By Mary Macedo, Neighb News Correspondent
At its meeting on Monday 6/21 the Acushnet Selectboard discussed goals and objectives for FY22, fees for solar panel utility poles, and the possibility of raising the water rates.
The board met with consultant Don Jacobs about the union wage and classification update for the ASCME union. Mr. Jacobs said that the goal was to establish a process for the way positions are paid and to make the jobs equitable as well as competitive.
He said the three objectives of the study were writing job descriptions, developing a grade/classification plan, and a compensation plan.
Selectboard member David Wojnar said that creating a process and system ensures stability, which is the key to success.
Board member Kevin Gaspar said Mr. Jacobs presented the Selectboard with a lengthy study and research, and he would like more time to read the entire study before having a discussion about it. Mr. Gaspar said he looked forward to reading through it and then coming to Mr. Jacobs with questions and discussion.
The Selectboard agreed to revisit this conversation at the next meeting.
In another matter the board met with Building Inspector Jim Marot about developing fees for telephone poles and battery storage for the installation of solar panels in town.
Mr. Marot explained that he encourages solar development, but he would like to see the solar installation pole be placed underground rather than above ground using telephone poles. He said there has been an uptick of solar installation in town and the telephone poles sticking up all over town are becoming an eyesore, and a lot of residents have complained.
Mr. Marot said he would like to encourage people to install the lines underground, so there are fewer utility poles sticking up all over town. He suggested charging $5,000 per pole installed above ground, which will hopefully encourage people to go underground instead.
Mr. Marot said the town has three solar projects currently operating with 12 more solar projects approved.
Mr. Gaspar said that the town might need a moratorium to slow down the development of solar projects. He said he has heard complaints from residents about solar projects taking over all the forest area in Acushnet and hurting the wildlife.
Mr. Wojnar asked if the town can just require that all the solar poles get put underground.
Mr. Marot said the Planning Board approves the solar projects, so the Planning Board would have to adopt a policy for all solar projects.
Mr. Gaspar said he liked the fees idea.
Mr. Wojnar agreed he liked the idea of fees but also said they should meet with the Planning Board about developing a policy.
The board voted unanimously to approve the permit fees of $5,000 per pole and $5,000 per battery storage.
In another matter the board met with Fire Chief Kevin Gallagher about hiring a full time captain that will be his second in command. Mr. Gallagher said they have never had the position before, but it will be helpful to have someone who knows how to do all the administrative work for when Mr. Gallagher retires,
The person does not have to be the next Fire Chief, but it will help to have someone to help the entire Fire Department for when he does retire.
Mr. Gaspar asked if they could have more time to look over all the information and discuss it at the next meeting, and the board agreed.
In another matter the board met with DPW Business Manager Kathy Silva about water and sewer fees.
Ms. Silva informed the Selectboard that the City of New Bedford has increased their rates by 2.5% for FY22. She said she did not think Acushnet needed to raise the sewer rates, but she said they should definitely raise the water rates. They will not make enough money in surplus to replace water mains if the town does not raise the water rates.
Ms. Gaspar said he would like more time to look into the numbers before he votes to increase rates.
Mr. Wojnar said Acushnet needs to keep up with New Bedford’s increases.
The board voted not to take action that night.
Selectboard Chairperson David Desroches also shared some items from the board’s list of goals to discuss for FY22.
He said some goals were solar development, parking lot development on Slocum Street, outdoor dining, food truck bylaws, Lake Street Development, senior work, multi family home development, and mental health.
Mr. Gaspar asked what they mean by multi-family homes, and said he did not want Acushnet to be a city vibe with multifamily homes.
Mr. Wojnar said he believed it was more targeted to 55+ housing, and they should have a discussion with the town planner about housing development plans.
Mr. Gaspar also asked about the mental health goals.
Mr. Wojnar said with the pandemic many residents are struggling and he thought it would be beneficial to look into mental health programs, as well as public safety responses to mental health traumas in homes, etc.
The Selectboard plans to use the list of goals to help organize their plans for the upcoming year.
The Selectboard also made a few committee appointments, including: Richard Gwozdz to the Historical Commission; Charles Leonard as an alternate for the Board of Appeals.
Mr. Wojnar said he would like to look at the meeting attendance for the Board of Appeals because there have been issues with attendance.
Mr. Gaspar said he agreed, and that being on a board is a commitment and attending meetings is crucial.
The Selectboard also received a letter of resignation from Ron Melbourne on the Finance Committee. Mr. Melbourne’s letter explained that he has too many commitments during the spring season and it interfered with his ability to attend meetings. Mr. Melbourne thanked everyone in his letter.
The Selectboard voted unanimously to accept the resignation.
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