Town of NewSalem Selectboard Meeting Minutes February 11, 2019 Stowell Building, New Salem, MA 01355 Convened: 7:00 pm Present: Randy Gordon, chair, Wayne Hachey, Selectboard; Nancy Aldrich, Town Coordinator; Gabriele Voelker, Town Treasurer; Joe Cuneo, Fire Chief; Dan Keller, Laurie DiDonato, Town of Wendell Selectboard; Ken Bright; Jen Potee, Board of Health; Bruce Spencer, Tree Committee; Eric Harris, Brenda Warner, Wes Warner, Mellissa Harris, Linda Clukey, Joan Tresback, Scott Tresback, Blackinton & Branch Bridge Rds Selectboard Reviewed & Signed the Following: Ø Payroll & Vendor Warrants Discussion Items Joint Meeting with Wendell Selectboard Update/County Emergency Radio System Joe started off by updating both Selectboard’s on where things stand with the emergency radio system. The current system is in a state of decline and partial failure due to components aging and obsoletion. The bottom line is something has to be done and currently there is a proposal to seek Commonwealth funding. Joe then provided the Selectboard’s with some documents regarding the costs. This included some financial figures as to what it would cost if the towns paid for the updates themselves on a yearly basis with a bond. The prevailing opinion is that there needs to be support from the Commonwealth. The Commonwealth is in process of deploying a modern system for itself and for which promises have already been made that towns may be able to be involved. Still there have been no promises in writing. Thankfully it appears that the Commonwealth is leaning in the direction of support. In the meantime, the towns are holding things together best they can. So the consensus is to get the Commonwealth nailed down and officially committed. This has been made clear to date with the representatives in the General Court for this region both in the House and Senate. It has also been expressed to the Governor. That said there have to be emergency contingencies. FRCOG is going to lobby the General Court since even a bonding option will require legislation. So even if the towns act on their own, legislation will be necessary as all 26 towns in Franklin County will need to participate for this to be effective. There are a lot of things that need to be figured out from funding to governance. Just the radios themselves can cost a few thousand for each one and many departments will need 20 or more of those. Still, critical failure of the existing system could happen. So things need to move forward. Ken asked a few questions regarding the computer systems. Joe responded that those databases, such as what is accessed by police, is done through computers and mobile internet. Ken then asked how coverage would be ascertained. Joe responded that the Commonwealth is planning on doing some engineering studies, and they have already put an RFP out. The Commonwealth has already funded some of this for its own needs, so it’s more a question of what they will do for the towns. Wayne asked about the utility of a radio system in the face of cellphone advancements. Joe elaborated on the continued necessity of radios and the reasons why cellphones aren’t practical. Unfortunately, the system that was put in place many years ago was analog and not digital. Randy asked how willing the Commonwealth is to pay for this. Joe responded that the answer is that the Commonwealth is willing, but nothing has been committed in writing. Laurie noted that there are some who are concerned with follow through from the Commonwealth as well as local control. Joe agreed, but suggested that this is something that might not happen at all absent the Commonwealth. Randy then asked about the governance model. Joe felt that there would likely end up being a choice with perhaps a decision put to vote. Randy asked what kind of support the town needs to express at this stage. Joe responded that right now this is just an update, that will come later. Laurie agreed noting that this is something that’s going to take a little time. Police Succession Planning Nancy started off by reporting on where Wendell’s Police Chief Succession Committee stands. Dan then took it from there by elaborating on the grant that was obtained to study the idea. The grant will allow the towns to hire a consultant. The cost would be under $10,000 so an RFP won’t be necessary. He then noted that there is an entity that was used to help with the sharing of the Fire Chief. That company is willing to do this again for the towns. They would study the operation of the department and come up with recommendations on how to go about doing it. The grant is based on the desire of the towns to at least study sharing a Police Chief. Wendell would like to gain some sort of representation of New Salem to the Police Chief Succession Committee. Meetings could be rotated between the two towns. Laurie noted that the current Wendell Police Chief is on the committee. Dan agreed following that there are also a number of young residents who have joined the committee. Randy suggested New Salem would look for people, and if