Select Board Meeting 11/20/2023

In attendance: Chair JOhn Cronin, Vice Chair Tina Hein, Clerk Ben Sparrell, Town Administrator Travis Ahern.

Opened meeting with the Solar project on Marshall Street – the transition to the new company who is taking over is implemented. Discussed steps going forward, and ran through the qualifications of the new company. Official notices are in place and legal review being done. Presentation by the new owners is seen below:

Company is based almost entirely in New York. There are other staff members scattered all across the country.

Ben asked about the logistics – and confirmed that the project would be handled entirely by the same company. It was confirmed that this is accurate. They also handle management of contractors and sub-contractors. They will have managers on site throughout the construction of the project. Contracting entity was a special purpose entity – the owner of the project will work with the new company (Turnkey project). 

Ben then discussed another project (down the road) which is similar in size and scope – the community impact is important and this is close to soccer fields and homes. While it will not have a direct impact, the residents will be interested and Ben wants to know more about how they intend to work with the community. Response: when dealing with these projects we understand that there is a direct impact on the customers and communities. They have worked with school districts in the past who may have concerns such as people working on the roof during school hours, etc.  They have made a point of working with the school districts to show the children how much power is being produced, and subcontractors often invite high school students to participate as interns on these projects. They are accustomed to coordinating across the community to ensure that the residents impacted by the project are comfortable with what is occurring and being conscious of the neighborhood needs. As groundbreaking gets closer, there will be outreach to those who are going to be impacted (neighbors, soccer teams, etc.) (you can see on the team page of the presentation the people who are involved.

Ben mentioned that some of the concerns that he has heard from neighbors include landscaping and other cosmetic issues. How do we integrate the solar farm into the area and make sure that it becomes “part” of the neighborhood. Many of the concerns were identified and addressed as part of the initial plan including batteries, etc. Other issues which were incorporated in the plan included ensuring that equipment deliveries did not impact school bus activity or soccer activities. The new company will work closely with the planning board and other stakeholders to ensure they are using the same plan as the prior company agreed to. Ben just pointed out that notification of what’s next is going to be important for the neighbors and stakeholders

The last question from Ben was about the timeline and that is included in the presentation. They are looking at working on the project and they have already been in contact with contractors and subcontractors. Marshall Street was a goal of their 2024 schedule.

Tina: thanks them for the “to-do” list. Thankful for the commitment to the community, particularly the fact that it was such a positive experience. Why the transition? This was not planned. We made certain assumptions about financing and plans and along the way we had challenges stemming from the pandemic. We had more  challenges than we could have anticipated and we were unable to secure the financing for this project. The biggest investor of this project determined that it was better to back off given the economic climate (higher interest rates) and supply chain issues. The financing became too risky for them. As we saw what was happening we determined to partner with someone who had the capital and interest in moving our projects forward, we found this was the best option and we feel that we’ve come out in the best possible way for both us, and our customers.

Another item that caught her attention is that the modules have gone up in size which makes the footprint smaller. Confirms this is the case which allows for more space between rows which is an added feature of the project.  Regarding footprints and early decisions regarding recycling center – is there some opportunity for the town to use a smaller footprint – if there is, we’d want to know that. 

John: this project has been in progress for 4.5 years. Wanted to know if Kevin was aware that he was the most frustrated person about this project because of the delays and he is happy with the overall performance of the original project managers (Beth). The state’s decision cost taxpayers hundreds of dollars and he’s finding it frustrating. Couple of items that bothers him:

WIll there be any delays with the time frame because of transition? No – we have accepted the contract as you had it with the other company and we fully intend to implement it as they would have.

Why are you planning on following a “similar” schedule versus better or the same? – We took over about a month ago and that required us to fit this into an existing schedule and we wound up moving the October PTO to December.  Now that we’re fully transitioned we should be all set and this should not delay the completion date. We had a lot of trust with the prior company and we’ll need to develop that trust. While John appreciates the fact that bundling saves money, he wants it made clear he doesn’t care about what other community needs are, Holliston is FIRST. We don’t want to hear about delays because you have bundled projects together, we want the timetable adhered to. A year from now, we want this ready to go online and if it’s not ready, we’ll be ready to hold you accountable. John’s biggest concern is the revenue loss to the Town – Kevin pointed out that any “bundling” is done to benefit projects, not hold them up. He also understands that trust is earned and not given. 

