Town Manager Report For February 8, 2021

Photo:amherstma.gov

Source: amherstma.gov

Editor’s note: Town Manager Paul Bockelman submits a comprehensive report to the Town Council at each of its regular meetings. The reports, usually 9 to 12 pages in length, provide up-to-date information on what is happening within and across Town departments. The Manager’s Report is usually one of the last items on the agenda and is often taken up late at night, leaving little time for the Manager to do more than mention a few highlights and this is usually all that gets entered into the Council minutes. What follows is a complete, unedited version of the Town Manager’s Report.  Town Manager Reports are available on the Town’s website here: Town Manager Reports

Town Manager Update:

  • COVID-19: This is a proud week for the staff and Town of Amherst. I commend all of our staff and volunteers who created our new vaccination site. It took hard work, cooperation, and some last minute heroics to make this all happen. We all were especially moved by the seniors we were serving who expressed gratitude. Their kindness to our staff and volunteers was its own reward.
    • Vaccination: The Town established a second vaccination site to provide vaccines on a larger scale. We are now running the following sites:
      • Bangs Community Center:
        • The vaccination site at the Bangs Community Center provided vaccinations to first responders and others in Phase One priority groups such as Covid- facing health care workers and first responders.
        • The Bangs will be dedicated to providing second doses to these people daily during the week of February 8th.
        • We are holding a special vaccination clinic at the Bangs Center on Saturday, February 6th from 10:00 a.m. – 2:30 p.m. More information and sign-up is here: https://www.amherstcovid19.org/vaccine
        • The Bangs will also be used for special outreach audiences who will be invited specifically such as those living in congregate senior housing run by the Amherst Housing Authority and similar locations in our other targeted communities.
      • Amherst Regional High School:
        • The vaccination site at the Amherst Regional High School opened on Wednesday, February 3rd and again on Friday, February 5th. Approximately 580 vaccines were given on the first day. We project about 300 vaccines will be given on Friday. Those eligible include anyone in Phase One plus those in Phase Two, Tier One – individuals over 75 years of age.
        • This site will be in operation on February 16th and 18th and then again on February 22, 23, 24, and 25. It will also be the site where people will receive their second doses.
        • It took a tremendous effort – with many hurdles – to make sure this site was up and running on February 3rd. As background, on Friday, January 29th at 3:34 p.m., the Health Director was notified that the Town would receive 975 doses of vaccine for the week of February 1st. It was to be delivered on February 2nd.
        • While the Town had pre-planned for this site, there was much to do to bring the site live in time for February 3rd: equipment delivered; I.T. material transported and set up; Internet capacity enhanced; schedules coordinated; staffing recruited; sign-up systems prepared; phone lines staffed; messaging clarified; and so many more details, small and large.
        • Much credit to our dedicated and professional staff for coming together on this short notice.
        • I especially want to thank the leadership and line staff at the Amherst Regional High School for their coordination and cooperation.
        • While we recognize there are ways to improve this operation – and some changes have been implemented from Wednesday to Friday – we felt it was a great success.
        • Members of the public agreed. Here are two brief letters that came into the Town:
  • Thank you so much to the town for taking the initiative to organize vaccinations for their residents. My 90 year old parents had the opportunity to receive the first dose of their vaccines yesterday at ARHS. For those elders who are fortunate enough to not live in assisted living or a nursing home, getting the vaccine is a real logistical challenge because of technology and mobilitissues. This virus and the vaccine process has not been kind to our elders. I grew up in the town of Amherst and I was very proud to tell my work colleagues at the New England Journal of Medicine about how Amherst is responding to this challenge. Your well organized efforts to post information on the town website regarding errors in the State Registration process (Bangs Community Center versus ARHS), arrange for special parking and assistance from EMTs with mobility issues, smooth check-in, and great care from the nurses organizing the effort and administering the vaccine is GREATLY APPRECIATED. Job well done. Ann MacKay (Daughter of long-time residents John and Kathleen Dalton)
  • My husband and I were very impressed by the vaccination process yesterday and wanted to thank you and all the town staff who organized and staffed it. I was so surprised to be able to get an appointment for us and everything went so smoothly once we started the process inside. So thank you very much! Take care, Tammy Ely
  • Hot Line: The Hot Line has been slammed with phone calls. We have made a commitment to answer as many calls as we can and to call back each and every caller who left a message. We added staff during the day and added Covid Ambassadors to staff the Hot Line on the weekends. The Hot Line will be staffed this weekend, as well.
    • While some people are simply seeking information, many are being registered for their tests by our staff over the phone…a time-consuming task but one that is needed by our residents.
    • The Senior Center has fielded hundreds of calls, as well, and utilized robo-calls to keep residents on their call lists informed.
  • Covid Outreach:
    • The Senior Center Director, working with the Fire Chief and Ms. Moyston in the Town Manager’s office, has taken on the task of identifying populations who need special outreach and making individualized calls to these individuals. We have utilized multiple languages, including one of our Parking Enforcement Officers who is a native Mandarin speaker. We have also done special outreach to seniors living in congregate public housing with a special vaccination session scheduled at the Bangs Community Center on Saturday.
  • Ambassadors:
    • The Ambassadors have been crucial in staffing the Hot Line, patrolling the streets, and serving as helpers all day at the vaccination site.
    • Ambassadors interacted with over 2,000 UMass incoming students and distributed mask zone and testing information to them, for a total of over 14,000 interactions to date.
    • Ambassadors participated in the Greek Life outreach in partnership with the Off Campus Student Center with Team Positive Presence and Walk This Way where they distributed an additional 130 masks.
    • Ambassadors fielded over 60 vaccine-related calls on the Hot Line from seniors this weekend, as the lines continue to pick up.
  • Racial Equity:
    • Community Safety Working Group:
      • The Community Safety Working Group continues to meet weekly.
      • The chair and vice chair provided an update to the Town Council on January 25th.
