Essex Town Administrator’s Report | Jan 6


Contract for Design and Oversight of Stone Pier Renovation Work

At the last meeting, the Board agreed that the remaining seawall grant money and associated Town match money should be used to renovate the two stone piers that the Town owns at Conomo Point.  The piers are related to the seawall system but the State grant project did not include their renovation in the original scope of work.  Our engineering consultant for the seawall project (GZA Geoenvironmental) will by meeting time provide the Town with a scope of services and cost proposal to design and oversee the work.  It is expected that the available funding will cover the both the cost of engineering services and construction.

Process for the Sale of Town-owned Lots on Gregory Island

At the last meeting, the Board asked that the Town Administrator (TA) put together an outline for a potential process for the sale of several, Town-owned properties in the Gregory Island neighborhood.  The TA has developed a draft outline and has had it reviewed by Town Counsel.  It will be necessary to trace back the history of each parcel to arrive at a deed that describes the boundaries of each parcel – beyond what is shown on the Assessors’ map.  The Board of Assessors’ Clerk is presently conducting that research and the Selectmen can work toward a sale procedure in the meantime.

Apple Street Roadbed and Culvert Project MEPA Pre-filing Meeting

Selectman Phippen and Mr. Zubricki participated in a meeting with the director of the Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act (MEPA) Office and personnel from our engineering consultant and the Massachusetts Vulnerability Preparedness (MVP) grant program on December 6, 2022.  The purpose of the meeting was to understand the project’s potential path through the MEPA environmental review process.  MEPA is triggered since shade trees are proposed for removal, fill is proposed to be added near sensitive resources, a Chapter 91 license is necessary since the project is adjacent to tidelands, and a MA DOT review of the proposed box bridge is required (among possible other triggers).  The Director commented that the project is likely only going to need an Environmental Notification Form (ENF) as opposed to being subjected to the full Environmental Impact Report (EIR) process.  Once our engineering consultant makes the application, we can expect the review process to take about 30 days.

Pothole Log

The TA received the monthly pothole log from the DPW during the week of November 28, 2022. No potholes were reported during November.

Senior Center Annual State Elevator Test

The State Elevator Inspector tested and inspected the elevator at the Essex Senior Center on December 1, 2022.  Prior to the test, the TA had arranged for the Town’s fire alarm contractor and emergency generator contractor to be on site as required. The elevator failed testing since, although the emergency generator was operative and was providing power to the building, the load at the automatic transfer switch was out of balance and the elevator did not operate under emergency power.  It is probably that last year’s replacement of the building heating system may have thrown off the load balance between the last State inspection and this most recent inspection.  As such, our electrical contractor and our generator company will need to coordinate a time to review and test the system (likely in late-December).  Thereafter, the elevator company and the generator company will need to return with the State inspector to confirm compliance.

School Budget Collaboration Group Meeting Summary

Mr. Zubricki attended the subject meeting along with Finance Committee Chairman Buttrick on November 30, 2022.  The meeting featured a discussion regarding the district’s budget drivers for fiscal year 2024 and District personnel indicated that the budget currently being planned does not contemplate the use of any District reserve funds that have been used in the past to lower apportionments to the towns.  At present, even if the overall increase in costs apportioned to the towns is 3.5 percent, the district is estimating that an approximately $1M budget gap exists.  Discussion was also held concerning the timing of the major renovation or replacement of the Essex Elementary School.  A recent report from the district’s consultant suggests that the renovation or replacement process begin very soon, in order to avoid expensive repairs to the building only to have the building completely replaced shortly thereafter.  Even an application to the Massachusetts School Building Authority made in calendar year 2023 would not have a tax impact until around 2030 (since the process is lengthy).  Originally, the parties had hoped that the Essex Elementary School could be maintained through around 2029, with a tax impact by around 2036.  However, it does not look like that will be financially prudent.

Draft Selectmen’s Fiscal Year 2024 Operating Budget Request

The Finance Committee released its call for operating budget requests (due January 10, 2023) during the week of December 5, 2022 and the TA has developed a preliminary draft for the Board’s review.

Draft Selectmen’s Fiscal Year 2024 Capital Budget Request

The Finance Committee released its call for capital budget requests (due January 10, 2023) during the week of December 5, 2022 and the TA has developed a preliminary draft for the Board’s review.

