting that it would be possible to proceed, but some structural assessments would need to be made, particularly for the new Highway Garage. In the meantime, some thought should be put into considering priorities for further upgrades and efficiencies. Jean inquired about what the plans for Swift River in particular are, which Zara elaborated on noting one of the biggest is the HVAC system and another is the boiler. Nancy suggested that the new windows may help on the boiler side. Zara generally agreed. Randy suggested that prior to any big projects being done that analysis be done. This was not to green programs, but more instances like the Transfer Station where projects initiated can clearly have an impact. This being due to the hidden costs that aren’t realized until later. Discussion concluded with Zara expressing openness to the idea and was willing to consult with Board of Health to assess the Transfer Station in particular. It may be worth investing in efficiencies at the Station such as better insulation for the small shed that the Transfer Station Attendants stay in during winter.
MOA with FRCOG Regarding Emergency Communications Equipment
Nancy updated the Selectboard on the current status of this including the various meetings it’s been considered at and the fact that it has been tabled a few times. Both the Police Chief and Fire Chief support this. Wayne noted that the town doesn’t have many if any other options. This has been discussed at FRCOG meetings for about 5 years. FRCOG has concluded that this is necessary. Jean reiterated some of the concern she’s heard. This included some potential for coverage issues in a few towns. Nancy responded that there really hasn’t been full coverage under the current situation. Randy asked Cam if there are any other options. Cam responded that, in his opinion, there aren’t any. Wayne asked about the coverage. Cam responded that New Salem is kind of okay, but the coverage is not where it should be, but it will dramatically improve under this program from what he’s gleaned. Wayne asked about the ability of Fire and Police to talk to each other through this. Cam responded that they would, and not just in town but intercommunity. He felt that this system is by far what the town would want to go with. Jean asked about the oversight committee that would manage this and what impact that would have on community control. A big concern about that being the costs. This unelected committee would be able to make decisions that could impact the town’s budget. Nancy noted that the town gets ambulance service through Orange, and yes that goes up occasionally, but what the town gets is by far more than what it could afford on its own. Cam concurred. He noted that the system in place in the county already involves an oversight committee. He stressed that the Commonwealth is really working to assist the towns on this and this particular program is part of that. Jean asked if the town is losing anything. Cam responded by framing his view from experience. What we have now is horrible and this is the only option.
A motion was made by Wayne to approve the agreement as proposed to the town. Jean seconded the motion which otherwise passed by majority vote with her abstention.
Cooleyville Road Closure
Randy began by asking for those present who live on Cooleyville to speak briefly about the section of Cooleyville in question. Bruce noted that some of the property in the area is DCR property. He then elaborated on where his property is in relation to DCR. The area in question involves a small bridge. The bridge is not in good repair with its guardrails falling off. The cement pad part of it appears to still be solid, but there are some concerns underneath it with stones that have fallen out of place. Wayne noted that perhaps limits could be put in place on it for vehicle traffic. The issue with closing is the way it would impact residents for travel to places like Amherst. Sue noted that the alternatives are dangerous for travel on to Rt. 202. Doug echoed, noting that emergency services would have to be considered. Jean suggested pursuing a proper fix of the bridge. Wayne was uncertain as it could be DCR’s. Bruce contended that it is not DCR’s bridge, they’re just an abutter. Nancy reminded that the town may not have the funds. Wayne noted that it’s only about 10 yards. The bridge was probably built in the 1970’s. Bruce noted he’s spoken to Glenn Lyman who was around in the 1960’s and the bridge was already in place. So it’s likely to have actually been installed in the 1950’s. Bruce recalled some bridges that DCR has installed for their log trucks that are temporary and suggested that the town could ask if one could be borrowed. They’re designed to carry the heavy loads of log trucks.
But they aren’t meant for two-way traffic, though that could be handled with limits and the designation of it as a one lane road there. There was some discussion about the history of the bridge, and what may have existed prior to the current one. It appears that there may have been steel girders there before that were incorporated into the existing bridge. Wayne expressed some concerns with the structure of it and how repairable it would be. Bruce felt that the bridge could be fixed without too much paperwork involved feeling a new cement slab could be put over the existing one and the road part of the bridge built up. Judy suggested some signage that could help with the current situation as well as outlining some of the needs of the road in general. Randy asked what the opinion of the Highway Chief is. Nancy responded that given the newness of Mr. Cooley to his position his opinion is to take the safest option. Discussion then shifted to plowing the road whether it’s closed or kept open with one lane. That also included sanding and how to handle the situation. The towns sand truck is not an insubstantial vehicle. Wayne agreed to discuss signage with the Highway Department. This along with limits on the bridge may serve for a temporary solution.