      • The Working Group held two public forums to hear comments from the public on Wednesday, January 13th at 5:30 p.m. and on Saturday, January 16th at 3:00 p.m.
      • The Working Group has submitted important information from the Police Department and has submitted additional questions to the Police Chief on a wide range of issues involving police data and operations.
      • The Working Group is seeking professional consulting services to ensure they can accomplish their work in a timely manner. An Invitation for Bids has been submitted and will be posted on Monday, February 8th.
  • Outreach: The work plan, with the consultants, means that I will likely be requesting a second extension of time from the Town Council.
  • Coffee with Town Manager: The next Cuppa Joe with Paul is scheduled for February 19th with special guest Finance Director Sean Mangano who will be available to share the plan for Four Major Capital Projects
    • Community Chats:
      • The Communications Manager and I continue to host our weekly Community Chats. This week we hosted the Town’s Health Director and Director of Senior Services for a robust conversation on vaccines.
      • Previous guests included the Planning Director Christine Brestrup and Town Engineer Jason Skeels discussing the Pomeroy Village MassWorks grant.
      • Upcoming guests include:
        • February 11th: Planner Ben Breger to discuss the Wayfinding Signs that will be presented to the Town Council at its meeting on February 8th.
        • February 18th: North Amherst Library with Superintendent of Public Works Guilford Mooring.
        • February 25th: Jones Library Project with Library Director Sharon Sharry and others.
    • Office Hours: I have established monthly virtual office hours via Zoom. This will allow individuals who would like to meet one-on-one with the Town Manager the opportunity to schedule a time during established office hours. The first set of office hours was on Friday, January 29th. The next will be at the end of February.
    • Engage Amherst: There is much interest in our community engagement platform, “Bang the Table”, that we will utilize to engage members of the public as an additional way for the public to learn about and comment on specific projects. We will be releasing the platform for the North Amherst Library shortly.
  • Town-Gown: The Town and University reopening working group meets every two weeks. We discussed the University’s reopening plan and the testing and vaccination operations of the Town and the University. We also discussed expectations for the presentation to the Town Council at its meeting on Monday.
  • Higher Education Update:
    • Hampshire College:
      • International students and orientation leaders arrived January 24th, new students January 29th, and returning students on January 30-31.
      • All students were tested upon arrival and expected to avoid all close contacts until the receive a second negative test; for the majority of students arriving Jan. 29-31, their second test will take place on Feb 5 (essentially, they were asking them to quarantine for the first week).
      • No campus buildings will be open for students until February 8th and all activities will be remote until that day, as they are not allowing in person activities until they are confident all students and employees have had two tests.
      • More information may be found here: Hamp Forward: 2020–21 | www.hampshire.edu
    • University of Massachusetts: The University reported a significant increase in cases in the past few days. 239 new positive cases were reported from February 1-3, with a growing positivity rate of 2.9%. Full details can be viewed on the University’s testing results dashboard.
  • Town Staff:
    • Multi-talented Jennifer Moyston was featured in the premier of a new video produced by the MMA at the Massachusetts Municipal Association annual meeting. The video was promoting diversity in the municipal careers, and she was the star of the show! Jennifer’s video is featured here: Mass Municipal Part 2 Compilation Video 1 D3 on Vimeo
    • Ms. Moyston joins Communications Manager Brianna Sunryd as a rising young professional spotlighted by the MMA in its initiative to attract younger and more diverse applicants to municipal employment. Brianna’s video is featured here: https://masstowncareers.org/watch-stories/ and here: https://masstowncareers.org/
  • Departments:
  • Public Works:
    • Station Road Bridge Replacement: The Town has been successful in advancing in our request for additional funds from the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency’s Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities program to replace the Station Road bridge. The application is now being reviewed at the Federal level by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. This would provide a second source of significant funding for this large capital project.
    • Pelham: We are exploring options with representatives from the Town of Pelham regarding the extension of the Town’s sewer system to serve a small segment of customers in Pelham as requested by the Town of Pelham.
    • Leverett: We are working with the Town of Leverett to extend the Town’s water line to service homes that have had their wells negatively impacted by the Leverett landfill.
    • Wastewater Treatment Plant Testing: The Town continues to work with the University to test wastewater at the Town’s treatment plant for the COVID-19 virus.
  • Town Clerk:
    • The Acting Town Clerk has advised Town employees – and elected and appointed officials – that they must complete the Ethics Commission’s Online Training Program within 30 days of becoming an employee, and every two (2) years thereafter within the Commission’s compliance cycle from December of every even-numbered year to the first week of the following April. Amherst employees are required to take the online training and submit Certificates of Completion of online training to the Town Clerk no later than April 5, 2021.
    • The Town conducts required conflict-of-interest trainings every other year. 2021 is our year for the trainings, so all appointed and elected officials will be asked to take the online training and test during 2021. 
    • Fire: I am pleased to report that two of our most recent firefighter appointees, Sarah Forsaith and Keyvin Lewis, completed their training at the Massachusetts Firefighting Academy. Students learn all the basic skills they need to respond to fires, to contain and to control them, including the latest science of fire behavior and suppression tactics. They also receive training in public fire education, hazardous material incident mitigation, flammable liquids, stress management, and self-rescue techniques. The intensive, 10-week program for municipal firefighters involves classroom instruction, physical fitness training, firefighter skills training, and live firefighting practice. Congratulations to Sarah and Keyvin. It will be good to have you both back on the line!
    • The Police Department is seeing an increase in complaints about parties, lack of social distancing, and noise.
  • Human Resources:
    • The Town’s part-time wage study is under further review by staff to craft a plan to get Town employees to the $15.00/hour minimum wage as soon as financially feasible. The Town will observe the increase in the state minimum wage on January 1st.
  • Finance:

Four Capital Projects: Staff are preparing financing options for the four major capital projects for presentation to the Finance Committee in February.

  • Cannabis Revenue:
    • The Town continues to collect tax and community impact fees from the cannabis businesses in Town.
    • The fees have not been used to date. Funding opportunities include support for education, community safety, and roads/sidewalk infrastructure.
    • To date, the revenue from these sources are as follows:

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  • Transportation: Parking and enforcement fees are down significantly from prior years, putting strain on the Transportation Enterprise Fund.
  • Sustainability: The Energy and Climate Action Committee will be presenting its report to the Town Council on Monday.
  • Community Services:
    • Emergency Rental Assistance Program:
      • This important program will be continuing at least until June. Households that are at risk of eviction for nonpayment of rent continue to apply to the program. The Trust also agreed that households that had received three months of rental support could apply for an additional three months, if they continue to meet the program eligibility criteria. The program continues to be administered by Community Action Pioneer Valley. Information about the program can be found here: https://www.communityaction.us/amherstrentalassistance
      • People who apply to this program, can simultaneously apply to the State’s RAFT program. Since RAFT is more generous, they are advised to do so. https://www.wayfinders.org/apply-financial-assistance
  • Senior Center: The Senior Center is dedicating itself to answering questions about the availability of vaccinations. The Senior Center staff have been core members in helping to develop, staff, and promote the vaccination programs. The Senior Center is collecting names of seniors who want to be contacted when for seniors to sign when the vaccine is available. Seniors can call (413) 259-3038 to have their names added to the list.
  • Unhoused Population:
    • Town staff have continued internal discussions to find a long-term solution for the unhoused, in accordance with the new goal approved by the Town Council.
    • The Town’s health staff have continued to work with and manage health issues at the Town’s non-profit shelter.
  • Recreation: Staff, working with the Chamber and the BID, developed a creative alternative to Witnerfest featuring ice sculptures on the Common along Boltwood.
  • Health Department: It is all about health!
  • Economic Development:
    • New Grant:
      • The Town, in conjunction with the BID received a Local Rapid Recovery Program grant through the Massachusetts Downtown Initiative Department of Housing and Community Development.
      • The grants tailored to the unique economic challenges and immediate COVID-19 impacts that have affected downtowns, town centers and commercial areas throughout Massachusetts.
      • The plans will all include a thorough analysis and exploration of COVID-related challenges and barriers and conclude with a set of projects and strategies necessary to address COVID-19
    • Small Business COVID Recovery Grants Program: The Town has been awarded federal funds through the CARES Act to support local small businesses hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. Valley Community Development Corporation will act as Program Administrator for the application and selection process to award one-time grants up to