There are several “to dos’ to ensure the transition is smooth and make sure that all of the I’s are dotted and that we can move forward more smoothly. There’s a lot of detail which needs to be completed to ensure that when construction is ready, all of the documents are in place and ready to go including insurance certificates. 

Travis indicated some of these documents would be prepared for future agendas of the Board. 

Public Comments – none on Zoom – 

  • Trash and recycling will be delayed one day for Thursday and Friday – done on Friday and Saturday respectively.
  • Winter parking ban in effect 11/1 – 3/1 – ticket and tow
  • Fall Curbside leaf pickup – compostable bags and must be on curb by 6am
  • Recycling center open Saturday and Sunday

Ben: Email regarding PD – directed to Chief Stone – incident at Norfolk & Central on 12/15 at noon.  Thanking the officers for their quick response. Officer Downey was singled out as being helpful. HOlliston is an amazing town and thank you to all of the police officers and the HPD. Consummate professionals during a challenging time.

Expressing gratitude to Frank, Mark, Scott and the BOard of Health regarding the open kitchen at the mill – event was a huge success.

Tina: wishing everyone a happy Thanksgiving.

John: Henry Dellicker passed away earlier this week and he wanted to recap all of the work he did in this town. He was the 911 coordinator for many years, was on the select board, water commissioner, and zoning board. Prominent in the town election cycle. He and Jackie have raised 5 sons in Holliston and is a 2003 Citizen of the Year. Henry gave not only his time, but epitomized public service. Keep Jackie and his entire family in your thoughts at this particularly difficult time (moment of silence observed). Arrangements pending.

Superintendent Kustka has set up the Holliston Coalition Against Hate and Bias First meeting on 12/6 to create a multi-faced plan to address these issues in Holliston. Travis Ahern is the 3rd place ACNE for Town Administrators presentations on HCAT. 

Travis and John had a call with the Board of Health regarding sewer resolution for downtown. While the BOH and Select Board don’t always agree on the best way forward, keeping the lines of communication open is important. Provided public hearing updates and surveys of the potentially affected residents. Jay is inviting the facility manager to the 11/28 meeting. Hoping for a joint meeting with the BOH/SB to bring forward questions and ideas as early as mid-December. This will give an opportunity for everyone to understand what is occurring.

John wanted to commend the Holliston Reporter (this goes to Mary Greendale) regarding the coverage of the Burial Ground renovation. We received a grant for this project. In total there are four burial grounds in Holliston which will be cleared/cleaned and it is intensive work after decades of lack of upgrades. Beautifying the area is important and the grant was very important especially given our 300th is upcoming. Being able to respect those who are buried in these cemeteries is important. The work to date has been impressive.

Warrants

Ben made a motion to approve the warrant, Tina second, motion carried.

Financial Policy Update

Finance committee has discussed this and they will not be meeting this week because of the holiday. The focus needs to be streamlined. It’s also important that people are aware these plans can be found on the town website using this link.

Some are merely definitions, it is designed to be a policy practice plan and we’re hoping some of the practice and discussions may be able to be removed (some involve history). The plan is currently to review and redline some of the information. Quickest way to decide which questions you want to ask is to review the summary on page 9 and work from there, page 1 to 8 is merely a description of the summary.

There are some items which need to be changed including the stabilization fund which needs to be incorporated. The two special purpose funds should also be incorporated despite the board not having control of those funds as they are special purposes. From his discussions with the finance committee, these are mostly cosmetic changes. 

Two things came to mind: Implicit direction to try to have financial policies for town. Specific obligations for financing and stability. But, I noticed two things – as we’re working with Envisioning Holiston one of the strategic priorities was financial stability. Is there some need or does a conservation need to take place regarding goals. While we talk about it in specific instances, we may need to think about it more holistically. Are there pieces we are missing? The original impetus was budget planning for the Finance Committee but it might be some opportunity to look a bit further into this. 

John asked if Travis had the opportunity to look at any other communities financial policies? Travis indicated he had looked at some. John indicated that the Finance Committee some members have related questions and we can discuss this from an evolution standpoint which means adding and removing information as needed. Brief discussion ensued regarding the overall plan.

