By Beth David, Editor
At its meeting on Thursday, 1/16, the Acushnet Selectboard announced that they would be negotiating contract terms with former Carver Town Administrator Richard Lafond to be Acushnet’s Interim TA.
Mr. Lafond attended the open session portion of meeting on 1/6, giving the public a glimpse of him. He then met with the board in executive session to negotiation terms.
The board returned to open session and chairperson David Desroches said the executive session was “productive,” but he did not announce an agreement. At the 1/11 meeting. the board said they were still in negotiations with Mr. Lafond and had an executive session item to discuss his contract.
The board also spoke with Fire Chief Kevin Gallagher about the unfortunate events on 1/4 when the Council on Aging/Senior Center was overrun during testing for COVID.
Mr. Desroches said the town was “inundated with hundreds and hundreds of people trying to obtain a test,” which affected traffic flow and compromised public safety.
“Tuesday was a perfect storm for us,” said Chief Gallagher.
He said they had been processing 100 to 150 people on Tuesdays and more on Saturdays. But on 1/4, the situation was that “demand far outpaced supply.”
He clarified that by supply, he did not mean tests, he mean testing sites. He said they saw people from greater Fall River, Rhode Island, the north shore and even farther away.
Chief Gallagher said doctors offices have been referring patients to Acushnet because it is walk-in with no appointment necessary. He said they are also easy to find online.
Acushnet, he said, has “become the place to go for COVID testing.”
“The down side is that hundreds and hundreds of cars backed up on South Main Street,” said Chief Gallagher.
At some point they had to block the parking lot to the COA to serve the people standing in line.’
He commended Police Chief Christopher Richmond for his “math ability,” as he is the person who decided when to stop traffic. The last person was in right around noon.
They conducted 380 test in two hours.
Chief Gallagher asked the board for permission to move the testing to the elementary school on Saturdays only from 8 a.m. to noon.
Mr. Desroches first brought up the possibility of restricting access to Acushnet residents only.
Selectboard member David Wojnar said he would like to do that.
“This is about resources, this is about manpower,” said Mr. Wojnar.
He said Acushnet had the foresight to purchase the tests using CARES Act money. They invested in the testing program, which left other items unfunded.
The testing has become a “strain on resources,” he said, and although it is helpful to the region, it should be for Acushnet residents only now.
Selectboard member Kevin Gaspar agreed.
“It was our money,” said Mr. Gaspar of the CARES Act funds. “Our job is first and foremost to make sure we are doing what’s right for our constituency first.”
He said he received “numerous complaints” from residents who saw Rhode Island plates on cars, while Acushnet residents could not get into their own COA for testing.
“It’s not Acushnet first, it’s everyone else first,” said Mr. Gaspar. “We need to take care of our own before we take care of others.”
The board also discussed with Chief Gallagher having a police presence in case of arguments about the new restrictions.
Chief Gallagher said there is the potential that someone would be “hellbent” on getting a test.
He said Chief Richmond said he will have an officer available for at least the first couple of weeks, until people get used to the idea that it is for Acushnet residents only.
Chief Gallagher said in the “intensity of the moment,” when people are looking for s test it “frays the nerves” and causes tension.
“We don’t want to see that happen. That’s just silliness,” he said. “So anything we can do to avoid that would be greatly beneficial.”
The board voted to make the change.
The town will use its flashing signs and other means of communication to let people know about the new site, hours, and restriction.
Mr. Desroches thanked the volunteers who make the program a success.
Chief Gallagher said they were tired, adding that Tuesday was a “distressing day.”
He said in 2021 the team administered “just short of 10,000 tests.” He also noted that all the volunteers have other responsibilities.
At its 1/11 meeting the board discussed snow plow driver rates with Department of Public Works Director Dan Menard.
Mr. Menard told the board that Acushnet used to have about 32 independent contractors. Last year that number was 21. This year it was 12. The town has 10 routes, and should have three drivers per route to be most efficient. In the storm last week, they had only one driver on at least one route.
After a push to publicize the shortage, Mr. Menard said they got two more drivers.
“It’s a time thing,” said Mr. Menard, noting that this storm was not a big one.
If there is a big storm, residents will have to very patient.
He discussed with the board a variety of different incentives to get people to sign up with the town and to make sure they show up, such as early sign on bonuses, extended season bonuses, and higher rates.
The board decided to add $10/ hour to the state rate, but held off on adding bonuses for this year.
Mr. Wojnar also suggested the town place a reverse 911 call to residents asking for snow plow drivers. Not only will it advertise the shortage/need, but it will also alert residents to the shortage so they will be patient if there is a big storm.
Mr. Gaspar noted that drivers do not have to be Acushnet residents.
Mr. Menard also asked the board to approve $22,300 for a plow for the new loader.
He said it will be needed in a large snow storm, especially if the driver shortage persists.
Using the bucket, he said, is inefficient and takes too long.
The board approved the request, which the money coming from the snow removal budget.
The new plow will not help with this year’s storms, said Mr. Menard, as it will take 17 weeks for it to arrive.
The board also announced, at both meetings, a number of vacancies on volunteer boards, including the Agricultural Commission (two alternates), Beautification Committee (seven), Community Preservation (1 Housing Authority rep), Cultural Council (13), Open Space Committee (1). Contact the Selectboard to apply.
Click here to download the entire 1/13/22 issue: 01-13-22 Snowstorm
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