Town of NewSalem Selectboard
September 9, 2019
Stowell Building, New Salem, MA 01355
Convened: 7:00 pm
Present: Randy Gordon, Wayne Hachey, Jean Derderian, Selectboard; Nancy Aldrich, Town Coordinator; Phil Delorey, Building Inspector; Christine Heard, Dan Keller, Laurie DiDonato, Wendell Selectboard; Ben Sylvia, Police Succession Committee; Gabriele Voelker, Town Treasurer; Lisa Finestone, Calvin Layton, Mollie Freilicher, Tree Committee; Ken Bright; Lisa DeWitt;
Selectboard Reviewed & Signed the Following:
Ø Payroll & Vendor Warrants
Ø Hampshire Power Corp. SREC Agreement
Police Succession Planning Update & Other Shared Interests with Wendell
The two Selectboard’s started off by reacquainting themselves. Then Dan reported on the draft Request for Proposals (RFP) for a consultant. A $10,000 grant was obtained to fund the consultant and resulting study into the potential a combined position or jointly appointed Chief or some combination thereof. Dan then proposed that New Salem either create a Police Succession Committee of its own, or send representatives to the Wendell one which could be established as a joint committee. He noted there was a representative for New Salem who has been attending the meetings. Nancy recalled that Cam Dunbar was formally appointed to be New Salem’s representative to this committee. Christine had a few inquiries into where New Salem stands with its succession planning in general. Randy answered by noting that Police is imminent as Chief Camden will likely retire in the near future. Additionally, the Fire Chief will reach an age where the town would need to obtain special permission from the Commonwealth for him to continue. Otherwise, New Salem has just replaced its Highway Chief. So progress has happened. Wayne returned discussion to the grant. Dan responded that there is a timeline on the grant so things should continue to proceed. The grant came with FRCOG’s help. Ultimately the grant is a community compact grant which was applied for by both towns jointly. Nancy noted that the funds must be spent by December 2020. There are a few questions still outstanding on the RFP which Ben elaborated on. These are still some things that need to be ironed out.
Jean sought clarification on the goals. Randy responded that this is just a study right now. It is hard to find part time Chiefs, so having a partnership with Wendell could make sense. Ben noted that Wendell and New Salem share a Fire Chief, although the office is not officially combined. Just the same person appointed to both departments. Christine gave a little history to that decision and how it colored Wendell’s decision to pursue another similar idea for Police Chief. While the departments are separate, it has improved their coordination and helped with joint training. Wayne noted that New Salem does not pay benefits for its Fire Chief. Wendell, however, has chosen on its own to provide benefits on the Wendell side. Christine noted that the main difference is that Wendell pays him for 20 hours and New Salem pays for 19. Since he’s 20 in Wendell he receives benefits there. Nancy elaborated on how this works different from say her position. In her case the position is truly shared and the towns both pay for her benefits and salary equally. Christine brought things back to the study at hand. This study is very open. Dan agreed suggesting other towns may be considered for partnership. He suggested Leverett might also be interested in sharing a Police Chief with Wendell. Christine recalled that with the Fire Chief a survey was utilized by Wendell. Dan noted that they already have a draft survey for the Police Chief. Nancy felt that the savings are mostly in the pool of candidates that become available. There was discussion of the feasibility of having three towns, perhaps having Wendell, New Salem, and Leverett.
Concern was expressed over whether that would be too large an area for one Chief. Randy wondered as to other complications. Nancy suggested that those would be the purview of the consultant. Discussion shifted to New Salem’s ability to send representatives. Randy stressed that the town often struggles to find enough volunteers for committees, so it might not be feasible to appoint anyone beyond Cam. Jean suggested she could be a liaison for the Selectboard. Both of the Selectboard’s were amendable to that. It was suggested finding out if any of the current police officers in town might be willing to serve as well. Randy noted that this isn’t a bad idea, but there is the question of vested interest for members of the department. Wayne asked how often the meetings are held. Dan responded they are monthly. Christine stressed the benefits of diversity in membership for this sort of committee. Randy returned to the RFP inquiring about the editing process. Dan explained how the committee is handling the process. Nancy made some suggestions for how to process changes between the towns. Discussion ended with both Selectboard’s agreeing to continue working together on this subject.