nobody was willing to volunteer then the Selectboard would likely participate. It was then agreed to seek a mutually acceptable meeting date. Both Selectboard’s agreed to explore March 4th, 2019 as a meeting date. Nancy suggested putting out a request in the New Salem News for citizens who might be interested in participating in the committee. Randy suggested that this would be a good idea, but it should be clear that this is an advisory committee and that final decisions would be made by the two Selectboard’s and by each town as a whole. Wayne noted that the sharing of the Fire Chief has worked well. Nancy reminded that the Fire Chief isn’t regionalized, just that the same individual is working in the same position in each town. Laurie asked how a formal joint position would be done. Nancy elaborated on how it would work. Gabe suggested that it should still be two separate jobs like with the Fire Chief. Joe agreed. Ken suggested that certification and qualification, as well as equipment allocation, and evidence storage would be hard. Fire was easier. Joe agreed noting that equipment is already shared in many ways through mutual aid for fire. Police is much more complicated. Dan suggested that the consultant would be able to help sort out these kinds of questions. Other Topics of Interest to Wendell & New Salem Selectboard’s Dan brought up some ideas from Wendell’s Finance Committee about sharing more resources. They would like to consider that. Nancy agreed noting that pieces of equipment that aren’t used frequently could be shared between certain departments. Highway Departments in particular might be able to share. Dan agreed suggesting Fire could benefit as well. Wayne noted that there are ways that it could make sense. Laurie then noted a few topics that might make sense for cooperation between the towns particularly the Green Energy Committees efforts regarding Swift River Elementary School. Discussion ended shortly thereafter. The Wendell Selectboard adjourned at 7:30 pm. Proposed Raises Nancy provided some background including the proposal that was approved for the Fire Department and now requests coming in from various other departments. Randy reminded those present that the Selectboard was clear in why it was willing to support the Fire Department. Departments must provide documentation and support for requests all requests. Gabe noted that in light of the Library’s increases it’s hard to say that now to the departments making these requests. That said she went over the requests to date starting with the Fire Department. Wayne noted that since Joe Cuneo is a strong chief that might affect his ability to go through this process. The funds are in his budget and he was approved by the Personnel Board and the Finance Committee. Gabe agreed that the Fire Chief did go through proper channels and she generally supports his request. She further noted that the Commonwealth wants Fire Departments to be full and functioning, they don’t really want to keep having part time Fire Departments. Of course this is hard funding wise on small towns like New Salem. She then went over the problem of attrition. Which is an issue for both Fire and Police. From there she discussed the hourly rates. Fire is the most reactive and most on call. When you look at the dynamics of what Fire deals with, in order to keep things functioning the way they should the rates probably should be increased. So Fire has a solid argument for wage increases. The only volunteer fire department left that exists that is stipend only is Warwick. Hadley is a bit of a strange situation as they only have a full time Fire Chief and otherwise depend on Amherst. Nancy went over some of the arguments as to the clerks in the town. They aren’t full time jobs or careers. Gabe agreed noting that the job is the job. If you are a custodian, you’re a custodian it doesn’t matter if you have a Ph.D. Randy asked if any of the departments have the ability to make the decision without the Selectboard. Gabe said that would not be the case. Only Fire and Police can make the argument of acting alone, and only then as long as they don’t exceed their budgets. She then went over the legal authorities of the various boards, committees, and commissions on the topic. Randy then asked how many of these are not looking for raises. Gabe responded that there is a sticky situation with a few departments. For example, in Assessors, there aren’t enough working assessors. So with pending retirement of the current working assessor that leaves the town with shrinking choices. Still the Board of Assessors can’t make a pay decision alone. So Gabe recommended that the town hold to no more than 12 percent increases for any employee. Still, some vital departments could pose challenges. There are a few ways to address those as long as they remain reasonable. Nancy then asked about any other departments. Gabe responded that the more raises are handed out, the more they will be requested. She then went over COLA and the retirement system. The COLA standard Commonwealth wide