This report was presented by Essex Town Administrator Brendhan Zubricki at this week’s Board of Selectmen meeting on August 23, and it covers topics of interest for town business from August 7to August 20.
Town Hall HVAC System Return to Service
After much delay, the Town Hall HVAC system has been returned to service. Our HVAC contractor had been working directly with the manufacturer to diagnose a problem that was not allowing one of our three condensing units to start. The process involved delays associated with getting circuit boards and related parts due to COVID shortages. During the week of August 9, 2021, our contractor returned to the site with new parts and also was able to confirm that the compressor for that condensing unit had totally failed. Prior to this time, it was difficult to distinguish one problem from another without confirmation of good electronics experts. Our contractor was able to get our air conditioning system to function using two of the three units running in a special mode and we have locked out several interior units so that the load may be handled properly. A new compressor will not be available until at least October (again, due to a COVID-related parts shortage).
ClamFest Planning Meeting
Mr Zubricki attended the subject meeting involving the Essex Division of the Cape Ann Chamber of Commerce on September 16, 2021. The Chamber was considering holding the event at the Essex Elementary School grounds this year since the usual area in Memorial Park may be impacted by the project that will demolish the old fire and police station at 24 Martin Street. In addition to potential issues with finding a suitable venue, the Chamber has learned that many establishments that would normally participate are not able to this year since staffing in the hospitality sector is still in short supply. Another unknown is whether COVID will again be a factor of concern this fall. As such, the Chamber has decided to cancel the event again this year and will bring it back in full swing in 2022.
Further Review of Draft Fall Town Meeting Topics List
The TA has revised the draft list of possible Fall Town Meeting topics in accordance with the Board’s guidance from the last meeting. He intends to have a draft of the Fall Town Meeting warrant for the Board’s review at its first September meeting. The warrant should be signed at the Board’s meeting of October 18, 2021 (Fall Town Meeting is November 15, 2021).
Exploration of DEP or EPA Brownfields Funding, Allen Properties
The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) recently conducted a Preliminary Assessment of environmental issues that may be present on the Southern Avenue properties that are presently owned by the Estate of William Allen. Now that this record has been compiled, it is possible that the Town could fare better with respect to State (via MassDevelopment) or Federal (via the US Environmental Protection Agency – EPA) grants known as “brownfield grants” that could eventually pay to remediate the site for public use. As the Board may recall, the properties are currently in arrears for property taxes and are on a path for the Town to take ownership through the tax title process and possibly auction off. According to the DEP brownfields coordinator in the northeast regional office, the Town would have to gain written continuous access to the site from the estate and would have to engage the services of a Licensed Site Professional (LSP) to develop a scope of services that would be used in any grant application. If a grant application is successful, the site could possibly be fully remediated and then repurposed if/when the Town obtains ownership. Ramifications of moving toward Town-controlled remediation with respect to future contaminated site liability would have to be reviewed with Town Counsel. The present plan to obtain ownership and immediately auction the property off keeps the Town insulated from any such liability.
Community Compact Cabinet Grant Application, Zoning Review
At the last meeting, the Board agreed that Essex should seek a Community Compact Cabinet grant (also known as a “best practices” grant) from the Baker Administration with respect to the first steps toward comprehensively reviewing the Essex zoning bylaws. The Metropolitan Area Planning Council (MAPC) had put together a scope of services that the Board was in general agreement with and subsequently provided a cost for those services ($45,140). If the application is successful, the work will be conducted between October of 2021 and March of 2022. The TA used the scope of work provided by MAPC to develop and submit the necessary grant application to the State, with the approval of Chairman Pereen.
Possible Grant Application for Cable Studio Installation at Town Hall
As the Board may recall, 1623 Studios, which is the local cable access provider on Cape Ann, had encouraged the Town to install equipment in Town Hall that would allow public meetings to be broadcast over local cable channels and to possibly facilitate interactive meetings over video conferencing software. Given that operating the equipment would take a third party and that 1623 Studios can only commit to two meetings per month in the Town, the Board was not interested in using Town funds for this project. However, it may be possible to apply for the equipment via the State’s IT grant program and 1623 Studios personnel have offered to help develop and submit the application.
Regional IT Grant Status Summary
As the Board may recall, we have been working with other communities to take advantage of centralized IT services via the Town of Danvers municipal datacenter. Representatives of participating communities met remotely on August 19, 2021 to review what Danvers is prepared to offer via a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) among the partners. At this point, the group is working on possible group purchases for new VOIP phone system service, municipal permitting cloud-based software, and a cloud-based antivirus and network threat protection system capable of more effectively dealing with ransomware threats. Danvers would also like to support enhanced cyber security for all participants. A future step will be to replace the Town’s present firewall system (Cisco) with a new system (Fortinet) that would be managed and supported by Danvers. These types of items could be funded at the Fall Town Meeting and/or programmed in to the fiscal year 2023 operating budget.
Town Administrator Leave
Mr. Zubricki was out of the office, on vacation leave, for portions of four days during the week of August 9, 2021 and all day on August 20, 2021 .