The Plympton Board of Selectmen met remotely on Monday, June 6. Town Administrator Liz Dennehy led the discussion on the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds. She told the Selectmen that there is approximately $560,000 expected from the County, of which approximately $140,000 has been received. She said that they are also expecting around $312,000 in local ARPA money, of which roughly a third has been received. Dennehy told the Selectmen that a lot of the restrictions had been removed from the local ARPA money. Another $115,000 should be received specifically for roadways. Additionally, $250,000 will be coming in the form of a downtown recovery grant. Dennehy said she was trying to figure out what limitations may be put on those specific funds.
Regarding the funds, Dennehy said that it may be a good idea to select some projects to put into the queue now so that the town can secure their place in line despite not having received the full allotment of the funds just yet. She also said that she felt it best that they use the funding sources available for large scale projects rather than smaller ones. The projects and associated costs discussed include $188,000 for HVAC for Silver Lake Regional, $148,000 for HVAC at Dennett Elementary, $40,000 for pipe lining at the Town House, $125,000 for the replacement of the Town House generator, and $50,000 for entrance upgrades at the Town House. A few smaller projects mentioned included $10,000 for flooring at the Old Town House and $7,500 for interior backroom restoration at the Old Town House. A placeholder was also included for $20,000 for upgrades at the Dennett beyond those being done already with the transfers voted on at the most recent Town Meeting. The other large projects that could potentially be explored are the roofs at the Fire Station and Library and the completion of the roof at Town House. The plan is for the Town Properties Committee to work through the projects and update the Selectmen as appropriate.
Selectman Mark Russo, who said he is enthusiastic about the new generator, asked if the County has a say in which projects can be completed with the ARPA funding. “Yes, they have a very robust approval process,” Dennehy explained. She said that projects get vetted by a couple of different private firms before being approved. She also noted that there is “something scary” about doing a large project without knowing for sure that it will be green-lighted by the County. Selectman John Traynor said that anecdotally he had heard of a few towns being audited after the fact for some CARES Act expenditures. Dennehy said that she believed the funds would have to be spent by 2024. Chair of the Town Properties Committee Jon Wilhelmsen said, “I feel that there is a sense of urgency to move even though 2024 sounds like a long way away.”
61 Upland Rd./Borrego Solar
There was a discussion of the property at 61 Upland Road that is currently owned by Crescent Moon Cranberry, LLC. Dennehy told the Selectmen that she held meetings with the Project Developer at Borrego Solar, Zachary Farkes and others, to try to figure out a way that should the town amend the agreement to enter into a pilot agreement and allow solar on the property, there would be 60 acres that would be under a conservation restriction. The idea came of a discussion during the previous Selectmen’s meeting where they sought to pursue options to protect the surrounding land from development. They were able to come to an agreement that the remaining 115 acres would also remain in either agricultural, conservation, or passive recreation in perpetuity. Joy said that the new agreement provided her a sense of relief should the town decide to enter into a pilot agreement to have solar installed. “I think it’s a win-win for both of us,” Joy said. “I’m pretty excited about the outcome,” Russo agreed.
North Carver Redevelopment Project
Dennehy and the Selectmen discussed ongoing issues with heavy truck traffic on Montello St. resulting from the North Carver Redevelopment Project. Several residents were on the call for the discussion. Dennehy said she had been communicating with officials from Carver and that based on those discussions, the main trucking company knew they shouldn’t be using Montello St. for heavy truck traffic. She did note that it was possible that some of the non-regular drivers may not have gotten the memo. Dennehy said that signage would be reinstituted, and a police detail would be present during construction hours. She also said that a barrel would be placed in the middle of the road to deter the trucks. “I think we had all hoped it would be an easier fix; unfortunately, we go a few days where things get better and then it starts with the heavy truck traffic again,” Dennehy said.