right now is about 2.8 percent. So to combat some of this, the town should look at a 3 or 4 percent increase. New Salem historically hasn’t given raises, and what COLA’s have been done have not kept up with the cost of living. New Salem hasn’t done a wage study in nearly 12 years. This is an area where there are a lot of employees in public and private employment who have gotten merit raises and COLA’s. Wayne noted that there have been years where the town has done nothing or done COLA’s of only 1 percent. Gabe suggested 2.8 percent should be the baseline for COLA’s and to combat claims of unfairness, consider a raise. So the idea of 3 or 4 percent would include the COLA built in it. This is a tough situation. Some rates are comparable; some are rather low. Still, there are a few alternatives like pay incentives. Highway Department has done this in ways that encourage licensing. She then noted that the town doesn’t have to follow minimum wage, but that can seem unfair to employees. Wayne agreed that doing a straight across the board 3 percent raise that includes the COLA within it could work. Gabe also suggested that the town should utilize probationary periods. Particularly 6 month ones for new hires. Randy then expressed hesitation to commit to anything at this stage given how tight the towns budget is. Gabe generally agreed noting some budget issues coming down the road. Wayne then asked when the next Finance Committee meeting will be. Gabe responded that the Finance Committee is still waiting on some department budgets to come in before scheduling meetings. Board of Health Request for Raise for Clerk Jen started off by elaborating on the Clerk they have. She was interim for a while before being hired on full. The Clerk is making about $12.50 an hour right now and the Board of Health fears they will lose her if they can’t pay her more. She has experience in management and has more than a high school diploma. It’s not easy to retain good help when the wages are low. They would like to bump her up a step or two. There was a lot of training involved and in the past the Board of Health has struggled to hire and keep a clerk. There are only about 5 steps from low to high and they are only separated by about .25 cents or so each. This employee holds regular office hours, deals with the public, and the like. Randy noted that a 2.8 percent COLA, for example, would only be around .34 cents. Nancy interjected to note that the clerical rates aren’t really that low for clerical. She suggested that perhaps this position isn’t really a clerk but is more administrative. Randy asked how many hours per week are worked. Jen stated that the position is about 5 hours a week. The job wouldn’t change in that sense. Nancy asked if there is a particular wage Board of Health is looking for. Jen responded that she would like to see about a $1 increase to around $13.50 per hour. Wayne noted this would mean that position would be paid more than others including the Selectboard’s own Clerk. Nancy suggested that what all of these discussions on wages have indicated is that the town must consider a wage study. Randy suggested that the biggest challenge in all of this is the limited resources that the town has. So figuring out where the balance is will be the difficult work. Wayne further expressed the feeling that wage increases should stick to the fiscal year. Only in rare circumstances like the Fire Department where it can be done within an existing budget should a midyear increase be even considered. Otherwise it should be on the fiscal year as a built in part of the budget. FEMA Watershed Questionnaire Nancy reported on update. This is an update on the risk assessment for flooding. This may be a matter to pass along to Conservation Commission. It was decided to pass this to the Conservation Commission. Upcoming Meeting Schedule Nancy suggested that the meeting that would be ordinarily scheduled for March 11th should be cancelled. Plans were made to sign the warrants. Highway Dept. Vacancy A Highway Department employee has given his notice. Nancy asked where notice for the job should be posted. Gabe suggested several papers in the region of wide circulation. There was then some discussion of how to handle the wages for a new hire. Nancy suggested it be commiserating with certifications, licensing, and experience. There was then discussion of the employee that is out on FEMLA. That employee has a few weeks left but remains uncertain as to being able to return to work. So more than one hire might have to be done. Planet Aid Collection Box Nancy then reported on a proposal by Planet Aid to place a bin at the town. Because Planet Aid wants exclusive rights, it wouldn’t be something that could be placed at the Transfer Station. Randy felt there was nowhere to place it. It was determined to decline the box. Road Maintenance/Branch Bridge & Blackinton Roads Eric started off by explaining the situation. This is not the first time these particular issues have arisen. Nothing has improved, despite promises for things like paving