$10,000 for businesses located in Amherst. Those interested may visit the Amherst Small Business COVID Recovery Grants Program webpage for eligibility criteria, resources and full details. The online application portal opened for applications on November 2nd.

  • Conservation and Development:
    • Flood Insurance Rate Maps (FIRM) and Flood Insurance Study (FIS): We are nearing the end of this very long and involved process. Town Planning staff have completed work on the study and analysis to create accurate federally approved maps for land affected by flooding in order to provide information to landowners, the Amherst Conservation Commission, the Planning Board and other interested parties.
      • Amherst’s federal flood maps (FIRM maps) were last updated in 1983.
      • Here is the timeline of the project:
        • 2012 – Project began
        • July 19, 2016 – Public Meeting; presented draft maps; received public comment
        • September 12, 2017 – Public Meeting; presented Preliminary Maps; received public comment
        • September 2017 – new methodology introduced; project delayed
        • May 2018 – Town Meeting – TM appropriates additional money for consultants to update maps using new methodology
        • June 25, 2019 – Public Meeting; presented Revised Preliminary Flood Maps; received public comment
        • November 2019 to February 2020 – First Appeal Period
        • January – June 2020 – Property owner appealed; appeal resolved
        • November 2020 to February 2021 – Second Appeal Period
        • February 25, 2021 – End of Appeal Period
        • February 25, 2021 to August 24, 2021 – Compliance Period
    • The State Department of Housing and Community Development provided updates to the Governor’s Eviction Diversion Initiative. These changes include:
      • Creating an application process for landlords, who own up to 20 units in Massachusetts, to apply directly for RAFT/ERMA on behalf of tenants. More information here.
      • Increasing the maximum benefit for all RAFT/ERMA eligible households to

$10,000.

  • Removing the recent rule that a landlord had to commit to preserving tenancy for 6 months to access more than $4,000 in RAFT.
  • Providing access to free legal services which are available to eligible tenants and low-income landlords in owner-occupied 2-3 family homes through the Covid Eviction Legal Help Program (CELHP). More information available here.
  • Providing free community mediation services for eligible tenants and landlords who need help in reaching agreements that work for both of them. More information available here.
  • ADA Transition Plan: Consultants are finalizing a draft of the transition plan. This plan will be reviewed with the Disability Access Advisory Committee. We will then utilize the plan as a tool to prioritize ADA improvements in Town buildings and public spaces.
  • Information Technology (I.T.):
    • Town I.T. staff have been especially challenged to meet the large number of needs of Town staff seeking to work remotely and online.
  • Short-Term Event Uses of Town Commons:
    • December 22nd for up to three months: winter lighting on the North Common for Business Improvement District
    • Short-Term Parking Requests:
      • February 5-6: Boltwood Avenue – No Parking. The Recreation Department and Business Improvement District requested no parking to permit two-way travel on Boltwood to allow residents view the newly installed ice sculptures safely. Police will monitor the traffic.
  • Short-Term Road or Sidewalk Closures: None
  • Major Capital Projects:
  • DPW/Fire: Town staff are working on a Request for Proposals for a location for the public works facility and working on a Request for Qualifications for a designer for the fire station on South Pleasant Street.
  • Schools:
    • The Fort River Elementary School project has been recommended for action at the Massachusetts School Building Authority at its February 11th Board Meeting.
    • This is a significant milestone as it will invite the Town into the Feasibility Study phase.
    • The Elementary School Building Committee has established a subgroup to develop a Request for Proposals for an Owner’s Project Manager.
  • Library: The Board of Library Trustees and Library Director will make a presentation to the Town Council at its meeting on February 22nd.
  • The Trustees will then host two public forums: one on March 3rd at 6:00 p.m. and one on March 6th at 2:00 p.m.

