Town Manager Report For September 27,2021

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.

All Town Manager Reports are available on the Town’s .website here.

Town Manager Update:

Top Line Updates:

  • COVID-19:
    • Vaccination:
      • Booster Shots: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA), as well as the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) have authorized the Pfizer COVID-19 Booster for individuals 65 years of age and older, individuals 18-64 years of age at risk for severe COVID-19 due to underlying medical conditions, and individuals 18-64 years of age who are at increased risk for COVID-19 because of occupational or institutional settings who have previously received the Pfizer vaccine. These residents are eligible to receive their booster shot at least 6 months after their second dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine. The Health Department will be working to support efforts to get eligible Town residents the booster vaccine as expeditiously as possible.
  • Testing:
    • The University of Massachusetts continues to provide testing for members of the community. It has relocated the testing site from the Mullens Center to the Campus Center. They are encouraging people to utilize the new self- test drop-off system. More information may be found here: https://www.umass.edu/coronavirus/coronavirus/covid-19-testing
    • School Vaccination Requirement:
      • At its meeting on Wednesday night, the Regional School Committee unanimously agreed to inquire about whether the Health Department was considering adding the COVID-19 vaccine to the list of vaccines required for students to attend school. This is consistent with the School Committee Policy on vaccines, which states, “No child shall be admitted to school except upon presentation of a physician’s certificate that the child has been successfully immunized against diphtheria, pertussis, tetanus, measles, and poliomyelitis and such other communicable diseases as may be specified from time to time by the department of public health.
  • University/College Relations:
    • Amherst College: The College has continued its regimen of requiring all students, faculty, and staff to be tested twice per week. The number of cases on campus is very low. They are taking steps to gradually relax restrictions on students. They are reviewing options for alumni weekend and other events. Amherst has had a total of 23 cases so far this fall. A link to the College’s website is here: https://www.amherst.edu/news/covid-19/dashboard
    • Hampshire College: The College has stated it has a vaccination rate of well over 90% and will continue its asymptomatic testing protocols through October 19th. Masks are required indoors and encouraged when outdoors. Hampshire has had five total cases so far this fall. A link to the College’s website is here: https://www.hampshire.edu/news/2020/08/21/covid-19-testing-program
    • University of Massachusetts at Amherst: Town officials met with representatives of the University to check-in on the beginning of the new academic year. This is a continuation of meetings that had been held in the Spring. The University has a vaccination rate of 97%. The University has had a total of 651 cases so far this fall. A link to the University’s website is here: https://www.umass.edu/coronavirus/dashboard
  • Racial Equity:
    • Community Safety Working Group: The Working Group continues its work driving toward making a presentation to the Town Council on October 25th.
    • Reparations: The African Heritage Reparation Assembly held its first meeting on September 22nd. Town staff provided an overview of the open meeting law, public records law, and Town finances. There was a general discussion. The next meeting is scheduled for September 28th at 6:30 p.m.
  • Outreach:
    • Candidates:
      • Presentation: I will invite all Town Council candidates to a presentation by Town Staff on Town government. This program will be similar to what I did prior to the election in 2019.
      • One-on-One meetings: I am reaching out to all Town Council candidates to offer time to sit down to discuss any issues that they would like.
    • Cuppa Joe: We have scheduled the next Cuppa Joe with Paul for Friday, October 8th at 8:00 a.m. Finance Director Sean Mangano will be my guest and we will be discussing how the major capital projects are being funded with special emphasis on how the Library fits into the funding plan. Questions have been raised concerning how these capital projects all fit together in advance of the vote on the Library project at the November election.
    • Puerto Rico Heritage Day: Town staff assisted School Department leaders in raising the flag and celebrating the Puerto Rican community on Thursday, September 23rd. This was the largest and best event in years.
    • Pakistan-India Independence Day: Town staff assisted Councilor Bahl-Milne in organizing the first celebration of these two great countries on Friday, September 24th, with a flag raising, entertainment, and speeches.
    • Applewood: I attended the celebration of the 30th anniversary of Applewood on September 22nd.
    • Promoting Careers in Local Government:
      • Jennifer Moyston and Brianna Sunryd from the are featured in a new state-wide campaign by the Massachusetts Municipal Association (MMA) intended to attract a new generation of workers to rewarding careers in the local communities.
      • The heart of the campaign is video testimonials featuring Massachusetts municipal employees highlighting the wide range of available jobs and the many rewards of working for cities and towns.
      • A social media campaign on Facebook, Twitter, and LInkedIN will be supplemented with paid, targeted ads.
      • Congratulations to two staff from the Town of Amherst on being selected to represent the best of working in local government.
  • Finance:
    • Community Preservation Act:
      • The Community Preservation Act Committee will ask the relevant boards, commissions and committees for their input on proposals and encourages applicants to consult with them before submission. Typically, we refer open space proposals to the Conservation Commission, recreation proposals to LSSE, historic preservation proposals to the Historical Commission, and community housing proposals to the Amherst Municipal Affordable Housing Trust and the Amherst Housing Authority.
  • The Committee plans to schedule presentations of projects at our meetings in October and November.
    • Principal Assessor: The Finance Director has selected a new Principal Assessor to fill that vacancy.
  • Image.jpegPublic Works:
    • Spray Park: The activators that children used to turn on the water at the Groff Park Spray Park continued to fail. The original “in ground” buttons failed not long after start up. DPW staff analyzed the situation and determined a solution. However, due to the high cost of manufactured buttons and the rate of failure, the Electrical Department constructed new activators for the splash park. The staff used traffic and industrial components at 1/6 the cost of the manufactured components. Super, creative work by our crews at DPW!
    • Water: We are halfway through the month and I’m pleased to report that the water system is holding up very well.
      • The Wells and Atkins have been able to keep up with demand. Our strategy of maximizing water production to match demand has kept the East Pleasant Street water tank above the 55 foot level during the day while meeting demand.
  • We have been starting every day at the 58 foot level or a little higher. The wells have also been able to shut down during the nights to allow for some recovery in the aquifer.
    • There have been two days that we have produced 3.3 MGD. Both days were in the low 80s.
    • Shade Trees:
      • The Shade Tree Committee and Town staff planted new trees near the Bangs Community Center where the construction happened.
      • The group will also be planting on North Pleasant Street to replace trees that have failed.
    • Northampton Road: The State Department of Transportation intends to begin the reconstruction of Northampton Road from South Pleasant Street to University Drive. This will be an extensive construction project that includes replacement of Town utilities, relocation of poles, installation of a multi-use path, and other work. This project will be disruptive to vehicular traffic and will go on for a long time. You will likely see some preliminary work (pavement markings, tree trimming/removal, etc.) in the coming weeks.
    • Paving: The Town’s paving contractor will return one more time to place the final coat on Snell Street, Henry Street, and Bridge Street. The contractor will also be paving the new basketball courts at the Mill River Recreation area. Line painting will follow this work later in September.
  • Waterline Extension to Leverett: Work has begun to extend the water line from North Amherst into the Town of Leverett. Work is expected to be completed in the coming weeks.
    • Pelham Extension: We are working with the Town of Pelham as they are looking into requesting the extension of Amherst’s sewer line to service a small part of the Pelham including the elementary school.
  • Town Clerk:
    • Census: The Districting Advisory Board is meeting weekly to consider mapping out 15 precincts, in addition to a 12 precinct option (so that there are an even number of precincts in each district). The Town Clerk and I.T. staff are supporting the work of the Board. Public comment on proposed maps may be left on a sticky note, which can be attached to the map. The Town Clerk will upload your comments to the DAB website for review. You can also send your comments by email to: townclerk@amherstma.gov.
    • Early Voting: The Town Clerk is recommending that the Town Council vote to hold in- person early voting to be located in the First Floor Meeting Room of Town Hall for the following dates and times:
      • Monday, October 25, 2021; 8:30 am to 4:00 pm
      • Tuesday, October 26, 2021; 8:30 am to 4:00 pm
      • Wednesday, October 27, 2021; 8:30 am to 4:00 pm
      • Thursday, October 28, 2021; 8:30 am to 8:00 pm
      • Friday, October 29, 2021; 8:30 am to 4:00 pm.
  • Sustainability:
    • Energy Conservation: Utilizing a State grant, the Town changed lighting in the Town Hall, Police Station, and Munson Memorial Library. The project replaced over 800 ballasts and tubes with high-efficiency ballasts and LED lights. We project a 30% savings in energy use as a result of this change.
    • Community Choice Aggregation (CCA): The Town is working with the Town of Pelham and the City of Northampton to develop a CCA proposal.
      • Amherst submitted a RFP to hire a consultant to develop the CCA with input from the Pelham and Northampton. Currently a contract between the consultant and three communities is being reviewed by each of the community’s attorneys and the consultant. Once there is agreement on the final language, the final draft will go the Executives of each community for review and signature. I can’t say for sure but anticipate this may take a month or two.
      • Once the consultant and communities sign the contract, the process of CCA development will begin. The consultant will draft the CCA agreement, create the business model and submit the Agreement to the Department of Public Utilities for review and approval. There will be a simultaneous public engagement/education process. It could take a few years before the CCA is officially up and running.
  • A separate but related process is development of a Joint Powers Entity (JPE). A Joint Powers Agreement (JPA) has been drafted by members of the three communities and community activists over the past 1 1/2 years. The group engaged a law firm to assist with both development of the JPA draft and to assist in identifying the processes involved in forming a JPE. This is the inter-municipal entity that will house the CCA. The JPA draft has been submitted to the respective legal attorneys of the communities for review and comment. Once this document is completed it will be submitted to the Town Manager, Northampton Mayor and Pelham Select Board for signature. The Amherst Town Council authorized the Town Manager to sign at the time it voted to agree to pursue development of an inter-municipal CCA.