and other services. Wayne asked if the traffic counter was done. Nancy was unsure. Wes stated he saw the counter in at one point but no results were released. It was put on Blackinton. Eric had some issues with how that counter was done suggesting it was not very accurate since it only counted one entry point to the neighborhood. Wayne asked how much cross traffic there is. Brenda stated there is a lot of traffic. Eric agreed noting it’s not just residential it is also commercial. Obviously the road is a dirt road and was such when people moved out there. That said there are many modernizations in the region and the road remains in the 1700’s. Those who live in this neighborhood are taxpayers who pay the same rates as those who have paved roads in town. Wayne noted that the year has been a rough one for maintenance. Still Highway Department does have plans for addressing maintenance in that area. Nancy reminded that the Highway Department is also low on staff at the moment. Brenda responded that in the past the road was maintained well in the past but isn’t now. Eric agreed. Wes interjected to state that the town used to add gravel to it. Wayne agreed that gravel hasn’t been added and there is a lot of sand especially near the cemetery in that region and Branch Bridge. Joan noted that there are dust problems down there. Wayne then asked what the cost of paving would be. Nancy elaborated on how the town pays for paving. Eric stated that residents like himself would be happy to see it done in sections. Nobody is asking for miracles. Wayne was uncertain as to the paving schedule, but there could be solutions for that. Eric then provided some photos of the roads. Wes reminded that the school buses have also been struggling with current conditions. Joan agreed stating that there is one section that is chronically bad when it gets wet. People have been gotten stuck and needed to be towed. There are ruts that are huge. Eric noted this area is near Branch Bridge. Wes agreed reminding that there is a spring in that area. Brenda said that the roads are heavily traveled now. It’s not small vehicles. Nancy suggested seeing what the bids are for paving. Randy asked about ways to slow traffic. Eric stated the only easy way to do that would be speedbumps. Wayne stated he would talk to the Highway Department to see if a section of the area could be paved. Randy asked if any priorities have been determined as of yet. Wayne didn’t think that has been determined yet. Nancy agreed saying what the costs are coupled with Chapter 90 will dictate what the town can do. Randy asked how many of the towns roads are in dire need. Wayne noted a few areas, but it seems like Blackinton and Branch Bridge are the worst currently. Eric reminded that the Post Office won’t even deliver. Brenda agreed. Wes inquired about delivery in his area and it is clear that the Post Office won’t deliver in the area due to the road conditions. Linda noted the ways in which the enjoyment of her property are effected. The dust in particular is awful in the summer. Randy suggested the town should work towards the things that need the most support. Eric agreed suggesting that progression is acceptable. Even if it is small segments. Brenda agreed, dealing with the worst parts would put a light at the end of the tunnel. Brenda then asked when the town will know what the priorities are. Nancy said that the town probably won’t know until closer to Annual Town Meeting which would be around June. Eric suggested that real permanent work couldn’t be done until the summer as it is. All residents are asking for is fairness and being kept in the loop. Joan suggested scheduling a follow up meeting. Wayne promised to connect with Highway Department and a subsequent update could then be worked out when more is known. In the meantime, Wayne suggested contacting the State Senator and State Representative for the region. The towns really could use more Chapter 90 funding. Indoor Storage Request from Broadband Committee Broadband would like to store some things temporarily at the Town Hall. The proposal would be the old Tax Collectors office. Most of their equipment is being stored elsewhere, but this would make sense to place in the town center. Nancy agreed to seek more information. Randy felt that depending on the value of the materials storage in the Town Hall may or may not be appropriate. The building isn’t terribly secure and likely should be re-keyed at some point. There are also structural issues for the building so heavy equipment shouldn’t be stored in areas like the gymnasium. Stowell Building Annex Garage Door Replacement Nancy reported on the building. The big overhead door is in bad shape and the Police are afraid to open it. Wayne agrees saying the tracks for it have deteriorated. The estimate is around $2,948.59. Wayne felt that it would make sense to put in place. Randy expressed some reservations on spending funds considering limited future use of the area in question. Nancy responded we may have no choice in this case. There is some money in