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Select Board approves hiring 3 police academy officers, Senior Work Program increase

by | Apr 3, 2024 | Featured: News, News

The Select Board at its five-hour meeting Tuesday approved the hiring of three police academy officers and voted unanimously to increase the amount that older taxpaying residents can earn through volunteering with the Senior Work Program.

Hopkinton Police Department Chief Joseph Bennett recommended appointing Benjamin Vaz, Aline Matos and Justin Cappuccio as police academy officers.

Human Resources Generalist Kristin Merrill explained that the three candidates came from a pool of 33 applicants, one of whom was hired at a previous Select Board meeting. Out of nine semifinalists, seven advanced in the process, with six selected “to proceed to pre-employment process.”

What Merrill sought in potential officers were candidates with “education and experience that reflected a sincere interest and passion for police work.”

Said Merrill: “Each candidate … brings something unique to the HPD team.”

Detective Sgt. Scott van Raalten introduced Vaz, who currently is working for the Norfolk County District Attorney’s Office as a victim witness advocate. Vaz’s pursuit of a police career sprung from a desire to help people, particularly those “who don’t always get the help that they deserve.” He previously served as an intern with the mayor of Taunton.

His experience as a victim witness advocate has allowed Vaz to develop skills in seeing both sides of issues and guiding a victim through a trying experience. He also stressed building trust with the community and with his fellow officers as critical.

He added that his mother’s side of the family is from Hopkinton, which gives him a natural affinity with the town.

Bennett introduced Matos, who got his attention simply by walking through the door and expressing an interest in law enforcement. She began her career with HPD as an intern and later as a part-time dispatcher. Now a full-time dispatcher, she is preparing to enter the police academy,

“In this day and age when recruiting is extremely difficult, we need to look at every stream,” said Bennett. “And this is truly a success.”

Matos is finishing her bachelor’s degree in criminal justice and psychology from UMass Boston. She is fluent in Portuguese and knows some Spanish. She stressed that she is happy that the town is becoming more diverse and that she contributes to that diversity.

Cappuccio is in his fourth year of the five-year Fitchburg University police program. He will graduate with a bachelor’s degree on May 18 and proceed to the police academy two days later. He also is interning with the Pepperell Police Department.

Cappuccio said he always wanted to help people and “not sit behind a desk.” Originally he considered driving an ambulance, but he decided on a more hands-on community role.

He stressed the need for transparency, accountability and productivity. He also is coachable and wants to adapt to Hopkinton’s needs. Receiving training in mental health assessments and working with crisis intervention clinicians are essential skills for him.

Senior Work Program volunteers now can earn up to $2,000

Deputy Assessor Renee Chen advocated for the Select Board to increase the amount older homeowners can earn through the Senior Work Program from $1,500 to $2,000. The board approved this request unanimously.

This program allows volunteers for the town to deduct the money they earn from their property tax bills while providing a knowledgeable volunteer pool. Volunteers work at the state’s minimum wage rate of $15 per hour.

Recent legislation allows the rate to be raised to up to $2,000, Chen explained.

“If the increase is approved, it would provide Hopkinton seniors with a way to offset the rising cost of living and hopefully allow them to stay in their homes here in Hopkinton,” she stressed. “It will also provide the town with an additional 1,000 hours of volunteer service.”

Participants could apply the hours they volunteer from now through September to their fiscal year 2025 tax bills.

Last year, 45 seniors participated in the program, which cost $60,000. Chen said she expects the program to grow by $15,000 per year. The program cost is funded through an overlay account.

Jessica Lewerenz, the town’s former benefits administrator, was promoted earlier in the evening to human resources director. She explained that the cost of living has risen 19% between 2019-23, hitting seniors especially hard because of their fixed incomes and increasing home values.

“When we talk about the cost of this program, I always like to suggest that the cost of the program really honestly pays us back,” said chair Muriel Kramer. “So we more than get our value in return for this investment in our seniors with this program.”

Member Irfan Nasrullah stressed for the public that their tax bills will not rise as a result of this program. Chen described the impact as “no more than a penny.”

Member Mary Jo LaFreniere noted that she has benefited from this program. She continues to volunteer after her required service as she discovers more town needs.

Said LaFreniere: “It’s so much better to give seniors a chance to get out and work for the town.”

Town employees promoted

In addition to the Lewerenz’s promotion to HR director, Ray Stephenson was promoted to the role of reference/technology librarian. Stephenson currently works as a senior library assistant and will combine the two part-time roles.

The role serves as a bridge between the town’s Information Technology Department and the library’s support staff. Stephenson also will work on the library’s social media presence and the promotion of its library of things.

HCA alcohol license approved with conditions

The Hopkinton Center for the Arts petitioned the Select Board for an all alcohol on premises license, citing the difficulty in finding caterers to provide this service for selected events. After some discussion, the board unanimously approved the request with conditions.

Attorney Trish Farnsworth explained that the HCA has served alcohol over the past nine years at concerts, shows and other events without incident. Last year, the Select Board granted 14 one-day licenses.

Volunteers will be TIPS trained to serve alcohol responsibly, she added. Staff member Denise Tracy, who has decades of experience in restaurants, will be in charge of the license.

HCA director Kelly Grill noted that the number of caterers has vastly decreased since the pandemic, and their rates are higher. Many do not want to participate in events for smaller audiences that the HCA provides.

LaFreniere expressed concern because the venue is within 500 feet of two schools. She wanted to see something “much more specific” in regard to police detail and trash removal.

Farnsworth clarified that the law allows for the issuance of the license, with the Select Board’s approval, provided that it “would not be detrimental to the activities of the school.” Food will be available for purchase with the alcohol, and the license will be renewable every December.

School Superintendent Carol Cavanaugh said Grill and the HCA “have been amazing neighbors.” She suggested an “additional layer” of clear communication with the HCA leadership moving forward and that events would not be held on nights or weekends when the schools are holding events.

Kramer described the HCA as “an engine of positive energy and drive in the community.” She asked for a motion that would include Cavanaugh’s stipulations, a review by town counsel, and a provision for crowd management for events of more than 100 people.

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