Essex Town Administrator’s Report


Board of Selectmen’s Meeting of January 24, 2022

Report covers from January 8, 2022 to January 21, 2022

 School Budget Collaboration Group Meeting Summary

Selectman Bradford, Finance Committee Chairman Buttrick, and Mr. Zubricki participated in the subject meeting on January 21, 2022.  The meeting featured a discussion concerning how the District takes into account actual spending in a given fiscal year when building the budget for the subsequent fiscal year.  The group also discussed at length whether or not the District would be able to decrease the fiscal year 2023 operating budget apportionments to the two towns further based upon the CARES funding that the two towns recently provided to the District, or by some other means.  Generally, District staff and officials were not in favor of a process that would offset the budget apportionment with CARES funding, partially due to the logistics of using that funding.  With regard to the process, the District plans to use the CARES money, FEMA funding, and other, school-specific, Federal funding to offset spending from its COVID-segregated account, which required deficit spending (which is allowable under present rules) to get through the COVID crisis.  Hence, the CARES funding will not flow directly to the District’s Excess and Deficiency account when the current fiscal year closes out, as it will have already been spent to reduce the COVID deficit.  Had the towns not provided the CARES funding, the District would have had to use a like amount of its reserves to fund the COVID fund deficit.  Therefore, one way to derive apportionment offsets from the CARES funding would be for the District to instead pledge additional District reserves in fiscal year 2023 for apportionment offset.  The total of CARES funding provided to the District between the two communities is about $400,000 and the amount of funding to hold Essex’s year over year apportionment increase to 3.5 percent (as opposed to the present proposal of 4.97 percent) is about $350,000.  While reserves could be used to achieve this result, the District points out that it is already using about $1M in reserves just to keep the overall apportionment increase to 3.5 percent (translating to 4.97 percent to Essex).  The group also discussed other ways to possibly lessen the impact of the apportionment for fiscal year 2023, including but not limited to the possibility of the District budgeting less conservatively with respect to anticipated out of District student placement costs.  Further, the group generally agreed, given that school districts across the State are not usually able to operate within the Proposition 2 ½ framework, that planning for a Proposition 2 ½ override for fiscal year 2024 would be prudent.  The amount of that override will be affected by the structural deficit in place presently, by how much reserve funding is ultimately put toward the fiscal year 2023 budget, and by whether the planning includes the anticipated spending above the 2.5 percent level over the next three to five fiscal years (as opposed to just planning an override to meet the needs of fiscal year 2024).

Meeting w/ North Shore Technical/Agricultural School District Superintendent

Mr. Zubricki met with Superintendent Heidi Riccio and her associate, Bonnie Carr, on January 10, 2022.  The Superintendent is visiting all of the area town administrators for communities that are part of the District in order to provide information about the District’s programs.  The Superintendent highlighted how the school is presently also offering night classes for adult continuing education focused on skills that are in demand in today’s workforce.  The school can also offer students to work on Town projects from time to time.  In fact, the handicapped accessible ramp at the Essex Library was a project that was completed by students in the past.  It is possible that students will be able to perform pre-season landscaping for the Town out at Conomo Point this year if the Town provides the necessary materials. 

Massachusetts Municipal Association Annual Meeting and Trade Show

The TA had been scheduled to attend the subject meeting on January 21 and 22, 2022, in Boston.  However, the meeting was transitioned to a virtual event (as it was in 2021), due to COVID-19 concerns.  The meeting normally features many opportunities for training on current issues and for networking with other municipal officials.  The TA attended several of the virtual sessions.

Zoning Bylaw Phase 1 Review Project Summary

The Metropolitan Area Planning Council (MAPC) has concluded a series of stakeholder interviews with respect to current attitudes and opinions concerning the Essex zoning bylaws. MAPC has also been working with Geographic Information System (GIS) data and imagery that will eventually help to illustrate observations and recommendations.  Further, MAPC has coordinated focus group discussions with respect to the review process (The TA participated in the focus group held January 10, 2022).  On January 11, 2022, MAPC personnel met with Chairman Pereen, Planning Board members, the Town Planner, and Mr. Zubricki to review grant progress to date and to highlight next steps.  Generally, MAPC is working to prepare for a public forum that will be offered in mid-February.

