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Select Board hears request for graduating senior car parade, town department budget proposals

by | Feb 14, 2024 | Featured: News, News

The Select Board at its remote meeting Tuesday night heard from advocates seeking a car parade for graduating high school students in the hope that it will become an annual town tradition. Last year, a divided Select Board voted to allow the event with the condition that it be the final one, primarily due to concerns about disruption to traffic and emergency access.

Parent Kristen Strechay noted that she completed a parade permit application and supporting materials for a car parade for the senior class. She questioned why parade applications for the Hopkinton Little League Parade and the Sharon Timlin Memorial 5K Road Race were approved moments before as part of the consent agenda. However, no negative comments were received about either event, according to Town Manager Norman Khumalo.

Khumalo said the application is “still going through the town’s permitting review process.” Comments had been made by the public safety team regarding previous car parades, and he hoped an informal discussion at this meeting would allay concerns.

Strechay said plans were submitted regarding safety, insurance, cleanup and volunteers as well as letters indicating community support. Khumalo confirmed that there is community support for this event, but he wanted to “make sure everyone was on the same page.”

Christina Galego, a Hopkinton High School senior, said the car parade has become an important community event for her since its inception in 2020, when it was started due to the inability to hold formal graduation ceremonies that spring during the pandemic. She stressed that this class is the last high school class that has experienced the full effects of the pandemic.

“The car parade isn’t just for the class of 2024,” she stressed. “It’s for the entire community.”

She noted that teachers, relatives and friends who have supported these seniors can’t all attend the graduation ceremony. But they and other spectators can participate in a car parade.

“We know that there were observations last year,” Galego acknowledged. “But in my opinion, now that we know the observations, that gives us the liberty and the freedom to change it.”

The route was shortened last year and does not include some major town roads previously used

Select Board member Irfan Nasrullah noted that the car parade was an adjustment made during the pandemic. He reserved judgment about the event.

Select Board member Amy Ritterbusch added that senior behavior was a safety concern. Some graduates were observed sitting out of car windows and hanging onto car doors, even though that was prohibited.

Said Ritterbusch: “I worry about that, and I wouldn’t want that to be on our shoulders.”

A concern of Select Board member Mary Jo LaFreniere was that students who are not going on to college felt included in this car parade. Galego said she wanted seniors who are homeschooled, from other schools and with other ambitions to be included.

Khumalo asked how families who don’t have cars will be included, or if vehicles specifically designed for parades would be rented.

This issue will be revisited at next week’s meeting.

Select Board reviews FY 25 budget requests

The Select Board held fiscal year 2025 budget hearings on 12 departments, which took nearly two hours. Departments had been requested to hold their budgetary increases to 4.4% if feasible.

Khumalo called the Department of Youth & Family Services one of his “most proud moments” of his 15-year tenure in Hopkinton. Its 76 programs served nearly 3,000 people this past year. Its major goals are to add youth voices to all programs serving youth and to conduct a behavioral health needs assessment. There was no change in the department’s operational budget from the previous year, while the personnel budget increase for this and all departments was mostly due to inflation.

Assistant Town Manager Elaine Lazarus pointed out the Land Use Department included funding for Conservation Commission land management, which had not previously been included in the budget, as well as money toward the regional shared housing fund. The department was able to meet the 4.4% increase goal.

Library Director Nanci Hill raised a concern about providing materials that are accessible to all in a timely fashion. Currently, she said, wait times for audiobooks can take an average of 67 days. Libraries are charged far more for audiobooks than general consumers, and they can only keep titles for two years. This has prevented Hill from purchasing new titles because she is trying to fill current requests. Also, four staff members were promoted recently, which raised their respective salaries.

Parks & Recreation Director Jon Lewitus said the biggest expense his department is incurring is for the holiday lights, which cost $9,500 and received positive community feedback.

Town Clerk Connor Degan described the “roller coaster” of funding that his department incurs due to election cycles. This year, there are state and presidential elections in addition to May’s town election. His budget request for election personnel and expenses was for $60,030.60, a 26.7% increase from FY 24.

Town employee promoted after stepping up during staffing shortage

Charles “CJ” Paquette was unanimously approved by the Select Board to be promoted to the role of treasurer/collector, replacing Diane Hendrickson, who retired last year. He has worked for the town for the past eight months as the assistant town treasurer.

Khumalo said Paquette “has the ability to learn very quickly.” He took on the payroll manager and interim treasurer positions in addition to his duties within a matter of weeks due to staffing shortages. Despite Paquette’s lack of a college degree, Khumalo referred to him as “this department’s Tom Brady.”

Said Khumalo: “His potential is immense.”

Assistant building inspector/zoning enforcement officer approved

Michael Savard was unanimously approved by the Select Board to become the town’s new assistant building inspector/zoning enforcement officer. He is replacing Mike Shepard, who retired last year. Khumalo said these two roles were combined into one position.

1 Comment

  1. Laurie M

    The Town accountant has NO COLLEGE DEGREE?????

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