Select Board Quarterly Recap: July – September 2020
Submitted by Ben Sparrell, Select Board Clerk
The Select Board has several critical functions, many of which have been upended by Coronavirus and the closing of Town Hall to foot traffic. Challenges are not unusual, and while it may be difficult to have meetings, the residents of Holliston have been able to engage and participate much more often. The paradigm of 2020 has meant greater input from the residents of the Town, even if it seems more isolating than before.
Due to COVID-19 concerns, the Board delayed the schedule May Annual Town Meeting to July and approved a one-twelfth budget for July to ensure the business of the Town could continue with some appropriations available. On July 2, the Board signed the contract with our new Town Administrator, Travis Ahern. Of course, his first day on the job was at Town Meeting on 7/20. As we said Goodbye to Jeff Ritter after 5 years of service, the Board was able to hold a Town Meeting thanks to the efforts of many, but especially Fire Chief Cassidy, Facilities Manager James Keast and Technology Director, Chris Meo. The meeting was held at the “Cafetorium” at the Placentino School and the Town was able to get the business of the upcoming year accomplished.
Since the Town was able to approve the budget for FY21, August saw the Board looking at ways to build solutions to challenges faced by the community. The Board looked to address the needs of residents that were severely impacted by COVID-19 by approving CARES Act funding for mortgage and rent relief (spearheaded by Youth and Family Services Director Jackie Winer).
The Board addressed quality of life issues raised by residents with the completion of a grant to the state for Shared Streets and Spaces for 3 projects to help pedestrian access to parts of Town, resulting in a pilot project to see if Front Street will work better as a one-way. On August 25, the Town participated in a “Lowland Street Industrial Park Traffic Forum” where the Select Board heard from 30 residents, as 110 participants called into the forum to voice their opinions on the reality of truck traffic in the community. While ongoing, the Select Board is exploring options with MassDOT and using by-laws and MGL to develop solutions to mitigate many of the traffic concerns of the community.
Not long after a July Town Meeting, the Select Board began ramping up for a Fall Special Town Meeting to discuss Capital and addressing ongoing issues for the community. The capital process was adjusted with input from the Finance Committee, and the new Town Administrator got to work updating work from the Collins Center, building new reports and documentation to provide understanding and context to the Town on each capital project. Planning for the next Town Meeting is ongoing, but the Board is working to ensure the warrant, the projects, and the physical space are prepared for debate and input from the legislative body of the Town.
Behind the scenes, the Board met with the Police Union to generate a Police Contract. The negotiations were fruitful, and the Board approved a contract for FY21, with longer-term negotiations to begin in January. The Board also created a “Stipend Subcommittee” to explore how stipends can and should be used to compensate elected officials in the community.
The Board met with the Governance Committee in joint session on several occasions. The Town has not undertaken a by-law review in some time, and the current Board is looking to develop guardrails for the budget process to ensure future boards and Town executives have an understanding of their roles and the expectations of the community. This work is ongoing and the Board hopes to see proposals in the months to come.
On September 22, Balancing Rock became “sitting rock.” Still no word on whether the road name will need to be changed. Since George Washington and his soldiers loosened the rock, it seems apparent that the Founding Fathers still have an impact on the present day. Holliston cannot avoid the march of progress. The Town is moving ahead with the business of running the Town day-to-day, at the same time looking toward creating a sound foundation for the future. Balancing many inputs is important, but so is ensuring the Town has the resources it needs to be prepared for the next challenge.