Town of New Salem Selectboard

Meeting Minutes

 May 4, 2021

Held Virtually via Zoom

Convened: 7:00 pm

Present: Randy Gordon, Wayne Hachey, Hugh Mackay, Selectboard; Nancy Aldrich, Town Coordinator; Gabriele Voelker, Town Treasurer & Finance Committee; Claire McGinnis, Finance Committee; Lisa Finestone, Tree Committee; Jen Potee, Cam Dunbar, Board of Health; Brad Foster, 1794 Meetinghouse; Hugh Mackay; Sarah Kohler, Planning Board; Kathy Soule-Regine, Tax Collector; Jean Derderian, Historical Commission; Stacy Senflug, Town Clerk; Joe Cuneo, Fire Chief; Nancy Slator, New Salem News; Marney Ashbourne; Rosemary Lyman; Steven Schoenberg; Carol Hillman; Dan Grubbs

Selectboard Reviewed & Signed the Following:

  • Payroll & Vendor Warrants

Discussion Items

FY22 Budget Issues

  • Non-Shared Town Coordinator’s Position – Number of Hours, Rate of Pay

Randy asked to go over the financials. Gabe suggested the minimum salary will have to be in the $40,000 to $50,000 because we’re going to want someone with a college education. We really need to write a job description and to figure out what the requirements will be and the experience. She noted benefits will have to be addressed. That will mean increased costs with health insurance and other considerations. Claire noted that Wendell is looking for ways not to only save money but also improve its job candidate pool. Wayne noted that one thought for New Salem is to consider a retired person to fill the position. Someone with experience who might not be looking for the same level of benefits. Claire felt either way it should be in the budget. If we don’t budget enough then we have to come back and ask for more. Gabe agreed. Usually you budget the top of what we think we’ll need to pay out and then see where negotiations go. Randy agreed in the sentiment that many people can do a fabulous job as part time employee. To that extent, he noted Wendell is advertising as 30 hours a week. Nancy Aldrich recalled that there has been some interest. It’s not full time but is fully benefited. Which some people like. Wendell is looking to pay about $30,000. That said she didn’t frankly think they would get a very experienced person. At what she was paid, that was still true. So it’s really a question of what level of experience you are looking for. Randy suggested this will take some time to fully conclude. Gabe agreed but submitted the pressure is the budget.

  • Tree Committee Budget

Randy reported on a suggestion about changes to this budget. There was a period where the committee wasn’t able to be as active for a few reasons with the Tree Warden, which have now been addressed with the Deputy Tree Warden, and things are moving forward. Lisa concurred with that noting that with Calvin Layton as Deputy Tree Warden things are moving forward. Already over 30 dangerous trees have been removed with more removals planned. She outlined a few future projects and needs. Claire noted this has been a special article year after year, therefore some of the funds have accumulated. Thus unspent funds don’t fall into Free Cash, they carry forward. Wayne asked if the regular budget could sustain this noting that this will need regular funding. Lisa concurred noting it only took a few days to spend thousands on necessary work. Wayne stressed that we should continue to fund this either in the budget or by continuing to do special articles. Gabe submitted the concern from Finance Committee was seeing the funds spent and not sitting there as the town has faced cost increases. If the Selectboard feels strongly there’s no reason not to keep this. The towns Free Cash position was very good this year so it’s something that can be kept. But it has to be used. She was in support of continuing this line now seeing work being done. Lisa thanked her for that position and noted that the breakthrough was having someone as the Deputy. This has really helped because that person can make decisions and act without the need for Highway Department to be entirely involved as they are very busy. Wayne reminded that coordination needs to be done with Highway Department still. Lisa agreed noting that the Deputy Tree Warden has closely worked with the Tree Warden and kept him in the loop on everything.

  • Fire Chief Benefits – Separate Warrant Article?

