The Selectboard was unchanged in 2012, as Jeoffrey Pooser was reelected to his second term to work alongside Christine Heard and Dan Keller. The Board is very fortunate to continue to work with Nancy Aldrich as Town Coordinator, Laurel Brenneman as Selectboard Clerk, Joy Gorzocoski who handles clerical duties and Larry and Laurie Ramsdell, town custodians. These town employees have each worked for a good number of years at their jobs, and the Selectboard is extremely grateful for their competence and dependability.
The Massachusetts Department of Revenue completed a review of Wendell’s financial operations this year. The review found that Wendell is on a very good financial footing, due partly to the excellent recommendations from the 2010 Money Management Study Committee, which has directed the Selectboard’s focus for several years now. One recommendation from both studies is to create job descriptions for town positions. With the help of Building Inspector Phil Delorey and Assessor Chris Wings a job description for the building inspector was written and approved by the Selectboard, clarifying expectations for performance in this important position. Another suggestion, the creation of Wendell financial policies and procedures, was already in the works. Written by Town Accountant Brian Morton the document was reviewed by town committees and officials, then approved by the Selectboard this year.
The DOR strongly recommended that the town limit spending to the annual town meeting (except for emergencies) and reserve special town meetings for non-financial issues such as bylaw changes, policies, etc. To this end the Selectboard and Finance Committee encouraged town boards and departments to thoughtfully devise annual budgets. The Selectboard solicited suggestions for needed repairs to buildings, and then created a capital expenditure plan for the Town. The carefully crafted FY2013 budget that was passed at the Annual Town Meeting has so far enabled the town to avoid additional appropriations at special town meetings. This represents quite a big change from Wendell’s previous spending habits and has lightened the load on the Board of Assessors as they determine FY13 spending to set the tax rate. Town officials, boards and committees are highly commended for strong leadership and great cooperation to successfully change our system!
Another suggestion from the DOR led to the formation of the Succession Planning Committee in the spring with urging from Michael Idoine of the Finance Committee. This committee was asked to consider the structure of our Fire and Police Departments and to offer suggestions for planning to replace our chiefs when they retire. The committee devised and refined a survey seeking townspeoples’ opinions. The survey was mailed to all households in the fall. The results of the large response from our citizens are still being tabulated; a report will be forthcoming. In addition the committee has met with fire and police departments in nearby towns to gather information.
Yet another recommendation from the DOR was to establish annual goals and objectives, which has not yet been considered.
The town’s money managers met with Finance Director Nancy Aldrich twice this year, furthering communication for all.
The Selectboard is responsible for the upkeep of town buildings; we continued to address needed improvements to town buildings and infrastructure. At the Town Hall repairs were made to the siding on the west side, a gutter was replaced in the kitchen area and foundation repairs were undertaken to close up holes. A volunteer group built and installed winserts (storm windows made of plastic film which are easily installed and removed) in the large windows of the main room, which has made the building more comfortable and more efficient; and we thank them for that!
Jeoff Pooser prudently suggested that the town employ a computer firm to continue the oversight of Town Office computer systems that Jeoff had been implementing. An appropriation was passed at the annual town meeting; and Left Click was hired to provide back ups, virus protection, upgrades and monthly monitoring.
Renovation of town vault in the Town Hall was completed including a climate control system and new shelving. The documents that had been stored in the vault were cleaned and disinfected by a company specializing in document preservation. Town Clerk Gretchen Smith with several volunteers sorted, organized and boxed all the records which now are awaiting placement in the vault. Visitors to the building may notice a large clock-like instrument next to the door to the vault. This is recording the temperature and humidity in the vault and the record is visible for all to see. Many thanks to Dan Keller, Jim Slavas and Gretchen Smith for their work to preserve important town records for future generations!
In July a group of citizens expressed an interest in renovating the kitchen in the Town Hall to improve its usefulness. In December the Town Hall kitchen ad hoc group presented a draft budget and construction plan to the Selectboard. They proposed reorganizing the use of the Town Hall so that all Good Neighbor facilities including food storage, refrigerators and freezers be located in the two front rooms of the building and that all Wendell Coffeehouse equipment be stored in a storage area on the stage. The kitchen itself would be renovated with new floor, plumbing and gas piping and with new appliances (industrial stove, 3 bay sink, instant hot water heater, dishwasher). Some funds for this project could come from grants; volunteers could contribute some needed labor.
Using funds from MEMA reimbursement for damages from the tornado of 2008, the Selectboard undertook to install house numbers at residences without numbers or with poorly visible numbers. In the spring several volunteers and a work party of prisoners from the Franklin County Jail installed many house numbers throughout the town. Wendell’s emergency responders are very happy to have clear identification of houses to enable quick responses in emergencies. Thanks to Ted Lewis and Alia Kusmaul for coordinating the crew and driving in the posts! We hope to complete this task in 2013.
