Select Board roundup: Town expected to get boost from state aid; retiring MacAdam lauded

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During Tuesday’s Select Board meeting, town manager Norman Khumalo shared some good news regarding the town’s Fiscal Year 2022 budget. Last Wednesday, Gov. Charlie Baker revised his estimates for local aid, and the new amount is slated to be an increase of 11 percent from the previous fiscal year. The previous estimate was a 1 percent increase.

Khumalo last week presented the board with two potential budgets, one that relies on a 2.5 percent tax rate impact and the other at 1 percent. Both dip into multiple stabilization funds for one-time assistance in addressing recurring needs. While the 2.5 percent option meets departmental requests, the 1.0 percent option would require cost cutting and would mean a reduction in services to the community, Khumalo said.

The boost in local aid would substantially reduce the amount needed from the stabilization funds. In the 2.5 tax impact scenario, instead of taking $1.9 million in stabilization draws, the number would be $1.1 million, Khumalo said. Under the 1.0 option the draw would go from $2 million to $1.2 million — in both cases a 40 percent drop.

Keeping more money in the stabilization reserves also could help maintain Hopkinton’s already strong bond rating.

Khumalo cautioned, however, that the local aid will only carry so far.

“While local aid is an important secondary source of revenue, property taxes will generate 82 percent of our expected general fund revenue,” he explained. “So, while this dramatic increase in local aid is extremely helpful, it in itself does not address all the challenges the town faces.”

Khumalo also noted that the revised proposal must clear the state legislature, and there’s no guarantee it won’t change again.

Department heads discuss budgets

Four department heads made brief presentations to the board about their budgets.

Police Chief Joseph Bennett said his budget “was built from the bottom up, beginning with our most valuable asset, our personnel, which represents 94 percent of the entire budget.”

Among the department’s capital requests was to replace three cruisers, and Bennett noted the town was one year behind schedule on replacing them.

DPW director John Westerling, among other things, requested a mini-excavator primarily to help with cemetery work, a chipper, a highway truck and a sewer truck, replacing vehicles that have high mileage.

Meaghan DeRaad, the communications director for Hopkinton Public Safety Communications, said she is “still trying to build this department as its own, and learning along the way.” The department has eight full-time dispatchers and five who work on a per diem basis, with two more part-timers “coming in shortly,” she said. She added that her budget will be helped by a recently approved grant.

Fire Chief Steve Slaman requested a new ambulance and the refurbishment of Engine 4, which he expects could last another 6-8 years following a fix-up.

Board recognizes retiring MacAdam

The board paid tribute to Don MacAdam, who recently announced his retirement as conservation administrator.

Khumalo lauded MacAdam as “very kind, very committed to the profession, very dedicated to the team, very humble. And in all cases always committed to being fair and doing the right thing.”

Select Board chair Brendan Tedstone said there was a time when the Conservation Commission did not have the best reputation for being friendly to residents, but MacAdam was an ideal go-between.

“You’ve always been a soothing, rational person to deal with,” Tedstone said. “The town will miss your presence and the job you did. Anybody can do a job. You really epitomized what it means to take it on as a career.”

Befitting his reputation, MacAdam was brief in his remarks to the board.

“I just want to thank the town of Hopkinton for giving me this opportunity,” he said. “They’ve been wonderful for me and my family. The affection’s mutual.”

Proposed bylaws explained

Assistant town manager Elaine Lazarus reviewed and explained four proposed bylaws that the board is sponsoring for Annual Town Meeting in May.

The first is an update to the trench safety officer bylaw, to reflect that the DPW director is the permitting authority for issuing trench permits.

The second addresses street opening permits, codifying that the DPW issues the permits.

The third item deals with obstructing public streets and sidewalks. The change, initiated by a citizen, adds “leaves, sand or other debris” to the currently mentioned snow as items that can’t obstruct streets and sidewalks.

The fourth item is related to dog licensing, and it brings the town’s penalty for unlicensed dogs to $50 per household. The town’s fine currently is $25, but state law requires a penalty of $50.

A public hearing will be held on Feb. 23 for all of the bylaws to be reviewed.

Misc.: Emergency Fund introduced

Co-directors Zach Sisitsky and Hannah Krueger joined the meeting to introduce the Hopkinton Emergency Fund, a newly founded nonprofit designed to serve as a “financial backstop to some of the agencies that exist in town helping people in emergency situations,” Sisitsky said.

The program, which will be funded through individual and business donations, is preparing to launch a publicity and fundraising campaign with the hope of becoming active by May, Sisitsky said. …

Barbara Kessler was unanimously appointed to fill a vacant seat on the Tax Relief Committee to a term expiring June 30, 2023. …

The board accepted the resignation of Smriti Choudhury as an associate member of the Board of Appeals.

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