Tree Committee Regarding Approval of Tree Cutting, Driveway Permit, & Tree Warden Position
Lisa Finestone started off by asking some questions regarding the issuance of a driveway permit as well as a related inquiry regarding approval granted by the Conservation Commission. Nancy reported that the Highway Department does not have record of issuing a driveway permit. However, the Highway Department did sign off on what Conservation Commission issued. Mollie had a question about the trees and where they fell. Calvin agreed following up that when a driveway goes in there is still a process for trees. This is about protecting resources of the town and trees which fall under the town. Lisa suggested the forms be looked at and potentially amended. Jean noted that there is a comprehensive model form from the Commonwealth and suggested that the town simply adopt it. Calvin recalled that another avenue for this might be a by-law, but wasn’t certain that would be the best option as he felt the town is well covered by MGL Chapter 87. Still, he agreed a better form should be considered. Lisa suggested adaptation of the model form and the towns existing one. Wayne felt it might help to have a space on the building permit for the Tree Committee to sign. Mollie noted that really such a sign off jurisdictionally should fall under the Tree Warden. Discussion shifted to the Scenic Road Act. Calvin noted that Scenic Road requires joint hearings with the Planning Board. Nancy recalled issues in the past in New Salem of having Planning Board hold such joint hearings with the Tree Warden. But the Planning Board has changed in composition so it may be different. Discussion was prompted as to jurisdiction whether it be Chapter 87 and therefore Tree Warden, or Scenic Road Act whereby it could be Planning Board. Most towns simply handle this with joint hearings.
Randy inquired as to how trees are protected. Mollie explained that the covered trees are those in the public way and must exceed an inch and a half in diameter and be a species of tree for Chapter 87. For scenic roads, it’s more like four inches in diameter. Calvin suggested that before really getting in the weeds over the diameter, the Commonwealth is considering revisions to Chapter 87. Nancy noted that the public way and vary from road to road for a number of reasons. For New Salem, typically the boarder would be delineated by a stonewall. Lisa conceded that it can be a judgment call in some instances. Mollie agreed noting that the road isn’t always properly within the center of the right of way. So the process for cutting trees that fall within this area should have a permit process. Discussion shifted to the Tree Warden position. The committee shared some concerns and thoughts with the Selectboard as to the position. Calvin stressed that since there is a new Highway Chief who would serve as Tree Warden this provides an opportunity to start fresh on several fronts. Wayne agreed and noted that the new Highway Chief is willing to sit down with committee and would look to them as a resource. It was agreed that there should be clear lines of communication between the Tree Committee and the Tree Warden. Nancy and Wayne agreed to facilitate getting that communication in place. Calvin stressed the desire of the committee to be an asset on this front. Lisa DeWitt asked whether the Tree Committee has any plans for tree plantings in front of the Center Cemetery. Lisa Finestone responded that the committee intends to plant. Calvin agreed and stated that the committee is open to suggestions from the public. The trouble is picking the right tree for the location. Discussion ended there.
Building Inspector’s Pay
Randy recapped Phil’s proposal which would change the structure from him receiving a salary to a system where he would have a smaller salary and keep a percentage of the fees. Gabe was asked to participate to provide a financial prospective for the town. Phil reminded that the workload has been increasing in recent years. Gabe noted that he has turned over a substantial amount in permit fees in the last month. Phil agreed saying that what he’s had come in within the last two months of the fiscal year has been substantial. But again stressed that his wages haven’t changed since 2009. Jean reported on some of the research she’s done on this topic. The number of permits haven’t doubled, but the fee schedule was changed in 2016. She’s looked at a number of Annual Reports to build a more complete picture. The permits have been averaging about 40 a year. Certainly the wages should be fair, but where there is discretion in the job, having compensation tied in the manner proposed could be concerning. Jean suggested an alternative of increasing Phil’s salary instead. She stressed that this Selectboard is conservative when it comes to wages and this shouldn’t set any precedent, but an increase should be considered. Phil stressed the fairness over wages and the reasonableness of his proposal. Jean felt that there is grey area in the law that provides some discretion. When the Building Inspector signs off on something it must substantially meet the building code, but that leaves room for discretion. Wayne noted the danger in changing this is that there could be fewer permits pulled. Jean noted that from 2011 to 2015 the pay was greater than what was received for fees. Having a salary ensures a predictable income. Gabe noted that she agrees with Jean. For years the town has paid more than it has received in income from permits. She noted that the reason that the Finance Committee hasn’t sought an increase in pay for this position is because it has brought in less than has been paid out. She further stressed that this year is an unusual year based on the data available.
