Select Board roundup: Residents give town high marks in survey; Main Street work begins

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The town received high marks in a recent community satisfaction survey, according to Damema Mann of the National Research Center (NRC), which conducted the survey.

Mann, presenting the results to the Select Board at Tuesday’s meeting, said surveys were sent to 1,700 households and 589 returned them (35 percent). She gave the survey a +/- 4 percent margin of error.

Mann said NRC conducts surveys for about 600 communities around the country, and using those communities as a benchmark, Hopkinton received higher ratings than the national average on 38 questions, similar ratings on 86 questions, and lower ratings on 14 questions.

“This is unusual,” she said. “We expect to see most ratings be similar to the benchmark, and they were for Hopkinton. However, the number of ratings that were higher than the benchmark were definitely a standout to us. Hopkinton excelled in many areas. A lot of them had to do with quality of life, education, the town as a place to live, neighborhoods as a place to live, the town as a place to raise children, parks and recreation, and many, many of the ratings that were higher than the national averages had to do with safety, overall feelings of safety, police services, crime prevention, emergency preparedness — those were some standouts there.”

Compared to a similar survey conducted in Hopkinton in 2013, the town showed improvement, with almost twice as many opinions trending upward than downward — 23 to 12, with 44 remaining stable.

Among the key findings, Mann said, were that community members note economic improvements yet also see it as an area of opportunity; residents are pleased with their local government, and ratings have increased over time; and mobility ratings lag, specifically related to a lack of public transportation options.

Looking at town priorities, 61 percent of residents stated creating a diverse, inclusive and fair community was tops on their list.

As for issues residents considered the most important to address over the next five years, 77 percent cited school facility expansion, 46 percent pointed to the proposed renovation of Center School so it can be used for community meeting space, town offices and more, and 42 percent identified the expansion of public bus service to nearby train stations.

Addressing concerns about transportation, Select Board member Mary Jo LaFreniere said she just learned that Hopkinton soon will have access to The RIDE, a shared door-to-door transportation service under the supervision of the MBTA, “which should help a lot there, in particular with our senior citizens.”

The survey presentation was welcome news to town leaders.

“I’ve sat on the board for a number of years, and you get a gut feel for what the community is all about,” Brian Herr said. “A lot of those numbers confirm that. … I would congratulate Mr. [town manager Norman] Khumalo and his team for providing excellent service to the taxpayers of Hopkinton and treating them with respect.”

Board member Amy Ritterbusch requested the survey results be posted on the town website, “then we can use it to guide our process next year for budget.”

With Main Street work starting, residents cautioned

With crews on-site preparing for work on the Main Street Corridor Project, Khumalo cautioned residents that it will be a challenging couple of years during the construction phase, and he asked for understanding so the town can get through the process in the “most efficient and least disruptive manner possible.”

“We all understand for the next 24 months Main Street will be torn up, construction equipment will be moving up and down Main Street and the side streets adjoining Main Street,” he said. “Most of the town residents, if not all the residents, will be impacted by this project, some a little more than others. For one, I’ve had Mr. Herr reference a large traffic alert sign in front of his house. He’s assured me he’s tolerating it as best as he can. And my message to the community is we all need to support the project as best as we can to get it done as soon as possible.

“On its part, the town will take all necessary steps to minimize the impact of the construction activities on your neighborhoods. And again, I do sympathize, I do hear the concerns that have been raised with regards to how disruptive this project is going to be. And as we have said in the past and we continue to say now, yes, you’re correct, it is going to be a very different 24 months in Hopkinton on Main Street.”

Select Board chair Brendan Tedstone said the project literally hits home for the members of the Select Board.

“Four of the five board members live within a quarter-mile of where this Main Street Corridor Project is going,” he said. “So it’s not like we’re living on the outskirts and not having to deal with the traffic or the noise or the dust or the dirt. Four of the five of us live within a quarter-mile of the project and will be adversely affected every day of this. And the fifth board member, that does not live in the center of town, has a business [on Main Street] and this is going right by his or her business. So it’s not like we’re removed from this and we’re not going to be adversely affected.”

Tedstone noted that despite the effect the work will have on members’ lives, every vote regarding the project was a unanimous 5-0 in support of it.

“We are doing what’s right for the town,” he said.

Select Board favors more costly budget

The Select Board unanimously voted to move the 2.5 percent tax impact version of the town budget to the Appropriation Committee for preparation for Town Meeting.

While this version is more costly, Khumalo said the town could be in line to receive more financial assistance following the recent passage of the American Rescue Plan in Washington. Khumalo said the $1.9 trillion COVID relief program includes approximately $350 billion for state and local government.

“My initial information is that Hopkinton should receive at least $1.82 million in new restricted local aid,” Khumalo said. “This funding, we’ve been told, is expected to be available for at least two fiscal years, i.e. FY22 and FY23. The FY22 budget update in your meeting packet does not reflect any of the funds coming from this program, because the rules for use of the funding have not yet been shared with states and towns.”

As an example, Khumalo said the $200,000 the town currently has budgeted for the purchase of personal protective equipment (PPE) should be covered.

Khumalo said the American Rescue Plan also includes funding for public schools, including $1.8 billion allocated for Massachusetts.

Some of that money could be targeted for mental health initiatives, which the town has been discussing recently. …

The board voted to appoint Patricia Srodawa to the Council on Aging to a term expiring June 30, 2021, and accepted the resignation of Ramya Kumaraswamy from the Capital Improvements Committee. …

The board also heard from Sharon Timlin Memorial Event director Wayde Marshall, who said registration has opened for the 5K, which will be virtual again this year.