Gabe reported if this is going to be a joint thing between the towns there must be a contract. Without one, the town is opening itself up to some concerns. This is a position not lawfully required to have this benefit and if the town isn’t careful it could open itself up to other employees of similar stature asking for it. Nancy Aldrich submitted that New Salem could make the position 20 hours a week to avoid that precedent. Gabe responded that it would result in a pay increase too. Claire expressed reservations. While there is a lot of respect for the current Chief’s work, the challenge when considering these sorts of thing is to separate the employee in place from the position. Further doing this now so close to his retirement is also a significant commitment as we would commit to his retirement through OPEB. Gabe agreed noting this is a huge commitment when you include retirement. That cost could be easily $90,000 as you’re not only paying for the employee, but also typically their spouse for the rest of their lives. Finance Committee is not in favor of this, no disrespect to the Chief. This has always been a non-benefited position. Wayne noted that when Wendell brought it up the first time New Salem firmly declined and Wendell decided to offer the Chief the benefits in their town knowing that. Randy asked how to approach this noting the options available. Gabe reminded that this decision is the Selectboard’s. In the past the Finance Committee has recommended a no to this and the Selectboard has agreed. This is very difficult because the employee in question is an awesome person who is great at his job. But these decisions have to be based on the position and what it can afford in benefits. It may sound heartless, but nobody wants to be heartless. But we have to consider in light of the position not the person. So it comes down to if we want to change the scope of the position. Randy reminded that this has no impact on the Fire Chief as a person. This is only about a benefit. The Chief is getting the benefit from Wendell and they’ve paid for it for 7 years. So New Salem is not taking something away. Still, at some point the current Chief will retire and it would be difficult to replace him in the future without addressing this. Gabe noted that this would help Wendell. And if we do this now, it helps them in the long term. Further it’s a benefit to the employee to retire from New Salem if it becomes the lead town like it is for Nancy Aldrich as Wendell splits 50/50 whereas New Salem splits at 75/25. Randy asked if it would be reasonable to see how the voters think at town meeting.

Gabe expressed concern. If you do that you pit some citizens for and some citizens against and it can become a personality issue. If it is brought as an article in a warrant it would have to be voted by secret ballot. There are human nature responses that would have to be addressed. Claire stressed that if the Selectboard wants to go to town meeting she felt it should be in the budget and not a separate article. For mostly the same reasons Gabe expressed. She noted it is the unanimous opinion of the Finance Committee that this not go in the budget. Randy reminded that the benefits don’t change and nothing is lost if New Salem doesn’t do this. Gabe noted that the real benefit would be to Wendell. This isn’t about the Chief, it’s about helping Wendell. Claire interjected it would have a lower premium for the Chief in retirement in all likelihood. Kathy submitted that listening to the discussion she was totally befuddled and felt that the complexity of this issue would make it difficult to bring before town meeting. Thus she agreed with Gabe and Claire. Hugh noted some of the history he is aware of as a former Personnel Board member. He asked if Wendell is asking for this at this time, or if this was just New Salem. Randy responded by briefly outlining the history and how Wendell has asked for this in the past and how New Salem got to the current circumstance. Still it was a unilateral decision on Wendell’s part and they knew New Salem was opposed at the time. It seems they had hoped New Salem would change its mind. Randy then conceded that he was the one who proposed that this be revisited by New Salem. But now, we have the Town Coordinator situation. We were doing that together and Wendell then decided differently. So while he may philosophically agree we should share these costs, he also sees how Wendell’s choice on the Town Coordinator situation has complicated matters. Gabe reminded that this position was never a shared one like the Town Coordinator. This was two separate jobs where one person was hired. The hiring decision was independent. This was entirely different than with the Town Coordinator. Claire submitted that we’re going to be revising the Town Coordinator part of the budget and will need to come back. So that buys us some time to consider things further before making a final decision. This decision will need to be made soon. Hugh suggested we make plans for the future regardless of what we decided now. We’re in a transitional position now.

  • Tax Collector’s Request to Increase Demand Fee (late bill) to $10 to Increase MLC fee to $50

Nancy addressed this request as Kathy unfortunately had to leave the meeting early. This isn’t a large increase. Randy noted that the numbers were small. The increase for the Demand Fee is only to $10 and the MLC would go up to $50.

Wayne made a motion to concur with the proposed increases for Demand Fees to $10 and the MLC fees to $50 as requested by the Tax Collector. The motion was seconded by Hugh and passed unanimously.