The concern about parting from the salary model the town uses now is the work aside from the permits that this official does. Such matters include topics such as zoning enforcement. She suggested keeping the salary and perhaps having a mechanism for an extra stipend to pay more in years where the permits and work are greater than the salary. Gabe also felt that it would make it harder to hire a new inspector should Phil retire since most new inspectors would want the salary. A lot of time and commitment is put into becoming licensed properly for the job. Nancy interjected to say that of the towns that pay stipends in Franklin County, New Salem is the lowest. Gabe agreed returning to the idea of changing the salary or adding a stipend. Jean suggested keeping this clean by doing a raise. Gabe noted that the Finance Committee provides opportunities for departments to ask for things like increases in wages. Such changes should be done as part of the ordinary budgetary process. Phil conceded that he understands that process, but he has reached a point this fiscal year where it has compelled him to come forward. He stated he would be happy to see a raise in his salary as an alternative to his proposal. There was a question of whether the Selectboard could change the wages at this stage. Gabe explained that the Selectboard can enter into a contract with the Building Inspector as that official qualifies under law for it, but the funds would need to allocated by a town meeting vote. Nancy noted that if the town went with the FRCOG program the cost would be $7,500 to the town from its budget and the fees would go to FRCOG. The question of what that salary should be set as. To that end Jean suggested a base salary. Phil was amendable to the figure. The raise would be roughly a $2,240 raise from the current base salary. Phil stressed that he is not unhappy with his job but asked for $2,500. Gabe suggested that this be considered part of the overall COLA that was done for all other town employees. Randy inquired about whether this be under open or executive session. Gabe responded it can be in open if Phil is amenable, which he was. He was willing to agree to the $2,240 if he is included in COLA’s from now on.
A motion was made by Jean to increase the salary for the Building Inspector by $2,240 for the current fiscal year and it be determined to include this position in COLA’s henceforth. The motion was seconded by Wayne and passed unanimously.
Fee Schedule for Building Permits
Jean proposed some language she felt would be appropriate for addressing the concern over provisions in the existing schedule that Phil brought to light. Wayne noted that the fee is usually calculated by square footage or by valuation of the work. So it is formulaic with so much per square foot or by per thousand as to the valuation. Gabe noted that if there is too much variability in the rates the town could be open to suit. Fees should not be based upon who the homeowner is, as that would not be construed as equitable. Nancy suggested tabling this and coming back to it with some more information. It was so agreed.
Scheduling Interviews with Highway Department Applicants
Nancy reported that the job opening has been put in the Athol Daily News. She inquired whether the Selectboard is willing to interview people who have applied before. She also asked whether interviews should be scheduled for before the Special Town Meeting. It has also been suggested that the new Highway Chief be included. Wayne was uncertain as to the appropriateness of that. Nancy saw no reason why it would be in appropriate. Randy felt it best to start with new interviews and only do re-interviews if dissatisfied with the new pool. Wayne asked about new response. Nancy reported there is one new applicant and one prior applicant. Jean disclosed that her son has expressed interest in applying, and if he should do so she would recuse herself from the process.
Response from MIIA Regarding Mold Claim in Old Academy Building
Nancy reported on the current mold situation. Since the building has been renovated, the building is more prone to this problem as it does not breath in the manner that the building used to. As such the mold is not covered by the towns insurance.
Blackinton Road Update
Randy reported on his recent travel to that area of the town. The road is bumpy, but otherwise not in disrepair. It appears that the area has been cleaned up as there was no significant trash and did not appear to be a lot of discarded needles. Certainly there are bad parts of the road, particularly by Branch Bridge. Nancy noted that she checked with the retiring Highway Chief and he reported to her that the area that wasn’t paved was avoided because there is an underground spring in the area that would require greater funds than were available. The road would need to be further prepped before it could be reasonably paved. This is why the section that was paved was paved. It was agreed that the road should remain a top priority. Jean suggested sending a letter to residents explaining the situation and what the town is doing.
Jean brought up the continuing issue of the flea market that has been occurring on property bordering Rt. 202, also known as Daniel Shay Highway, near the town line between New Salem and Orange. Wayne recalled that a letter was sent to MassDOT regarding illegal parking for the flea market. Jean asked Phil if he could look into whether or not the town has enforcement authority of some kind regarding the matter. Phil agreed to look into it.
Hampshire Power Corp.
Nancy reported that the Hampshire Council on Governments is disbanding, so SREC sales will be handled by the new Hampshire Power Corp.
The Selectboard considered the minutes from August 26, 2019 but it was determined to table them until the next meeting.
A motion to adjourn at 8:48 pm was made by Wayne. The motion was seconded by Jean and passed by majority vote.
Jakob K. Hamm, Selectboard Clerk