Housing Choice Act Multi-Family Zoning District Webinar

Chairman Pereen and personnel from the Metropolitan Area Planning Council (MAPC) participated in the subject webinar on January 12, 2022. The webinar featured presentations from State officials with respect to a new requirement asked of “MBTA Communities” (of which Essex is one) to create at least one, specific zoning district whereby multi-family housing is allowed by right.  The Town could opt not to enact such a bylaw but certain State grant programs require compliance as a prerequisite.  It is possible that the Town’s new, downtown mixed-use zoning district could already qualify the Town for full compliance.  MAPC plans to study the rules and perhaps assert that the Town is already in compliance.  In the near-term, the Town only needs to submit an on-line form concerning its readiness for this element of the Housing Choice Act.  MAPC plans to fill out that form on the Town’s behalf prior to the May 2, 2022 deadline.

Continued Review of Potential Annual Town Meeting Article Topics

Mr. Zubricki has revised the draft list of potential Annual Town Meeting article topics in accordance with the Board’s guidance from the last meeting.

Scope of Services and Contract for Second Phase of Zoning Review

At the last meeting, the TA described for the Board a proposal by the Metropolitan Area Planning Council (MAPC) to assist the Town to obtain grant funding for the second phase of the comprehensive zoning bylaw process that is presently underway.  In phase 2, MAPC will develop actual recommendations for zoning bylaw changes that the Annual Town Meeting of 2023 will consider.  The Board was cognizant of the fact that MAPC needed to move ahead with the Expression of Interest (EOI) submission for the grant program that is the best fit and that process is occurring.  The scope of services also includes applying for a Community Planning Grant for up to $75,000 via the State’s Community One Stop for Growth grant portal. MAPC has will soon finalize its proposed scope of services and contract and I should have more details by meeting time.

Implementation of IT Grant for Broadcast Equipment, Town Hall Auditorium

The Board signed the Grant Agreement with the State in the past for the provision of professional broadcast equipment in the Town Hall Auditorium.  The State has now countersigned the agreement and Mr. Zubricki has worked with 1623 Studios to obtain an updated quote from a company on the State Contract, Ockers.  The TA has placed the order for the provision and installation of the equipment (to be covered by the grant) and we expect that the project should be underway at Town Hall in 8-10 weeks.  This long lead time has to do with the inability to get components in stock during this time of COVID and supply chain slowdowns. The project will allow personnel from 1623 Studios to broadcast sound and video of Town meetings and events from the auditorium and to host interactive participation (hopefully by

sometime in March of 2022).

Implementation of Revised Scope of Work, Apple Street Culvert Project

As the Board is aware from discussion in the past, the Massachusetts Division of Ecological Restoration (DER) asked the Town to consider modifying the scope of work for its existing Municipal Culvert Grant to include additional data collection.  The Town did take that step via its consulting engineering firm and DER then moved on to formalize an amendment to the grant contract since the additional work would not allow the Town to get as far into project permitting as originally envisioned.  DER will soon provide the Town with a revised scope of services and contract amendment and Chairman Pereen will sign the documents, in accordance with the Board’s November 29, 2021 vote.

Federal Funding Award for Maintenance Dredging of the Essex River

Senator Markey’s office contacted the TA during the week of January 17, 2022 to indicate the Federal funding has been awarded to the United States Army Corps of Engineers for full maintenance dredging of the Essex River.  It is our present understanding that the award is in the vicinity of $4.4M.  We are told that the Army Corps of Engineers will eventually be in touch with more details.

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Holiday

The Board was closed on January 17, 2022, in observance of the subject holiday.  This report is available at on the morning after any regularly scheduled Essex Board of Selectmen’s Meeting.

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