Tina asked that before the SB votes, that she would like some updated information, specifically the balances in the various funds. 

Travis mentioned the stabilization funds, and provided the memo which went out in September of 2022. Updated language is rather casual and would like to be able to use this funds for matching grants where there is a town-wide need. She’s unsure if this is something possible.

John: Asked if that is allowable when there is a grant with a matching obligation? Can we use the stabilization funds for that? Does that get done at an executive level or do we need that to be presented at Town Meeting? It has to be approved at Town Meeting. Matching grants do not adhere to the stabilization funds original purpose.

Four years ago, we discussed the pension policy and we discussed it two years ago. (Page 9) calls it out separately and indicates a minimum to be withheld. We should be revisiting that so that it says “not to exceed”.

John: Asking if there was a timeline and Travis indicated that we don’t want it to clash with the budget process. Hoping to close it out in December (which would be ideal). If there are items which are important to the SB then a joint meeting is the most efficient way.

Section 8 needs to evolve. Minimum 1.5 to pension liability. Recommendation has to be reviewed.  John would like to see this changed from “minimum” to “maximum”; similar to Tina’s thoughts.

Chris Heymanns agreed that the changes are good suggestions and that the group setting is the best place to deal with these. Investment policy will/should also be reviewed. 

Comments from the Town Administrator 

1. Town has been awarded more than $45,000+ in grant funding from the Edward J. Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant program. These grant funds will allow us to purchase Level III+ ballistic mini shields and Level III+ plate carrier tactical vests for all sworn police officers in the department. The grant award also includes more than $12,000+ in training funds to ensure each officer is properly familiarized with the use of this new equipment. 

Special thanks to Lieutenant Barrett for spearheading this project and applying for the grant funding. This type of equipment/training would not be possible without opportunities such as this and having these grant funds at our disposal greatly enhances our ability to respond to serious calls for service. 

2. Small Bridge Grant for Woodland Street (over Bogastow Brook) for $500k; project is at 75% design with plan to get bridge open in 2024

3. Eversource Make Ready Program for EV at Green Street municipal lot completed

4. META Grant Application for $15,000 to develop an investigation of clean energy resilience opportunities at RAMS and Placentino & Miller

Other items:

–Construction of a sidewalk extension from Woodland Street to the Rail Trail via Lowland Street has started and should be completed by the end of November (weather permitting) which will allow for safe pedestrian access to the schools from East Holliston when the Woodland Street bridge/dam project begins in 2024 

–20 Cross Street (site of future DPW facility) will go thru a Phase II report for environmental suitability and the Town is working with MassDEP and EPA regarding access to the site which is currently still in land court

Board Business

Rail Trail (ROW) abutter licenses (8)  – one permit is on hold until 2024. Carry forward. This allows commercial buildings to use right of way for commercial purposes. Tina: Trail Committee recent agenda confirmed there are no outstanding issues. Delliker at 3o Woodland, Depot Package, Auction Marketplace, Beneett Trust (Woodland), Lane Realty (Woodland), Delliker (Washington St.) Motion made to approve the licenses 2nd by Tina carried.

Green Communities Annual Report Submission  – this is to review where we stand for obtaining grants. Chris Mayo has been seeing this through. The report is ready to go and we have submitted it so we can remain in good standing to continue to get grants for updates to the town. Ben made a motion to accept, Tina seconded, Carried.

Lion’s Club Holiday Lighting – Event Permit  – Ben made a motion to approve permit beginning 4pm at Fiskes – Tina seconded – carried.

Turkey Trot, Nov. 22, 2023 at 9am – Event Permit  – Ben made a motion to approve, Tina seconded, carried. Watch the weather! Could be a northeaster (John)

First Night Rail trail walk December 31, 2023 starting at 5:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. at Blair Square  – Announcement only – Event permit submitted – Ben made a motion, Tina seconded. Carried

Executive Session Minutes, for approval but not released (Oct. 23, 2023; Nov. 6, 2023, Nov. 15, 2023) – Motion Ben – Second Tina – carried

John: Signing a letter regarding business owners introducing the new Economic Development Coordinator (Melanie)

Very best wishes to everyone in Holliston for a peaceful Thanksgiving. 

Doreen Martel

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