  • Any Other FY22 Budget Discussion Based on Draft Finance Committee Budget; No Capital Other than Debt and $10,000 for Swift River Elementary School

Claire turned first to Mahar. Their assessment increase is up 14 percent for New Salem. Gabe concurred noting that Orange has received a letter from Petersham not supporting the budget as they face a 11 percent increase. Orange has also requested that Mahar reduce the assessment for them by $200,000. Mahar’s overall increase is substantial. It’s difficult as all town revenues are down. The assessment for Swift River Elementary is also up. So she suggested talking about it. A 14 percent increase is 5 times the Proposition 2 ½ limit. So if the town is maintaining its self at the 2 ½ increase the rest of the towns budget cannot be sustained. Last year the increase was 8 percent. The towns budget only goes up 2 ½ percent a year. The town has Free Cash and is okay there. But closing the budget using that isn’t a wise thing to do over time. Randy noted there appears to be a decrease in the budget. Gabe elaborated that the drop is from student population ratio. Otherwise if you look at the actual budget from Swift River it is ultimately an increase. Further Franklin County Technical is seeking an increase resulting in around a 7 percent more. Claire was able to locate the Swift River actual budget and reported it’s something like a 3 percent increase ultimately. Most of the increases for schools this year are the result of losses in revenues, mostly from the Commonwealth. Gabe expressed her views about how to address expenses in the face of a loss of revenue. Mahar, for example, is increasing its expenses. They increase athletics 23 percent and are hiring a new assistant principal for $95,000. Their health insurance is increasing, their salaries are all increasing, etc. How do you address that? Hugh responded by asking what the towns options are here wondering if the towns have any opportunity to rebut this. Gabe responded the towns can rebut. Petersham wrote a letter and Orange is writing a letter. We have a voice and we can say we support or don’t support. Still she wished to avoid what happened last year. There has to be some discussion or agreement on proceeding. Hugh asked if the voice is the School Committee members for New Salem or the Selectboard. Gabe responded at this stage it’s the Selectboard. The School Committee had its vote and those New Salem members would have been heard there. Claire suggested ways to start the conversation and how to avoid this in the future. Gabe reminded that the big thing really is the salaries. Their step increases are huge and hiring another assistance principal. The towns have all had revenue losses. Not just in Commonwealth aid, but also in many other ways.

It’s not the towns burden to make up the school’s losses. Randy suggested that not all were aware last year of the Finance Committees concerns and felt that it would be good to ensure that such concerns are shared this year and in the future. Some things can be addressed with the schools and somethings may be harder given contracts they have. Gabe noted that if they just cut that assistant principal position and wait a year that would help find $95,000. We can make reasonable asks like hiring. Randy asked if this is a new position entirely or a replacement. Gabe responded it’s a new position. Further the average cost is $78,000 and they’re offering up to $95,000. She agreed to email the line to line budget that Mahar has provided. Hugh asked if there is a timeframe. Gabe felt that window runs to the town meeting. Wayne felt for the future the New Salem members of the School Committee should come to the Selectboard before they announce the budget. Gabe noted she’s attended their meetings and they aren’t always very revealing. The line to line budget is more informative. Hugh asked how to adjust the budget. Gabe explained that you put in what they ask for and then the Finance Committee recommends a reduction at the town meeting. She stressed that last year was unusual as they didn’t provide much information. This year the school has been more transparent and she stressed that the town should communicate with Mahar before town meeting. Randy outlined a way to write up the points being made for a letter and authorizing it being sent out. Gabe noted the letter from Petersham is a nice model. They were not rude or unkind. Nancy Aldrich agreed to work up a letter and submitted that Randy should sign as Chair. It was so agreed. Randy then turned to the Highway Department’s Administrative Assistants budget. Wayne reminded it’s in the budget and only sees an increase in Highway by about $900 to $1,000. Gabe wasn’t certain if it’s been formally increased yet, but it should be. Randy reminded that this position was revived for a number of reasons. He then turned to the mower for the town’s mowing. Gabe responded that it is in the budget. The town will buy a zero-turn mower. Claire concurred and noted there’s still work to be done on the budget. Cemetery’s lines really need to be truly separated as planned for and a few other things. Wayne then asked about the solar panels and any mowing for that. Cam wearing his mowing hat responded that it is kept clear. There’s been no mowing yet this year, but it will start soon. Randy stressed that obviously further meetings will have to be had. Still he asked if there is time to meet again. Nancy Aldrich felt there would be enough time. She suggested the next meeting be held on May 18. Hugh asked for some numbers and information to be provided as well.

