The Board of Selectmen held its regular meeting on Thursday, May 7, keeping appropriate physical distance between the members and staff. Members of the public were able to observe and participate in the meeting via the Facebook livestream. The meeting will also be available on Channel 79 and the town website after the fact.
The minutes of the April 16 meeting were approved.
Three tax refunds, all to Toyota Lease Trust, were approved.
The board appointed Deirdra Preis to the Cemetery Committee to fill an unexpired term. Also, Michael Sabia and Irv Snow were re-appointed as the Measurers of Wood. There remain openings available for an alternate on the Commission on Aging, and full members on the Pension and Employee Benefits Commission and the Tax Relief for the Elderly Committee. Also available are expired terms for an alternate on the Board of Assessment Appeals and a full member on the Insurance Commission.
The Firefighters and EMS Honorarium Review Committee has completed its work and, therefore, the committee was officially disbanded.
The board approved the use of $23,000 in LOCIP funds for the purchase of an antenna system for the EMS department. The Local Capital Improvement Program (LOCIP is a fund of state dollars that Easton can use for certain types of capital improvement projects in town.
The board discussed the town budget approval process now that the governor has made clear through his emergency orders that a town referendum for that purpose is not permitted. The new procedure is that the Board of Selectmen shall authorize the Board of Finance to adopt a budget. The board determined that it will take the necessary authorizing action after the Board of Finance has completed its final budget reviews and adjustments and just before the Board of Finance acts to officially approve a final budget.
The board discussed the status of the Health Department. The two town officials who constitute the professional staff of the department are seeking to retire. The town appears to have two permanent options. First, we could hire new staff to replace the existing staff. Second, we could form a relationship with a neighboring health district.
The town is actively exploring joining the Westport Weston Health District (WWHD) which would provide the town more services at about the same cost as we currently incur. A presentation is available on the town website regarding the WWHD proposal. If the town simply replaces the existing staff, the expectation is that the costs would significantly increase as we would need to enhance the programs, services and hours of the department. Since the process of joining a health district cannot be completed during the pandemic because it requires a town wide vote, the board is considering contracting with the WWHD to provide health services for a period of one year. This will insure the town has the necessary services after the incumbents retire and will allow us to test the relationship with the WWHD without formally joining the district.
The board adopted a moratorium on the installation of 5G technology in the town until Dec. 31, 2020.
The Memorial Day parade has been cancelled due to the pandemic. The hope is that a parade can be held later in the year, perhaps on Labor Day.
The board authorized an appraisal of the South Park Avenue property in order to establish a current value. The appraisal will determine the value of the entire 29 acre parcel as well as the value of just the 17 acres along the river if treated as a separate parcel. One thought is to transfer the 17 acres along the river to a conservation organization so it is preserved in perpetuity and hold the remaining 12 acres for some other, as yet, undetermined purpose. There is likely to be state funding to assist an appropriate conservation organization with the purchase. The cost of the appraisal is $2,500.00.
The First Selectman updated the board on Covid-19 matters.
Members of the public offered the following comments:
1. Why was no one from Citizens for Easton appointed to the South Park Avenue study committee? The First Selectman responded by pointing out that the committee was not intended to guarantee a seat for every interested organization, but pains were taken to make sure that a broad range of points of view are represented on the committee.
2. Several people encouraged, and then thanked, the board for adopting the 5G moratorium. One person hoped that 4G could be included in the moratorium. Someone pointed out that the state of New Hampshire did a one-year moratorium.
3. A person said we should be sure to do a thorough cost comparison of the health department issue to assess staying on our own versus joining WWHD. This person also asked for information about the proposal for non-computer comfortable people. The First Selectman pointed out that there have been three public hearings, including one at the Senior Center.
4. A person spoke in favor of preserving all 29 acres of the South Park Avenue property as open space.
5. After a discussion about planning for recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic and possibly joining with other towns in that effort, a resident pointed out that Weston and Redding have higher rates of infection and deaths than Easton so we should not join with them.
6. A resident asked what is happening with the pathway project along Sport Hill Road between approximately Helen Keller Middle School and Silverman’s Farm.