By Beth David, Editor
The Acushnet Selectboard chose Finance Director Julie Hebert to act as interim Town Administrator while they search for someone to replace outgoing TA Brian Noble, who is leaving at the end of the month.
At their meeting on 8/13, board members voiced their confidence that Ms. Hebert would be able to take over the duties of TA. The board convened in executive session to work out compensation details of the arrangement.
The board also announced that it had entered into a contract with Kevin Paicos to head the search for a new TA. Mr. Paicos acted as interim TA in Acushnet before Mr. Noble was hired.
In another matter, the board met with officials from Mass. DOT about a change in the design plans for the Hamlin Street bridge replacement. The design originally called for sidewalks, but that design will encroach into Chapter 97 restricted land, adding at least two years to the project. Eliminating the sidewalks will allow the project to proceed.
Alwin Ramirez, Bridge Project Manager at Mass. DOT, told the board that the funding is in place, but if they have to go back to get approvals to work with Chapter 97 land, it could delay the project long enough to jeopardize the grant money.
Board members noted that there are no sidewalks there now, and never have been. All agreed that the bridge is in desperate need of repair.
“I don’t want to do anything to jeopardize funding or the timeline,” said board member Kevin Gaspar.
The new road will be slightly wider, 20 feet curb to curb, than what is there now.
Mr. Gaspar asked if they could make it wider, but Rick Hebert, an engineer with T.Y. Lin International, said there is a retaining wall that has been “deemed historic.”
He said the project already affects part of that wall, but they have to minimize disruption to it.
Mr. Gaspar noted that it has been 10 years that the town has pursued getting the project done, he did not want to drag it out any longer. However, online records show the proejct was initiated in 1997.
Selectboard chairperson Roger Cabral said the Hamlin Street Bridge is an impressive piece of work, considering it was built so many decades ago.
He said it was “sad to see it go,” but at the same time, recognized the need to replace it.
The $1.8 million project will replace 500 feet of roadway, the bridge and two culverts, according to records on the MassDOT website and the town’s website (https://www. acushnet.ma.us/home/ news/hamlin-street-over-acushnet-river-bridge-replacement)
The board voted to approve the change and authorized Dan Menard of the Department of Public Works to sign the new plans.
The board also approved an agreement with ECA Solar for the town to buy so-called “green energy” from a solar facility in Canton. The agreement calls for the town to receive a 15% discount off the price of electricity produced by the facility.
Acushnet is not the host community, Marshfield is, so Acushnet will buy the electricity that Marshfield cannot use.
The town will not be buying the electricity directly, but will purchase energy credits that it can use to pay for electricity with its regular supplier.
Mr. Noble said the town will save $40,000 per year, an estimate he called “very conservative.” He said the town will save more than $1 million over the course of the 20-year contract.
The deal does not interfere with the town’s ability to take advantage of state programs.
“It’s what we, as a community, should be doing, buying green energy,” said Mr. Cabral. “And if we save money in the process, even better.”
The facility should be online next year sometime, but the ECA representative would not commit to a specific date, saying that it depends on Eversource, which has to inspect and approve the facility.
In another mater, the board voted to extend the current Town Hall hours for another year.
Mr. Gaspar said he was initially against the change, and that he still has reservations about it because of the changes to individual employees’ hours. But, he said, there have been very few complaints from the public.
The board said significantly more people have commented that they like the new hours, with very few complaining after the first few weeks.
The new hours have the town hall and all town offices closed on Friday at 11:30 a.m. but staying open until 7 p.m. on Tuesdays.
Mr. Gaspar complained that the public loses 4 1/2 hours on Friday, but only gains three on Tuesday. Mr. Noble explained that the lunch break for employees also changed from one hour to 45 minutes.
Mr. Gaspar insisted that if employees timed their days off right, they could double their vacation time, although his math seemed dubious to other board members.
He said, however, that he would support keeping the new hours because he has not received any complaints from the public.
Resident John Tavares, who had submitted a letter to the board in support of the hours, addressed the board saying it was “archaic” not to have evening hours for residents.
Too many people work out of town, he said, and cannot get back home in time to do business by 4 p.m.
Town Clerk Pamela Labonte told the board that on that very day she was able to tell a resident that town hall was open on Tuesday evening, and the man was “ecstatic” that he would not have to take time off work to conduct town business.
Her office has been open later on Tuesdays, “since day one,” she said, and she would continue the practice in any case.
“I see it only as a benefit to residents,” said Ms. Labonte. “I am a true proponent of it.”
In other business the board approved the fire/EMS contract. It is the first year the two departments are merged, so it was a little tricky to get all positions into an equitable pay level. Mr. Gaspar said the job descriptions are still not correct, but they can be revised.
Mr. Noble said it was “very complex” and the town was very careful to be sure no employees took a pay cut.
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