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Select Board roundup: UCTC survey questions refined; water/sewer rate increases discussed

by | Jun 7, 2023 | Featured: News, News

The Select Board at its hybrid meeting Tuesday night reviewed questions for a survey created to solicit public feedback on the Upper Charles Trail Committee in response to the resounding but nonbinding Town Meeting vote last month calling for the UCTC to be disbanded and restructured.

Select Board members Amy Ritterbusch and Irfan Nasrullah, the board’s UCTC liaison, produced a draft of the UCTC survey at a subcommittee meeting on May 28. They presented it to the full board for further input and refinement. Survey questions related to the UCTC’s charge and composition as well as residents’ preferences on trail usage and surfacing.

“The purpose of the survey was to find a way to move forward with stakeholders for a solution that the majority of the town will support,” Ritterbusch explained.

“We just want to find out what people want as far as the process goes,” added Nasrullah, noting that the questions will help the Select Board pinpoint and resolve the public’s issues with the UCTC’s performance.

While Ritterbusch said it was “very clear” from the discussion at Town Meeting that the community disapproved of a trail segment that would potentially cross Hayden Rowe Street, no one spoke about making the UCTC a subcommittee of the Trails Coordination and Management Committee other than the article’s proponent, TCMC chair Peter LaGoy.

Board vice chair Shahidul Mannan raised a concern that putting out a survey might negate the will of the majority of Town Meeting members who voted in favor of Article 47.

In response, Nasrullah said that both the UCTC and the TCMC were formed by the Select Board. The Select Board can use the survey responses to determine what people see as issues with the UCTC and then decide the best way to rectify them.

Ritterbusch pointed out that if the UCTC were to be reformed as a TCMC subcommittee, it would require the reformation of the TCMC charter as well as the UCTC one.

Town Manager Norman Khumalo said the questions fell into three categories: the UCTC’s charge, composition and process. In this way, it honors the Town Meeting vote about the committee’s future while looking for improvements that the public would like to see the Select Board address. He also proposed adding a map to the survey.

Chair Muriel Kramer agreed with Ritterbusch that Town Meeting members didn’t bring up the committee structure, saying that the broader scope of the survey would lead to valuable information.

Kramer also brought up that a question should be included as to whether alternate members should be considered as full members, as well as their voting privileges. She also suggested a question about whether liaisons should be able to vote. Mannan said a liaison from the Appropriations Committee should be added because of the financial impacts of the trail, as well as a committee member with a financial skill set.

Mannan asked that the question about whether the UCTC should remain a separate committee or a TCMC subcommittee be removed “because it sends the message that we don’t care about the town’s vote.”

Responded Kramer: “I don’t think anybody’s going to be convinced that we don’t care. I’m willing to take that risk.”

The question about whether the Upper Charles Trail should be paved, stone dust or a combination of the two raised comments about accessibility, trail cost and whether the trail’s surfacing could be implemented in phases. Kramer, Khumalo and Ritterbusch agreed that if surfacing needs are not considered initially to make the trail accessible for all, modifications may not happen down the road to make it fully accessible. Mannan’s concern was the cost and length of time for that type of project.

The terms “multi-use” and “rail trail” also were probed for clarity. While the other communities included in the Upper Charles Trail were formed along rail beds, this option is not available for Hopkinton.

LaGoy invited the Select Board to the next two TCMC meetings on June 14 and 21, both at 7:30 p.m. at Town Hall.

Khumalo said the survey will be reviewed by a consultant before distribution. It will be sent out electronically, and paper copies will be made available at designated public locations.

Water/sewer rate increases discussed

The Select Board also received an update on water and sewer rates for fiscal year 2024 in advance of the rate-setting public meeting that will take place on June 20.

Interim Department of Public Works director Thomas Temple noted that the Water and Sewer Department provided about 4,200 customers with potable water. The town last year provided 376 million gallons of water, of which 120 million gallons were purchased through an intermunicipal agreement with Ashland.

Expenses included $285,000 to replace an enterprise dump truck, and a proposal for a utility pickup truck replacement costing $65,000 will be forthcoming.

On the sewer side, 114 million gallons of wastewater were treated, with Westborough handling all but the 8.8 million handled at the Fruit Street facility.

An increase in rates is necessary to upgrade the Fruit Street facility, the reconstruction of Well 6, and other projects. The enterprise fund also was used to address concerns about PFAS in the water and the design and permitting costs associated with the town connecting to the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority. Several projects are included in the five-year capital plan.

The previous plan drafted last year called for a 9.5% increase for water rates in FY24 and no sewer rate increase. A final recommendation will be provided in two weeks after a consultant review, but an increase is expected.

Khumalo noted that last year, there were tiered rates based only on water usage. This year, he suggested different rates of increase for different levels of usage.

Ritterbusch said that there seemed to be the potential for sewer rates to go down slightly. This could help offset a water rate increase. There could also be exemptions for older and lower-income residents.

“I hate to see my water bill go up so much,” she said. “But I do want clean water, so I understand the need.”

Mannan asked if there could be a discount for those residents who use both water and sewer. A blended rate could help lower administrative costs, he explained.

Kramer stressed that the water rates are going to be increasing sharply, with different scenarios projecting increases between 17.5% and 30% over the next five fiscal years. Further information will be provided at the meeting in two weeks.

Utility pole placement considered

The board held a public hearing on the relocation of a utility pole at Cedar Street and B Street. Two other pole locations on Church Street and East Main Street did not need to be considered because they are included in the Main Street Corridor Project.

Verizon representative Don Vonner said the Cedar Street pole is proposed to be placed on the opposite side of the street “to support an existing pole line” and keep the wires from sagging.

Select Board member Mary Jo LaFreniere expressed concern about more wires going across the street. Town Engineer Dave Daltorio explained that the pole discussed would only involve one line going across Cedar Street. Poles on B Street will be replaced at their current location because they are too short.

Board members stressed that they do not want additional double poles in town. Kramer asked that the utility companies commit to a timeline on the removal of old poles.

Misc.: Volunteers recognized

As part of the board’s volunteer recognition program, Kramer called out Youth Commission teenage members Eva Bennet and Josh Jones, whom she witnessed in action during a recent event highlighting how volunteerism can help with mental health.

“I cannot express to you well enough how well they represented the Youth Commission, themselves, the work that they do, the value of volunteering, the respect that they showed to other volunteers — it was really inspirational, to be honest,” Kramer said.

Kramer also recognized Russ Ellsworth, who has been volunteering “longer than I’ve been alive” in a variety of roles and “inspirationally still volunteering for the Town of Hopkinton.”

Additionally, Kramer credited veteran Bill Hamilton for overseeing the creation of a World War II monument on the Town Common, which was unveiled on Memorial Day. “It’s an amazing accomplishment,” Kramer said. “We’re the beneficiaries, but for generations to come, people will be beneficiaries of that kind of investment in our town.” …

The board approved the hiring of Linda Assim as an administrative assistant in the Land Use, Planning & Permitting Department.

She is filling the vacancy created when Anna Rogers was named the environmental and inspectional services coordinator. …

The board granted entertainment licenses and special temporary alcohol licenses to Weston Nurseries, which is celebrating its 100th anniversary. An anniversary event will be held June 24 at Weston Nurseries and will include live music. Licenses also were approved for the nursery’s Blooms, Brews and BBQ Festival on Sept. 9.

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