Dog Office Issues
Jean started off by elaborating on the current status of the Dog Control By-Law which isn’t quite ready for show time yet, but should be soon. Nancy then noted the process for adoption of by-laws, submitting that if a Special Town Meeting is necessary she would need about a month ahead in notice. Jean inquired about whether Town Counsel would review the by-law prior to any town meeting. Nancy noted it is the norm to do so and she would be more comfortable that it be reviewed. Town Counsel would only need a week or so. Jean suggested also having a meeting or two of the Selectboard as well to look at a draft and perhaps a second draft or final version. Wayne recalled a public hearing might be necessary. Nancy responded that it would for certain for zoning, but for a general by-law that’s less clear. Gail noted that the Commonwealth is also making some changes statutorily for ACO’s that she’s not as certain about where things are going. That said she noted for the record that Jean’s help has been invaluable to her in getting this by-law done. This by-law is a must given the situation in town and the fact that many people are aware of how her hands are tied without it. Wayne inquired about the FRCOG program. Gail responded that what they told the Selectboard they would do and what they told her what they would do were not the same thing. They would also be costly, likely eating up at least half the budget and would expect her to do most if not all the work. All of this underlines the need for the by-law, without it she just can’t do her job. Jean interjected to discuss some of the things that also need to be done zoning wise to accompany this by-law. This can include business permitting for breeders, zoning related to kennels, and the like. It was agreed that the aim should be to adopt this through a Special Town Meeting sometime in the early spring. Having this topic on the Annual Town Meeting would likely be too much. Randy asked about the logistics of adoption of the by-law as well as zoning. Jean responded by outlining how some of that would work at town meeting. Wayne agreed noting that some things like kennels should likely be done by a special permit which would probably require including Planning Board.
Request from Police Chief to Put New Door Lock on Stowell Building Annex
There are cameras on the building, but Chief Camden is requesting permission to install a new lock. Wayne asked about the storage of a lawn tractor by Cemetery Commission. Nancy responded that it is still in there, but could be relocated to the pole barn. Otherwise the only other thing that should be in there is a police cruiser. Jean asked who would be paying for the lock. Nancy felt confident Police would. It was decided to grant permission.
Request from Tax Collector to Include Insert Regarding Broadband Project with Upcoming Tax Mailing
The Tax Collector wishes to include in insert in the mailing for February taxes to ensure all tax payers are aware of broadband. It sounds incredible, but there are still residents who are unaware. The Selectboard approved the adding of the mailing noting the importance of the project and feeling that all residents should be aware of it.
Request from Franklin County Solid Waste Management District to Appoint Representative to their Board
Nancy reported that the town needs a representative for this and asked the Selectboard to think about someone who would be willing to serve. Wayne asked where the meetings are and how frequent. Nancy responded the meetings are in Greenfield and once per quarter. Jean had a few ideas for candidates who might be interested.
Request from Tree Committee to have Jacob Cooley Attend Mass Tree Wardens Annual Conference
Nancy reported on a request by the Tree Committee to have the Tree Warden attend a conference. The cost isn’t prohibitive, but it goes on for several days and appears to be setup for long time Tree Wardens. That said every other year they have special training for new Tree Wardens, so she suggested the Highway Chief be sent to that event instead. Jean suggested asking him if he wants to attend and giving him the option. It was so agreed.
License Renewals & Letter of Support for Municipal Vulnerability Grant
Nancy updated on the various licenses up for renewal. These included the Liquor License renewals for the General Store and New Salem Cider and the Class II Used Car Dealer License for Thomas Carey. These are annual licenses that need to be issued. Jean had a few questions about the liquor licensing in town which Nancy answered. These included the number of licenses the town can issue for package stores, bars, and so forth. Statutorily the town can issue more than it does. Nancy then turned to the Municipal Vulnerability Grant. The letter would help the town apply for a grant to buy a generator that the Fire Chief would like to obtain for the Fire Station. This grant could also potentially be tapped into in future awarding years for other projects as well.
Police Succession Planning
Wendell has identified a professional service for providing a consultant for the succession planning for the Police Chief. This is the same company that provided consulting for the sharing of a Fire Chief. The cost is around $7,000. Randy signed in his capacity as chair.
New Salem Art Museum
Jean noted that she’s heard some concerns in the community relating to the business and what the business plans are for that property. Every business in New Salem unless it fits in certain categories, they must have special permits from the Planning Board. That process doesn’t yet seem to have happened. The sight review has been done, but the business side hasn’t been done. A special permit would consider some of the other aspects such as impact on neighbors due to the business activity. A special public hearing would have to occur. Randy didn’t recall some of the information relating to the business aspect of the project, but suggested that the Planning Board can proceed with seeking a special permit process.
The Selectboard considered the minutes from November 4, 2019 and November 18, 2019 which the Selectboard determined to approve.
A motion to adjourn at 8:43 pm was made by Jean. The motion was seconded by Wayne and passed by majority vote.
Jakob K. Hamm, Selectboard Clerk