  • Capital Planning Meeting Tentatively Scheduled for May 7 at 9 am for Debt Authorization Vote

Claire then reported on this. She reported the date is May 7, the agenda wrongly says May 5.

Lover’s Lane Property Taken Through Tax Title Process; Next Steps  

Discussion began with Wayne asking if there is a way to remove some tires. Cam responded the town has an agreement with Pete’s Tire Barnes to dispose of tires. They’re found on the sides of the roads sometimes and that’s how they’re addressed. Cam then reported that Board of Health will begin to look into the costs of demolition. Wayne expressed concern about demolition at this point. If the demolition occurs now it might not be considered a buildable lot. Gabe noted that demolition could lessen the value of the property. The Building Inspector has said as much. She has booked an auction for June 11. The Auctioneers believe the land’s value is around $50,000 with the house on it. They would have a contingency in the sale that the buyer would have 6 months to do something with the property including cleanup. So she suggested the town clean up as much as it can. There’s a little money in the tax title account that this could be charged too. This property owes a lot of funds in taxes so we don’t want to lose anything. Cam agreed then that Board of Health would forego any demolition quotes. Wayne then reported on some chain link fencing he put up. He noted that all around the building are invasive species that need to be addressed. Stacy then asked when the Selectboard would discuss the Old Post Office. Gabe confirmed that property is owned by the town. She didn’t include it in this given its different circumstances. Still she agreed this property should be discussed. She could add it to the upcoming auction if that’s what the Selectboard wants. Randy felt that property less pressing. He asked if there is any savings to doing both at once. Gabe responded there wouldn’t be as they’d charge for each. Wayne agreed this is a separate matter and he felt the town could likely demolition the building without great cost. Stacy asked if there has a been any discussion about that property as of yet. Randy responded nothing significant. Stacy asked until a decision is reached on the Old Post Office that the Selectboard and the town assume responsibility for caring for it. For 28 years her family has cared for it as if it is their own and she’d like to see it kept at least to the level it is. Her family did it in good faith when it was owned by people who didn’t care about it. Now that it is the towns, it should be cared for. Randy submitted this should be brought up at a further meeting. The Old Post Office isn’t on the agenda here. Wayne noted he would like to research it a little more before any action is taken. We also need to establish the boundary. He felt that this would need to wait until after the town meeting. Stacy clarified that she is asking for a commitment for care of the property. She understands that other decisions may need to wait. Randy responded that an agreement on something like that cannot be made at this juncture. Wayne concurred again asserting the boundary needs to be ascertained and the state of the building determined. Hugh asked Stacy to mark where she believes her boundary is submitting any mowing or the like can be considered. Stacy generally agreed but emphasized that the Old Post Office is no less hazardous as the Lover’s Lane property.

Board of Health Regarding Plan to Opt-Out of Mosquito Spraying by the Commonwealth; Public Input

Randy reported that the short version is the Commonwealth passed a law that says if towns don’t opt out by a specific date with an approved plan then they will spray. The time isn’t long. It was about 10 days. Jen outlined her talks with Wendell’s Board of Health about their application to opt out. There is, sadly, not guarantee that if the town applies to opt out that it will be approved. She is not keen on the Commonwealth’s planned chemicals. Still the town can attempt it. We don’t have much time as the deadline is May 15. Ultimately this is a Selectboard decision, but it will require joint efforts. A lot of work to do with no guarantee that the Commonwealth will accept the alternative plan. Randy noted a lot of what the plan Wendell is putting together mostly involves common sense actions to reduce mosquitos. He reminded that the Commonwealth’s concerns are legitimate with EEE. But there are a lot of legitimate concerns with the chemical that is used as well. Another thing to consider is the public input that is also required for the alternative. Jen interjected to remind that EEE is deadly. We’re not in the area where most of the EEE cases have been in the past, but they go in cycles, but we are in a cycle of it and there have been some mosquitos found with EEE in Wendell as of last summer. Wayne noted some concerns with the chemical used. He was in favor of an alternative. Sarah interjected to note that this disease is extreme, but actually rare. Since it was first identified in 1938 there have only been 110 cases and the as mentioned by Jen were in another part of the Commonwealth. Outbreaks have peaks every 10-20 years with 2-3 year periods. Only 4-5 percent. Jen concurred with this information agreeing this is a strong chemical. She asked Sarah to be involved with this. Dan expressed the view that this is crazy noting this has the potential to be so damaging for the ecology beyond the mosquitos. Further this will be sprayed in a region that provides drinking water for Boston. Randy submitted this was a general law that was passed a year ago that doesn’t appear to have considered all the details. He then returned to the common sense and how to limit exposure. He outlined the process and timeframes that the law allows. It was concluded with agreement to pursue an alternative plan. It was also agreed that Board of Health would lead the plan creation with a member of the Selectboard and anyone else that the Board of Health might feel proper to include. There was a question about certifying minutes which Stacy answered briefly noting that the towns seal can go on the minutes.