    • The CCA Advisory group engaged the services of BCK Law who responded to the town’s proposal (via town/state procurement process) and was engaged to assist with development of the JPA. Of note- they are the firm that assisted with development of the Cape Light Compact.
    • Both Amherst and Pelham are represented by K-P Law Legal Services. Northampton uses in-house counsel.
  • Economic Development:
    • Licensing: The Board of License Commissioners has approved prorating fees for liquor licenses depending on when they come in during the year. Enacting this policy will be beneficial to businesses seeking to purchase a liquor license during the year but will have a bit of a negative impact on the Town’s revenue.
    • Band Shell: The Downtown Amherst Foundation continues to develop plans for a band shell on the South Common. They will be bringing the conceptual design to the Town Council at your meeting on Monday.
  • Public Safety:
    • Fire Department:
      • The Town has filled the two current vacancies with strong candidates who will be starting their duties in September. Both have excellent paramedic backgrounds. The two new firefighters were sworn into office on September 13th.
      • Four additional firefighter/EMTs are on duty to support the Department’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic.
    • Community Responders:
      • The Town is seeking funding from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health’s Equitable Approaches to Public Safety (EAPS) grant program to support the Community Responder initiative.
      • The Implementation Team will be reviewing call information as it structures the work of the new department.
    • Police Department:
      • Calls for service have increased, especially on weekend nights.
  • Human Resources/Human Rights:
    • We have filled the Recreation Director position and continue to work on filling the Health Director and Director of Senior Services positions.
    • The H.R. Department continues to offer wellness programming and events for Town employees utilizing mini-grants from the MIIA Health Benefits Trust. Currently, employees have the opportunity to sign up for a walking competition among employees. Participating employees receive a free Fitbit watch.
  • Community Services:
    • Health:
      • The Health Department held a walk-up clinic at Groff Park on September 16th.
  • Regular vaccine clinics are now scheduled for every Thursday from 4:00 – 6:00 p.m. at the Bangs Community Center. First and second doses will be offered.
  • We are hoping to be able to offer self-administered testing services to the general public through the University. If approved by the University, we would offer the testing at the Bangs Community Center.
  • The Health Department has increased the frequency of updating the Town’s dashboard.
    • Senior Center:
      • Staffing: The Town will again be working with the City of Springfield Department of Elder Affairs utilizing a grant from the Senior Community Service Employment Program to hire a docent for the Civil War Plaques display (Debra Bridges). We are hoping that Juana Trujillo, retired Resident Services Coordinator for the Amherst Housing Authority, will also receive funding. Juana provides both general and bilingual outreach for the Senior Center.
      • Age and Dementia Friendly Community:
        • The Town’s Senior Center and Planning Department are working together to secure support from the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission to identify the Town as an “Age and Dementia Friendly Community”, a designation that was included in the previous Town Manager’s budget presentation.
        • The Town Manager will designate a working group to develop an implementation plan.
        • Funding is being provided by the Tufts Health Plan Foundation through the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission.
    • Unhoused Population:
      • A location for the congregate shelter operated by Craigs Doors has been identified. The property owner is reviewing the request and we are hopeful this new location will be available prior to the opening of the shelter on November 1st.
  • We continue to work with regional partners on regional solutions to helping those who are unhoused.
  • Economic Development:
    • Secretary of Housing and Economic Development Kenneally testified before the United States Congress recently. He highlighted the efforts of one community – Amherst – for the amount and quality of work being done to address the economic challenges caused by the pandemic. The sheer number of initiatives is impressive and is contained in the slide he used in his presentation to Congress.
  • Information Technology (I.T.):
    • I-Net: We continue to drive to have the project completed by October 15th.
    • Remote Meetings: The I.T. Department has worked with the Clerk of the Council to develop systems and procedures for conducting in-person, fully remote, and hybrid meetings. Hybrid (Zoom and in-person) can only be held in the Town Room due to the required equipment.
    • Reprecincting: Town I.T. staff are providing important technical support to the Districting Advisory Committee.
  • Conservation and Development:
    • Fearing Brook: The Town is working with the State Department of Fish and Game, Division of Ecological Restoration (DER) to restore the Fearing Brook.
      • DER restores and protects rivers, wetlands, and watersheds in Massachusetts for the benefit of people and the environment.
      • In Amherst, work is underway to reconnect Fearing Brook to its natural floodplain.

