Essex Town Administrator’s Report | June 9


Affordable Housing Trust Meeting Summary

Chairman Pereen, who also chairs the Affordable Housing Trust, and the Town Administrator (TA) attended the subject meeting on May 30, 2023.  The Trust began to discuss the possible desire to use a consultant to develop an Affirmative Fair Housing Marketing and Resident Selection Plan (AFHMP) and, possibly, a Housing Production Plan (HPP).  The former is necessary if the Trust desires to orchestrate affordable housing projects to ensure that the Town does not run afoul of State or Federal fair housing laws.  The latter is not required but may offer the advantage of staving off an undesirable 40B project for a limited amount of time.  The Trust plans to research these matters further and may ask a consultant to provide a no-cost primer at some future meeting.

Annual Town Policies Sign-off

Each year at this time, the TA circulates to all employees and board/commission members a notice asking for each individual to review all applicable Town policies and to provide a written acknowledgment form back to our office by the end of July.  I sent the e-mail notice during the week of May 22, and acknowledgment forms went out with employee paychecks.  Those not receiving checks can easily download the acknowledgment form from the Town’s website.

Safety Committee Meeting

The next Safety Committee Meeting will be held on June 22, at 8 a.m.

Successor Fixed-Rate Natural Gas Supply Contract

The Town is presently under fixed-rate supply contracts for both electricity and natural gas with Constellation.  While Constellation plans to continue to offer electricity supply contracts in the future, the company will be phasing out gas supply contracts with each community when any current contract expires.  For many years, Constellation has been the Massachusetts Municipal Association’s (MMA) preferred vendor for electricity and gas.  In our case, our fixed-rate contract for natural gas runs through the end of October 2023.  As such, the TA will contact two other fixed-rate gas suppliers, Sprague Energy, and Direct Energy.  Hopefully, the natural gas market will settle over the next few months so that the Town has a good prospect for a new long-term rate agreement.

Completion of Procurement Process for Water Filtration Plant Renovations

Filed sub-bids for the Water Filtration Plant renovation project were opened on May 24, 2023. The Town received multiple bids from each of the three trades and one bid for the fourth trade.  General bidders will utilize the sub-bids in their general bids (which are due to the Town on June 7).  Our engineering consultant will go over the general bids with the Board of Public Works on June 12, 2023, and the Selectmen have scheduled a special meeting on June 13, 2023, to approve and sign paperwork required by the State Revolving Loan Fund (SRF), which has established a deadline of June 16, 2023.

Apple Street Roadbed Elevation and Culvert Replacement Project Update

At the last meeting, the TA informed the Board that the Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act (MEPA) Office had extended the public comment for the MEPA review process through May 23, 2023. On May 23, 2023, the Town was copied on comments being transmitted to the MEPA Office from the Massachusetts Office of Coastal Zone Management (CZM).  We learned that CZM has had some substantial questions about the Town’s alternatives review process.

Rather than allowing the review process to proceed based on only the information in the MEPA project file, Mr. Zubricki asked the MEPA Office to extend the public comment period further and the MEPA Office granted a second extension (four more weeks – through June 20, 2023). Our engineering consultant then supplemented the project file to provide all the information CZM referenced.  The TA discussed CZM’s comments with CZM personnel on May 24, 2023, and relayed to our consultant my observations on how to best address CZM’s questions.

Subsequently, on May 25, 2023, the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) reviewer working on the Superseding Order of Conditions (SOC) case contacted me to discuss options based upon the fact that the Town failed to acquire the necessary easements on abutting private property at the recent Annual Town Meeting.  The DEP suggested that one option would be for the Town to request that the DEP’s SOC review process be suspended until after the issue of easements is considered again at the Fall Town Meeting this coming November.  After consulting with Town Counsel, Mr. Zubricki made that request, and the DEP has granted it.

The MEPA Office cannot issue a project certificate until the DEP works out any pending SOC.  The TA contacted the MEPA reviewer and stated that the MEPA Office could not grant any further extensions on the current MEPA application and recommended that the Town withdraw the current MEPA application without prejudice and reapply in the fall after the Fall Town Meeting considers the easements.  Withdrawal without prejudice has been requested and granted.  The Town can now work with its consultants to address any issues that have turned up in the MEPA and DEP reviews thus far.  Approvals from both agencies could conceivably occur by the end of the calendar year so long as the easements are obtained via Town Meeting.

Further, in anticipation of the matter of easements on private property abutting the project coming back before Town Meeting in November, the TA has worked with our engineering consultant to begin the development of some visual aids.  The images can be put up on a large video screen at Town Meeting so that voters can fully appreciate the size of the easements necessary in areas that will in no way detract from the owners’ use of their properties.

Replacement of Town Hall Copier

At the last meeting, the Board authorized the ordering of a new copier for Town Hall using a special appropriation that was approved at the recent Annual Town Meeting.  The TA has been told that the lead time on the new unit is a few weeks.  The DPW plans to take the old copier and continue using it.

Request for Proposals for Summer Camp and Youth/Adult Enrichment Services

At the last meeting, the Board agreed that the TA should continue to put together a Request for Proposals document that will allow the Town to procure a vendor for summer camp and youth/adult enrichment services starting in 2024.  Given that the last RFP used for a 10-year summer camp services contract did not include youth and adult enrichment services, the TA has modified the RFP to include the additional services.

Clammers’ Beach Parking Layout

At the last meeting, the Board heard observations from a long-time Essex resident about the importance of beachside parking at Clammers’ Beach.  The resident was of the mind that only two parking places are now available, especially since the kayak racks have been placed to either side of the parking area.  The Board agreed that the TA should go out to the site and determine if there is a way to allow for three parking spaces.  On this site visit Zubricki observed that five concrete wheel stops are actually present, with three of the wheel stops not being optimally arranged.  It was clear that two of the wheel stops could be removed and three could be reset to provide a visual cue for three parking places without reconfiguring any other features.  As such, we reached out to the DPW, and that work has been completed.

Manchester Essex Regional School Committee Budget Reconsideration Hearing

The TA attended the subject hearing along with the Board, Essex Finance Committee members, Manchester personnel, and officials on May 23, 2023.  While many hearing participants urged the Committee not to reduce the budget, officials from both communities are requesting some compromise from the District, which could involve using reserves by the District, cuts, and reductions, or a combination of these elements.

Massachusetts Municipal Management Association Spring Conference

Mr. Zubricki attended the subject conference on Cape Cod on June 1 and 2, 2023.  The meeting featured a session on working with and managing others within an organization.  The conference also provided valuable networking opportunities with other municipal managers and a question-and-answer session with the Senior Deputy Commissioner of Local Services from the Department of Revenue.

Preliminary List of Fall Town Meeting Topics

Mr. Zubricki has developed a preliminary list of Fall Town Meeting topics for the Board’s review and discussion.

Apple Street Project Design/Permitting Grant Monthly Report

The TA worked with our engineering consultant to file the subject report for May during the week of May 29, 2023.  The report explains the intricacies of the DEP and MEPA permitting process and requests that some work items originally slated for completion during FY23 get moved into FY24.

Town Administrator Leave

The TA was out of the office, on leave, for the entire day on May 26.

Memorial Day Holiday

The office was closed on May 29, 2023, 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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