A motion was made by Wayne to opt out of spraying and that a local alternative plan of action be implemented with the Board of Health being designated as responsible for the creation of the plan with one member of the Selectboard involved as well as anyone else deemed appropriate by the Board of Health. The motion was seconded by Hugh and the motion passed unanimously.

Establishment of Board of Health Donation Account

Nancy Aldrich reported that the Board of Health has received some money and they need the Selectboard to establish a donation account and determine who can decide how to spend the funds. Generally, this should be Board of Health since it would be a donation account for them. This needs to be done for the Town Accountant. It was so agreed.

A motion was made by Hugh to create the donation account and designate the Board of Health to decide how to spend proceeds thereof. It was seconded by Wayne and passed without objection.

Annual Town Report Cover

Nancy Aldrich provided some new pictures that Broadband gave her that could be used for the cover. Broadband was the big thing that happened in 2020 that wasn’t COVID-19 related. Hugh thought that was a good idea and Wayne concurred. This would be three pictures. A mockup was shown which was received well.

A motion was made by Wayne to accept that proposal. The motion as seconded by Hugh and passed without objection.

Acceptance of Selectboard Submission for the Annual Town Report

Nancy Aldrich then reported on this submission noting it was on the last agenda and Selectboard members were to review it. Hugh recused himself as he only joined the Selectboard as of this meeting. Wayne and Randy were in support.

A motion to approve the report was made by Wayne and seconded by Randy. The motion passed by majority vote with Hugh abstaining.

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

Wayne asked that this be supported. After review he saw no reason not to approve it. It’s nothing major or financially committing. But he felt it a nice thing to do. Randy had no position but Hugh was in favor. Randy therefore abstained.

A motion was made by Wayne to support this request. The motion was seconded by Hugh and passed by majority vote with Randy abstaining.

Memorial Day

Nancy Aldrich reported on the plans for Memorial Day. The big thing is the start time. Wayne suggested that it be 11 am. Cam concurred that 11 am was the best time. It was agreed that Randy would be the Selectboard’s representative at this event. Randy noted it’s about an hour to an hour and a half commitment. They start with a short ceremony at the Congregational Church near the Town Common. He elaborated on the various parties that participate and how the planning occurs. There were also suggestions of where to put out news about the holiday and the plans for it.

Reorganization of the Board

Discussion started with some light elaboration to Hugh on how to get his keys and view paperwork for signing. Wayne offered to show him how to review the warrants and bills for approval as well as other related duties. Nancy agreed to assist as well. Randy noted that typically meetings are Mondays and warrants are available on Tuesday mornings for signing. Warrants need to be signed swiftly, but each member really should be familiar with the processes. There are two warrants, one for payroll and one for venders. Randy then turned to the reorganizing part of this discussion. The Selectboard needs to choose its Chair and liaisons to different departments. So usually we have someone who’s a liaison to Police, Highway, Fire, etc. who are the point persons and report back to the Selectboard. Wayne was in favor of retaining Randy as Chair. Wayne suggested putting off the liaison part for a bit and include with the annual appointments. Randy asked Hugh if he’d like to wait and if he is interested in the Chair position. Hugh was in favor of Randy continuing as he’s still learning. He’s been a Chair before, but wasn’t sure he wanted to walk right into it. Randy suggested he could always resign from it after a few months and let Wayne or Hugh take the position.

A motion was made by Wayne to retain Randy as Chair. The motion was seconded by Hugh and by majority vote with Randy abstaining.

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. It was agreed to table both again. The April 20, 2021 minutes will be up as well.

A motion to adjourn at 9:04 pm was made by Wayne. The motion was seconded by Hugh and passed without objection.

Respectfully Submitted

Jakob K. Hamm, Selectboard Clerk