Fearing Brook flows beneath and through downtown Amherst into Fort River. The restoration project will improve water quality, channel stability, and habitat. A flood plain reconnection, stormwater BMP, and channel enhancement will be constructed later this year at the downstream section of the brook.

o Affordable Housing:

  • Home City Development, Inc. was granted a Chapter 40B comprehensive permit for a development on Amherst Road in Pelham which will include two buildings and 34 affordable housing units. This is the first affordable rental housing development in the Town of Pelham. The Town of Amherst was recognized for having extended its water and sewer lines along Pelham Road without which this project would not have been able to be accomplished.
    • Strong Street: The Affordable Housing Trust is exploring a Town-owned site on Strong Street as a new location for affordable housing.

  • Conservation: Town staff designed and constructed new trailhead parking for Sweet Alice Conservation Area on Bay Road. The parking area now provides easy access to trails leading to the Mt. Holyoke Range State Park. Funds are from the Town’s Community Preservation Act.

Delegated Authority:

  • Short-Term Event Uses of Town Commons:
  • Short-Term Parking Requests: None
  • Short-Term Road or Sidewalk Closures:
    • “Trick or Treat My Ride” Halloween Car Parade sponsored by Amherst Recreation beginning at Amherst Regional High School and continuing down Triangle Street to Main Street to North Pleasant Street back to Triangle Street. October 30th, 4:00 p.m.