The Carver Highway Director will be meeting soon with Plympton’s Highway Superintendent to see what they can do financially to assist with fixing the portion of the roadway damaged from the heavy truck traffic. Dennehy also said that the town is actively pursuing getting a consultant on board to look at the big picture impact of the project on Plympton. Joy said that they are working on getting counsel on board as well to make sure that the town is within their legal rights with any action they take. Regarding the police detail, Russo said, “this is one more expense for a little tiny town that we shouldn’t be taking care of.” He did acknowledge that for the time being, it looks as though Plympton will have to use their own Police for the detail.
Residents on the call were urged to share their contact information so that they can be part of a mailing list for residents who want to be kept up to date on any updates on the redevelopment project as they become available. One resident on the call said that he stopped one of the drivers of the trucks and was told that he was being advised to use Montello St. “They obviously don’t listen, and they don’t really care if they are being told by their supervisor to keep using the road,” the resident said.
Town of Hanson Regionalization Opportunity
Jason Fraser, who is a member of both the Plympton Elementary School Committee as well as the Silver Lake Regional School Committee, attended the meeting to speak to the exploration of an opportunity to regionalize with Hanson. Fraser made it clear that he would not be taking a position on the matter that night as either a resident of the town or a member of the School Committees. He provided background on the issue saying that several years ago it was found that Whitman-Hanson had been using an inappropriate formula to calculate assessments. As a result, they ended up applying the statutory method which created a substantial swing in Whitman’s favor of nearly a million-dollar difference on paper. Hanson brought in a consultant and formed an exploratory committee to investigate the feasibility of de-regionalization. They were presented with three options – fully separate from Whitman, remain regionalized only at the high school level, or maintain the status-quo.
Fraser pointed out that should Hanson elect to break completely with Whitman, it would likely cost them substantially both in terms of finances and student services. He also said that the town could face years of litigation noting that when Pembroke left Silver Lake, they faced a decade of litigation. Fraser said that should Hanson wish to regionalize with Silver Lake, all three towns would have to agree to it. Fraser noted that the earliest the separation could occur would be 2025.
Fraser also brought two other matters before the Selectmen. He said that with the help of Town Meeting and the Selectmen, Plympton established a special education reserve fund. He said that he filed a resolution with the Massachusetts Association of School Committees (MASC) to increase the maximum allowed to be placed in that fund from 2 percent of net school spending to 5 percent. Fraser told the Committee that this would allow more money to be moved into the fund in a year where excess was available so that say a student moves into town mid-year with substantial needs, those could be met without decimating the budget.
He also posed the idea of a revolving fund for the regional assessment. He said that the creation of the fund would be established through town meeting. He said that in his time on the School Committee, Plympton’s assessment has been as high as 10.17 and as low as negative 7. The average assessment in recent years has been around 2.6 percent. “This reserve fund would allow us to level out those peaks and valleys,” Fraser explained. Money could be saved in a year where the assessment was low to be spent in a year where the assessment is high.
Town Administrator’s Updates
Dennehy said that she had a successful meeting at the Dennett to discuss school security including some potential upgrades. She also said that she had a successful department head meeting the previous week which she described as a good opportunity to get everyone on the same page. She said these meetings will be held on the first Thursday of every month.
Dennehy also asked the Selectmen to formally accept the resignation of Chair of the Finance Committee Nathaniel Sides. During their previous meeting all the Selectmen had indicated that they hoped he would reconsider but he did not. They voted to accept the resignation to move forward with filling the vacancy until the next election.
The Board also voted to approve a use of town property for the Harbor to the Bay bike ride on September 17 pending the necessary sign-offs. They also voted to appoint John O’Connor as a Special Police Officer and Timothy Johnson as a part time Police Officer through June 30, 2023.
All three Selectmen shared the same rave for the Memorial Day activities in town. They credited Briggette Martins and Cathy Ferguson for their efforts to make the day a success. “It was incredibly Plymptonian,” Russo said of the parade and other events.