Select Board roundup: CFO requests additional funds so town can ‘stand up to Eversource’

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At Tuesday’s Select Board meeting the board continued to hear from department leaders regarding the Fiscal Year 2022 budget.

Chief financial officer Tim O’Leary requested an additional $30,000 for appraisal services “to continue to engage with Eversource,” the energy company that owns a liquefied natural gas (LNG) facility in town and has frustrated town leaders on numerous occasions.

“The entire additional amount requested is related to the town’s ongoing effort to collect a fair tax levy from the Eversource LNG plant,” O’Leary said. “Eversource appealed the town’s assessment for Hopkinton LNG for 2014, 2015 and 2016. The state’s Appellate Tax Board upheld the town’s position after a lengthy and very costly review, which was excellent news for the town. Now we’re standing by to see if Eversource will appeal those tax years again to the next highest court, the Court of Appeals. For the FY22 budget we’ve added $10,000 for anticipated legal expenses that will be needed if Eversource follows up with litigation on 2017 through 2020 — four years that had been pending while we tried to resolve the earlier years.

“The other $20,000 in additional funding requested is also tied to Eversource. As you know, the LNG facility is going through a substantial renewal. So it will be necessary for the town to re-baseline the facility for tax property purposes. Because Eversource has a long record of appealing Hopkinton LNG assessments, the town will be taking the unusual step in incurring an extra $20,000 in expense to generate a painstakingly meticulous court-ready appraisal. This approach will avoid additional cost and rework later, when it’s likely that Eversource will once again appeal the town’s LNG appraisal.

“The town’s tax relationship with Eversource is challenging and expensive. And this situation is not unique to Hopkinton. Across the commonwealth, Eversource is appealing assessments, thereby imposing high staff and legal costs on towns where they operate. Despite this expense, the town believes it’s important and completely appropriate to stand up to Eversource on these cases.”

Other individuals who made budget presentations included Ben Sweeney (also Finance Department), Maria Casey (Human Resources), Heather Backman (Library), Norman Khumalo (Town Manager) and assistant town manager Elaine Lazarus (Land Use, Planning and Permitting).

Lazarus noted that Land Use, Planning and Permitting was very busy in 2020, as “construction did not slow down with the pandemic.” She said the department issued 2,187 related building permits and certificates during the year, including 158 for new residential dwellings and 977 alterations and additions to residences.

Lazarus added that the one of items the department will address in the coming year is funding for a trails and pedestrian connectivity plan, which is an initiative of the Planning Board.

“One thing the pandemic has done has brought many more people outside and increased interest in trails,” she said.

Board member Brian Herr concurred.

“The trails are much busier now than they’ve ever been,” he said. “I think that’s great, but we just need to plan for that going forward. I don’t think the enthusiasm is going to go away once the pandemic goes away. I think the people have found the gems all over town and really enjoy getting out there, so I agree we’ve got to be a little more aggressive in how we manage and help those trails along.”

Board lauds Palmer

The board accepted the resignation of Marilyn Palmer from the Council on Aging. At the last Select Board meeting the board heaped praise on Palmer’s husband, John, for his many years of service to Hopkinton. The couple recently moved out of town.

Select Board chair Brendan Tedstone said Marilyn is worthy of the same praise — or perhaps even more.

“She’s a legend and an icon in this town,” he said.

The board also approved the reappointment of Ed Harrow as the Conservation Commission representative to the Open Space Preservation Commission (term expiring June 30, 2025), OK’d the appointment of Rebecka Lapierre as a traffic constable (term expiring June 30, 2023), and accepted a gift of $100 gift to the Ambulance Fund from Mary Louise Moore in memory of Francis Pyne.