Major Capital Projects:

  • Jones Library: Awaiting the vote scheduled at the Town election in November.
  • DPW Building/Fire Building: Staff are exploring multiple options for a new site for the Department of Public Works, including the Town-owned Ruxton site.
  • Schools:
    • The deadline for submitting designer applications was September 9th.
    • Eight firms submitted proposals:
      • DiNisco
      • Drummey Rosane Anderson
      • JCJ and Moody Nolan (JCJ did Wildwood Feasibility)
      • Jonathan Levi Architects
  • Lamoreux Pagano
    • Tecton Architects
    • TSKP (worked on Fort River study)
    • Turoswski 2
    • The Elementary School Building Committee met on September 23rd and reviewed the eight proposals discussing the following points:
      • What are the strengths and weaknesses?
      • What are the most important points of comparison?
      • Whose applications are speaking most clearly and directly to this project and why?
      • Does the team appear to have the expertise needed for the unique aspects of the project such as Net Zero?
    • This process is driven by the MSBA standards and protocols. We are now scheduled for designer application review at the MSBA Designer Selection Panel on November 2nd, and interviews on November 16th.

Projects Update:

  • Dog Park: The weather has delayed the construction of this project. With all the rain this summer and other challenges the project has been moving forward at a slower pace than planned. Overall, the project had been staying on budget using the available Stanton and CPA funding. DPW staff have had to be on site addressing questions and issues that come up. We have discovered there may be funding issues that may need to be addressed.
  • Performing Arts Shell on the Town Common: To be presented to the Town Council at its meeting on Monday.
  • North Common Restoration/Main Street Parking Lot: Awaiting action from Congress.
  • Hickory Ridge: The Town will be announcing three opportunities for the public to learn more about the Hickory Ridge land purchase on October 7th, 8th, and 9th at the site. Walking tours will be available. More details to follow shortly.
  • North Amherst Library:
    • We are developing construction documents and have funding available through bidding. I anticipate construction documents will be completed by the end of September with bidding to take 6-8 weeks after that.
  • Pomeroy Village MassWorks Grant: The Town Council approved the development of plans for a roundabout at this intersection. Town staff are working on drawings and will return to the Town Council in the near future with plans that are 25% complete.
  • Solar on the Landfill: The “real” construction work is scheduled to begin shortly, along with the fence around the Southern Landfill.
  • Belchertown Road/East Street School:
    • Town issued a Request for Proposals to lease the properties located at 31 South East Street and 72-80 Belchertown Road for the development of affordable housing.
    • The pre-proposal walkthrough for potential bidders will be held on October 6th.
    • Proposals are due on November 19th.
  • Downtown Improvements:
    • Pleasant Walkway: The Pleasant Walkway that connects North Pleasant Street with the Bangs Parking Lot is nearing completion.
  • Bangs Center Ramp: A new, grant-funded ADA ramp at the Bangs Community Center is being installed now. Concrete for the new ramp and repaired steps is being poured today. The ramp is located south of the Bangs Community Center and north of Johnny’s. It will provide access from the upper Boltwood parking lot to the Musante Health Center, Clark House, and the courtyard.
    • Crosswalks and Pleasant Walk: Work to rebuild three existing crosswalks on North Pleasant Street is complete. These projects are funded by a grant obtained by our grant- writers combined with some capital funds allocated for sidewalk improvements.
    • Street Furniture on Boltwood Plaza: The Town has secured a grant to purchase and install new street furniture (tables, chair, benches) on Boltwood Plaza. We hope this furniture will help activate the valuable resource in the downtown area.

Upcoming Meetings and Events:

  • October 4th – Town Council meeting
  • October 8th – Cuppa Joe with Paul
  • October 11th – Indigenous People’s Day holiday
  • October 18th– Town Council meeting
  • November 2nd – Election Day
  • November 8th – Town Council meeting
  • November 11th – Veterans Day holiday
  • November 15th – Town Council meeting
  • November 22nd – Town Council meeting
  • November 24-25 – Thanksgiving Day holidays
  • December 6th – Town Council meeting
  • December 20th – Town Council meeting
Spread the love

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.