Ten households gardened in community garden plots in 2012. This is a reduction from previous years, and the garden committee worked to increase interest in community gardening and use of garden plots. Because mid-summer was dry, the lack of running water for irrigation may have discouraged some potential gardeners. The committee developed plans for pumping and distributing water from the garden’s well. Installation of this system is planned for 2013. Okra, Swiss chard, onions, cilantro, kale, and garlic grew well. Late blight hit tomato plants late in the season, after many tomatoes had already been harvested. The edible forest garden (permaculture) group tilled, weeded, and mulched a large plot in preparation for planting a demonstration garden. The garden committee finished construction of stone-dust pathways in the walking garden, which is planted with fruit trees, flowering perennials, and herbs. The southern portion of the community garden, which has not been divided into plots, was tilled and planted with a cover crop of soybeans to discourage weeds and brambles and to increase the nitrogen content of the soil.
The Selectboard held three dog hearings in 2012; a total of three dogs were ordered removed from town due to persistent lack of restraint and an attack on poultry. One owner has refused to remove his dogs and the second owner appealed the Selectboard’s decision. The Selectboard also received a complaint about dogs at Old Home Day. This issue will be addressed next summer with a public notice and a letter to the Old Home Day Committee, the Board of Health and the Dog Officer reminding everyone that dogs must be on a leash during Old Home Day and that owners are responsible for cleaning up after their dogs.
A discussion, begun in 2011, with an abutter to town property about maintenance of vegetative growth along the joint boundary was concluded in April with a written agreement. During the autumn, brush and invasive species were cut back according to the agreement; and the boundary was clearly marked with help from the Highway Department. Another abutter to town property complained about trespassers and privacy issues. A verbal agreement was reached which included installing curtains on the building and a promise from the Selectboard to add to the hedge between the properties and to install a post and rail fence.
The Valley Community Land Trust, which owns the property abutting the east side of the Town Offices, requested an easement from the town for a small piece on the corner of town land so as to improve drainage for the house on the VCLT property and to provide it with a parking area. Because the process for creating an easement on town property is long and complicated, the Selectboard signed a lease with VCLT in November as a temporary measure.
The Selectboard worked with the Fiske Pond Advisory Committee to repair the dam at Fiske Pond in order to prevent further damage to the dam. Repairs were completed in record time by Geoffrey Richardson of town. Thank you, Geoff!
An auction of unused town property and of cordwood was held in early November.
Our building inspector required that the microwave tower on Locke Hill Road be removed because it was not in use and not licensed. In December the tower was demolished by its owner, American Tower, which pleased many residents in the Locke Hill neighborhood.
At the suggestion of a resident the Selectboard proposed and supported an article on the annual town meeting to change the name of the east end of Old Farley Road. Old Farley Road is not passable in the middle, isolating the eastern end and causing confusion for emergency responders and others.. The name was changed to Blue Heron Road.
Broad band infrastructure has been installed at many of the anchor institutions in town, including the library and town offices, in anticipation of the long-awaited fiber optic network scheduled to be installed in summer of 2013. While delivering high speed internet connectivity to households (aka the "last mile") is a much longer term project, having this service available in town buildings is the first step, and will itself make a significant difference in how business is conducted in town government, as well as the services provided to the larger community via the library.
Mass Audubon continued to provide some educational programs to our local schools, Swift River School, in the spring of 2012. A sixth grade student who was the runner up of last year’s contest for a one-week scholarship to Audubon’s environmental camp, Camp Wildwood in New Hampshire, attended the camp this summer. Mass Audubon offers these programs as a reimbursement in lieu of paying taxes to the town of Wendell.
In 2012 work continued on the Library playground that was designed by the Playground Committee last year. Much of the playground is completed and in use, although a few details are not yet done. Children of all ages are enjoying the new facilities!
The Board was delighted to award Citizen of the Year to Ted Lewis at Old Home Day. Ted must earn the championship award for civic duty in Wendell! He served on the Selectboard for 39 years and has served on other boards and committees; he is currently on the Board of Assessors, is an alternate member of the Zoning Board of Appeals and is the Coordinator of Building and Grounds. Thank you, Ted, for all you have done and continue to do for our town! We wish more citizens would follow your lead and offer their time, energy and thoughtfulness to town government. It’s interesting and fun work!
The Selectboard does thank the many citizens of Wendell whose generous commitment contributes to town government. The intelligence and dedication of our elected and appointed town officials and our numerous volunteers are truly remarkable!
Christine Heard, Chair