Preliminary List of Potential Annual Town Meeting Topics

Mr. Zubricki has begun to develop a list of topics for warrant articles at the Annual Town Meeting, which will be held on May 1, 2023.

POST Commission Webinar

The Chief of Police, Chairman Pereen, and the TA participated in a webinar providing an update on the status and workings of the Massachusetts Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) Commission on December 7, 2022.  The Commission is responsible for implementing and monitoring a variety of police related training and compliance matters under the new Police Reform Law that was recently developed in the state.  During the webinar, a member of the Commission and its Executive Director both discussed how POST operates and what functions it will carry out.

Downtown Decorative Lighting Project Update and Design Contract

At the last meeting, the Board began to review possible styles for the new, downtown decorative lighting that will be installed via grant, Town, and legislative earmark funding.  While one option is to install lighting that closely resembles the original gas lamps that were in Essex in the late 1800s, the Town may also wish to explore more ornate options.  To that end, and at the Board’s request, the Economic Development Committee considered this question on December 8, 2022 and has recommended that the Town choose lanterns that are similar to the original gas lamps, but that are more stylized.  An example given are the lanterns that are in use on Beacon Hill in Boston.  With respect to getting our lighting designer under contract, we have determined that electronic as-built plans of the lighting conduits installed by MA DOT in 2009 are not available.  Rather than spending money on re-surveying the area or digitizing the paper plans that MA DOT does have, our engineering consultant has recommended that the light poles be installed immediately at the back of the curb (instead of back of sidewalk). This choice will obviate the need for any of that other work.  The Superintendent of Public Works has commented that the Town only plows the right side of the causeway (going toward Gloucester) and that there should be enough room at the back of the sidewalk for the flow to jog around any light poles that are installed on that side.

Massachusetts Downtown Initiative (MDI) Grant Project Kickoff

The Town Planner and Mr. Zubricki participated in a meeting with personnel from the consulting firm Civic Space Collaborative (CSC) on December 2, 2022 with respect to finalizing the scope of services for the Town’s recently-awarded MDI grant.  The firm will provide $25,000 in technical assistance to guide the Town toward a plan for a unified look across all public spaces in the downtown area, through what is known as “placemaking”.  During the meeting, we covered various possible tasks including public involvement, branding, connection with the downtown lighting project, wayfinding, and more. CSC has developed a scope of services which has been forwarded to the grantmaker (Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development – DHCD) for review and approval.  The Board also should review and approve.

Urban Agenda Off-Season Event Grant and Consultant Contract

At the last meeting, the Board agreed that it may be advantageous to utilize the consulting firm Civic Space Collaborative (CSC) that is already working on placemaking for the Town via the $25,000 Massachusetts Downtown Initiative (MDI) technical assistance grant to also plan and execute an off-season event via the Town’s $51,000 Urban Agenda Grant.  In that way, the event that will take place in February or March of 2023 will serve to begin the implementation of the placemaking strategy that is arrived at by CSC.  After speaking with the Town Planner and the TA on December 2, 2022, CSC developed a scope of services and cost proposal for the discharge of the Urban Agenda Grant, which includes the purchase of certain durable goods that may be used in future years.  The scope of services relies heavily on input from the Essex business community so that we are sure that we can arrive at the appropriate fit.  The Town Planner will be involved with a working group of individuals from the business community and from the Economic Development Committee who will help choose and shape the event.

Electric Vehicle Charging Station Design, Installation, & Operation Contract

At the last meeting, the Board agreed that we should continue to explore with the engineering firm Weston & Sampson the possibility of a contract for the firm to design, install, and operate four electric vehicle charging stations in the municipal parking lot.  All costs, risk, and liability would have to be assumed by the firm and the Town would stand to collect a small amount of revenue from the venture.  In reviewing the application necessary for the Town to apply to National Grid for rebates and incentives that would pay for the installation of the EV charging equipment, it was obvious that as “Site Host” that the Town would have to commit to a degree of risk and cost and would also be required to “operate and maintain” the equipment.  If Weston & Sampson was made the “Site Host”, risk and cost could be shifted to the company but Town would not own the equipment.  Given the requirements of the contract versus what the Town is willing to take on, it does not appear that this project is feasible.

This report is available at on the morning after any regularly scheduled Essex Board of Selectmen’s Meeting.

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