  • Project Update:
  • Kendrick Park Playground: The work will be done in the spring as work must be completed by June 30, 2021.
  • Performing Arts Shell on the Town Common: No developments.
  • Parking Structure on Town Land at North Pleasant Street Parking Lot: No developments.
  • North Common Restoration/Main Street Parking Lot: Staff met with the TSO Committee on January 28th. The next meeting with TSO will be on February 11th.
  • Hickory Ridge: No new developments.
  • East Street School: No new developments
  • North Amherst Library:
    • The advisory committee has met and discussed the project. The committee is comprised of Library Trustee Alex Lefebvre, Library Director Sharon Sharry, Superintendent of Public Works Guilford Mooring, former president of the Jones Library Trustees Molly Turner, and North Amherst architect Laura Fitch.
  • Pomeroy Village MassWorks Grant: The TSO Committee will review an outreach plan at an upcoming meeting.
  • Solar on the Landfill:
    • The Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources (DOER) has not yet issued the project’s Statement of Qualifications (SOQ). This delay has prevented Cypress Creek Renewables (CCR) from securing construction financing and moving forward with construction.
  • COVID 19 has impacted the response and mobilization timelines of the external construction teams. Due to current conditions, CCR has decided to move forward with the RFP process earlier than typical to account for future delays.
  • Based on these delays, the proposed project schedule is now as follows:
EPC MilestoneAnticipated Completion
EPC RFP ReleaseNovember 2020 (completed)
EPC Contract NegotiationsJanuary/ February 2021
EPC Agreement SignedMay 2021
MobilizationAugust 2021
Placed in ServiceMarch 2022
Substantial CompletionMay 2022

Upcoming Events:

February 15th – Presidents’ Day holiday

February 22nd – Town Council meeting

March 8th – Town Council meeting

March 22nd – Town Council meeting

Sample letter sent to all UMass students regarding COVID risk

Dear BLANK,

With our campus operational posture raised to ‘ELEVATED’ this morning after only one week of the semester, we are writing to share some critical health and safety information.

In the last several days, we have seen a concerning rise in positive test results. It is clear, based on contact tracing, that the viral spread is directly related to socialization among students. We need to immediately move into a period of limited interactions to reduce continued spread.

While many students are complying with public health guidance, and we are grateful for your cooperation, it is imperative that all students adhere to the pandemic policy and public health directives.

Students who disregard or violate public health guidance and university policy are being referred to the Student Conduct and Community Standards office (SCCS) in accordance with the Interim Pandemic Policy and our Code of Student Conduct, and violations are taken seriously. Between January 25 and February 4, SCCS issued behavioral notices to 183 students and initiated 82 students into the conduct process related to the Interim Pandemic and Code of Student Conduct policies. These referrals mostly involved back-to-campus quarantine, room capacity, social distancing, and facial covering.

All students must follow the restrictions outlined in the university’s operational postures.

Operational Posture: Elevated


Restriction

What You CAN Do

There are to be no student gatherings of any size. A gathering is any group of 2 or more students in close proximity for any length of time.
This means:
Students should limit social interaction to their householdsStudents may not socialize in groups on or off campus

Keep all social interactions limited to your householdIdentify agreements for how your household will maintain compliance with university guidance (use Pods@UMass for helpful information)Connect virtually with friends outside of your householdSpend time outside with your household. Mask-up any time you leave home






Campus building access is restricted; come to campus only for essential business.
Visit dining halls for grab-and-go mealsAttend face-to-face classesAccess mental health and wellbeing resources virtuallyComplete in person transactions through scheduled appointments with UMass offices
Campus Recreation Center is limited to virtual activitiesParticipate in virtual offerings from campus recreation
Exercise outdoors








Travel is restricted
Pre-plan your errands, shopping and trips outside of the immediate area to minimize time away from homeConnect with friends and family virtually rather than go home for the weekendIf you need to carpool or ride public transit, make sure to mask-up, and follow recommendations for safety

We must work together to maintain a healthy campus community. Unless we significantly alter the behaviors of our undergraduate population, we will be forced to further restrict programs and services, and further de- densify the campus.

Thank you,

Brandi Hephner LaBanc, Ed.D.

Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs and Campus Life

Sally Linowski, Ph.D.

Associate Dean of Students, Off Campus Student Life and Community Engagement

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