Select Board roundup: Concerns raised about Town Meeting; budget discussions continue; Brault, Palmer recognized

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Concerns about the logistics surrounding Annual Town Meeting due to the pandemic were raised at Tuesday’s Select Board meeting.

Town Meeting moderator Tom Garabedian appeared before the board and asked if there were plans for an alternate date and/or site for the meeting, considering the state remains under the governor’s emergency order.

Last year’s Annual Town Meeting (ATM) was postponed a couple of times before being held outside in mid-September with only a small number of articles addressed.

This year’s ATM is slated for May 3, with the Town Election to follow exactly two weeks later.

“It would seem to me that if we intend to do something outdoors that the beginning of May is probably not the right time, and that we might want to consider a delay until June when we can be assured of better weather,” Garabedian said. “Or alternatively consider the use of the high school gymnasium as a site which could be managed if it is available potentially at the beginning of May when we routinely conduct our meeting.”

A few options were discussed, including using multiple locations at the middle school and high school with video feeds.

Town manager Norman Khumalo recommended the town activate the subgroup — made up of town officials and emergency personnel — that planned last year’s ATM and have the group report back with its suggestions on both Town Meeting and Town Election.

Budget discussions continue

The Select Board continued its Fiscal Year 2022 budget discussions with town department heads.

Hopkinton Youth and Family Services director Dawn Alcott-Miler, whose department includes a full-time director (Alcott-Miller) and a three-quarter-time social worker (Colleen Souza), requested to expand the staff.

“This year we’re requesting an additional full-time clinic staff person to serve in a flexible role as a program coordinator who’s also looking at things with a clinician’s eye to meet Hopkinton’s growing clinical needs, demands for our services and desire for quality educational programming,” she said.

Board member Brian Herr said he wanted to support the department “any way I can.”

“I can’t think of a more important thing during the times of the pandemic than trying — and I emphasize the word trying — to maintain our mental health through this whole process,” he said, adding: “Every day I hear horror stories now — in our town, in our surrounding towns, across the state, wherever — about people from all walks of life really kind of losing it during this pandemic. Some of them are pretty sad. So I want to help any way I can, and if it’s supporting this, then that’s what I’ll do.”

Amy Beck, the director of senior services, said her department remains busy during the pandemic providing services and activities, and her focus now is on helping seniors sign up for the vaccine clinics that are targeted to start soon in town.

“This budget reflects the continuing of current staffing levels of nine office staff and five kitchen staff,” she explained. “These staffing levels are necessary to ensure that the programs we currently provide and those we hope to add in the future can continue uninterrupted whether in person or not. We’ve also kept our expenses relatively the same.”

Jay Guelfi, director of Hopkinton Parks & Recreation, said his department is looking forward to bringing back a number of programs as the pandemic ends. Among them are the public skating rink and concerts and movies on the Town Common.

He noted that the public dog park off Fruit Street should be completed this spring, using a private grant and community preservation funds, and the plan is to construct a new public skate park at EMC Park next year.

Regarding staffing, “We’ve had the same staff here now going on five years,” Guelfi said. “I’m very fortunate to have an extremely capable and competent staff here, and I want to keep it that way. And again, with the situation being so fluid, I don’t want to have to think about reducing and increasing staff up and down over the next few years. I prefer to keep things as stable as I possibly can.”

Health director Shaun McAuliffe said, “It goes without saying that this has been a challenging year.” His department already has been approved to hire one additional staff member.

McAuliffe said he expects to receive some grant awards this month.

“It’s our mission to continue to go after funding so that our response efforts are not putting an extra strain on the community,” he said.

Town clerk Connor Degan, presenting on both the town clerk and election and registration budgets, said that the election budget tends to be a roller coaster, as the number of elections changes from year to year.

“We’re going to need in the near future additional personnel in our office,” he said, noting that there was a “massive workload increase in our office” due in part to the lack of normal volunteers, mainly seniors.

Issues raised with Center School

Town engineer/facilities director Dave Daltorio made an appearance to update the board about issues at Center School. The building no longer serves as a school but is used to store Town Hall documents, while the gym and a couple of classrooms are used for Parks & Recreation programs.

Daltorio said his department has spent a lot of time and money trying to keep the building operational. The biggest issue is the heating system, and he said there have been major problems for some time now.

“We’ve been fighting it for a couple of years,” he said, adding: “We may actually have to ask the board if it would be OK to winterize that building, shut off the heat,” which would mean no use of the building, at least during the cold months.

Daltorio said numerous repairs have been made, but whenever one problem is fixed a new one crops up.

“We don’t have any more fingers to stick in the dike,” he said.

Khumalo said the Permanent Building Committee is prepared to present to the Select Board with its suggestions regarding the building’s future, which it hopes to do within the next month.

Misc.: Board pays tribute to Brault

Select Board chair Brendan Tedstone called attention to the passing of longtime resident Richard Brault, a well-known U.S. Marine veteran who died Saturday at the age of 95.

Tedstone called Brault “a very influential and wonderful guy, someone that embraced Hopkinton forever and ever and ever.”

Added Herr: “Not only was he a former Marine, but he was the best Santa Claus that Hopkinton’s ever had at Weston Nurseries for years and years, with his beard. My kids just loved him. He was the best.” …

The board accepted the resignations of John Palmer from the Tax Relief Committee, Megan Carvalho from the Council on Aging and Alton Chen from the Capital Improvement Committee.

Palmer, a longtime resident, recently moved to Ashland, and Tedstone lamented his departure.

“He is an absolutely tremendous asset to the town,” Tedstone said. “The work that he does behind the scenes is absolutely a throwback. He and his wife, who worked for the police forever, have been just a wonderful asset for our town. We don’t get people like John Palmer to work through the Town Hall very often. … As someone that’s been in town for a long, long, long time, I can’t thank Mr. Palmer enough for all the work that he’s done and set the bar as high as he has for other people coming in. So thank you very much Mr. Palmer.”

Added board member Mary Jo LaFreniere, who served on boards with Palmer: “I’m just very proud of knowing John. He is an amazing person. … [He and his wife] have been wonderful citizens of Hopkinton for a very, very long time.” …

Stephanie Clifton was approved as assistant town accountant, filling a position that came open due to a retirement. Clifton has been working for the town since 2016, first part-time, then full-time the following year as an administrative assistant in treasury, payroll and assessing.

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