Select Board roundup: Economic Development Office debated

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Growth Study Committee chair Fin Perry appeared before the Select Board on Tuesday night to encourage the establishment of an Economic Development Office at Town Hall “to call attention to the fact that Hopkinton is more than a bedroom community.”

Perry noted that Hopkinton’s tax base is 84 percent residential and 16 percent commercial/industrial, and, “We should be concerned that this is maintained.”

He said the town’s “golden goose, EMC, is no longer a sure thing in town,” since its acquisition by Dell. Perry said a potential “future golden goose” is the life science and biotech industry, although, “Everybody on 495 wants to pull life science and biotech into their town.”

Select Board chair Brendan Tedstone said he liked the idea but was concerned about spending the money when there might be more pressing needs that have not yet been filled due to the town’s hiring freeze during the pandemic.

Planning Board chair Gary Trendel submitted comments in support of the plan.

“The reality is that ‘sitting and waiting’ to see what proposals and tenants come forward is NOT the best way to optimize utilization of our industrial and commercial districts for the people in this town,” he wrote. “This proposal is right in line with our Planning Board objectives of being more proactive with regards to managing growth.

“This isn’t just about tax base, it’s also about improving services and employers for Hopkinton residents — per the discussion, this includes multiple zoning districts including downtown.

“If done right, this is an investment that will generate positive cash flow for the town, and I would caution against comparing it to other traditional hiring needs. The Planning Board acknowledged that there is some risk, but that is exactly why the recommendation is to hire on a contract basis to start.

“Many of our neighboring towns are already investing in this type of function, and in an increasingly challenging commercial real estate market, it will become even more important to work to recruit the right businesses to Hopkinton.”

Downtown project could start very soon

In his town manager report, Norman Khumalo shared some details from a productive pre-construction meeting for the Main Street Corridor Project.

He said construction will begin as early as this week, and the contractor is looking at the project in “two geographic phases.” The first phase is from the Town Common to the Route 135/85 traffic intersection.

“The idea is to at least complete this phase within the one-year window, which I believe would be very good for our businesses,” Khumalo said. “Within that same one-year window, the idea is to do all the base work” [moving poles and undergrounding utilities] from the intersection to the Main Street/Wood Street fork.

“The contractor is going to be pursuing this very aggressive schedule that will have a minimal impact in terms of duration to the corridor,” Khumalo said,

Khumalo also noted that a company will be brought in to “invest strongly on public communication.”

HYFS discusses strategic goals

Hopkinton Youth & Family Services director Dawn Alcott discussed her department’s strategic plan.

The department’s goals include:

1. Help to strengthen and clarify the network of services that acts as a safety net for vulnerable residents.

2. Provide primary prevention services to build a healthy community culture.

3. Increase community awareness of behavioral health issues, of HYFS mission and services, and of how to access help.

4. Develop effective and efficient funding, staffing and processes.

Alcott said she was appreciative of the community support and invited residents to participate in a more-detailed presentation she plans to provide in the future.

Misc.: Town budget preparation ‘hectic’

Regarding the town budget, Khumalo said town employees have been working at a feverish rate to finish preparations and explanations for Town Meeting.

“The pace is crazy,” he said. “It is hectic. And the pressure … is very intense.”

Added Khumalo: “I’ve been here for 10-11 years. I’m the last person to say this work is difficult. … I just want to put it on notice: We can’t keep doing this to ourselves.” …

The board unanimously voted to include a placeholder for an article on the discharge of firearms on private property on the town warrant. This elicited some discussion about loud firearms at gun clubs being an annoyance, although Khumalo said the article does not apply to gun clubs.

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