the budget that might cover it, but the town has spent a lot of funds on town building maintenance. So Reserve Funds may need to be sought at the end of the fiscal year. Maintenance has been deferred for years and now it’s catching up to the town. Wayne felt that the bid was competitive. Wayne made a motion to accept the bid for $2,948.59. The motion was seconded by Randy and passed by majority vote. Letter from Ethics Commission Wayne asked that the letter that was sent in regarding him be noted officially. The Commonwealth’s Ethics Commission was asked to investigate him over several matters and the Ethics Commission has formally concluded that Wayne has not violated any ethics laws. The source of the complaint is unknown, but that said Wayne has been cleared by the Commonwealth. There were specifically three items that were complained over, and on each topic the Ethics Commission concluded there was no basis for which to take action. FY20 Budget Increases Gabe reported that in the past the town had new growth coming in from DCR and MDC through the Quabbin land. But the Commonwealth has cut that off for at least 9 years. So there is an issue. The town has used Free Cash in the past for balancing the budget, but cannot continue to do so. There is the issue of increases for the schools. Mahar will likely ask for a 5 percent assessment increase. There is also talk that Swift River will be asking for an increase. Thankfully the town doesn’t appear to have a technical school student this year. Most of the departments are seeking level funding. Nobody does Christmas shopping in July. Department Heads have been team players that way. But there are issues like building maintenance. Nancy agreed noting that with town building maintenance there have been unique situations like a new well for the Stowell Building being in the offing, as well as new gutters and other things that are hard to anticipate. Gabe noted that a lot of those are emergency repairs and she suggested better utilization of Reserve Funds. Nancy agreed but suggested that the town has to get a grapple on things. Nancy then went over a few other increases including ones by the towns landline telephones and the cost of electricity. National Grid has gone up. Even with net metering, the bills are increasing. One of the issues involves increases in street lights which the town pays not only an electric bill for but also a lease. Randy suggested that departments that request these should be making thoughtful decisions. There are a few bright spots. The towns wireless bill has gone down. Overall Selectboard budgets are doing okay. Its everything else. Tree Committee Update Bruce reported quickly on some trees that need to be removed. He suggests that this be allowed, and the cost would only be $500. The homeowners involved would write a check to the town to pay for it since the trees are a threat to their home. Nancy stated any amount they wrote would go into the General Fund. Bruce then went over the various ways this can be handled including disposal of the wood. Randy asked if there is any reason not to do this. Bruce expressed some worries about the trees in that area stating that oaks are dying in the region including in the Quabbin. Wayne agreed stating the oak trees have been hit hard. A motion was made by Wayne to accept this plan to bill these residents for the removal of these trees. Randy seconded the motion and it passed by majority vote. Police Appointment The Police Chief has requested a police officer appointment on a short term basis. The officer would be considered for a longer appointment at a later time. The Selectboard saw no reason not to go through with making this appointment. Complaint by Citizen Nancy reported that a citizen has submitted a letter to the Selectboard complaining about the Tax Collector. Her complaint includes the ways she can pay her taxes and the fact that her ex-husband is still on her tax bill. She is asking for a response from the Selectboard. It appears that the citizen is seemingly unaware that she must have her ex-husbands name removed from her deed to have his name not appear on her tax bill, which is something the town cannot do for her. She has also screamed at the Tax Collector on several occasions to the point that the Tax Collector has had to request Police presence. She also owes back taxes and has been banned from the Library for poor behavior. It was clarified that she owes both back taxes and current taxes. Part of the struggle for the Tax Collector is the fact that the property is going into tax title, which requires the citizen to work with the Treasurer to prevent tax taking. Wayne noted there is a long history with this particular property and this citizen. He agreed to reach out to her and see if the matter may be settled amicably. Minutes The Selectboard determined to approve the minutes from January 28, 2019. A motion to adjourn at 8:57 pm was made by Wayne. The motion was seconded by Randy and passed by majority vote. Respectfully Submitted Jakob K. Hamm, Selectboard Clerk