The Board of Selectmen on Monday featured a discussion on the special town meeting vote regarding the Spruces.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The town manager cleared up a misconception Monday about the coming special town meeting that will ask residents whether to accept possession of the Spruces Mobile Home Park property.
Although the town has the power to say yes or no to the land acquisition, the vote will not impact whether the Federal Emergency Management Agency grant will go forward, Peter Fohlin explained in response to questions from residents at Monday's Board of Selectmen meeting.
"The grant has already been accepted by the Board of Selectmen," Fohlin said. "Grant acceptance is not dependent on town meeting. The reason we have to have a special town meeting is because neither the town manager nor the School Committee nor the Board of Selectmen can participate in a real estate transaction."
He continued, "all real estate transactions have to go to town meeting so the people who own the land can make a decision. If they don't wish to own that land, the land will stay with Morgan Management, and Morgan Management will have to figure out what to do with it."
Rochester, N.Y.,-based Morgan negotiated a memorandum of understanding with the town in which Morgan will receive $600,000 out of the $6.1 million federal Hazard Mitigation Grant. The rest would go to residents of the park and the town, and the town — if voters say yes — would receive the land along with the responsibility to return it to a natural state.
If voters reject the acquisition?
"[The grant money] would go to Morgan Management," Fohlin said. "Morgan Management would end up with $4.1 million if we don't accept the land."
Fohlin's explanation came in response to questions from Stratton Road residents Suzanne Kemple and Kenneth Swiatek. Kemple was reacting to the news, as reported Monday by Fohlin, that the town's agreement with Morgan needs to be modified in light of a recent FEMA decision.
Town Manager Peter Fohlin explaining what the vote will mean.
The town had asked whether it could take possession of the land this year and receive an extension on the grant requirement that the property be maintained as open space within 90 days of the title transfer.
Since FEMA is going to hold the town to that 90-day requirement, Fohlin said it is working out new language that will hold off on the transfer until March 2016. The plan still is for the town to manage the park in the interim for those residents who choose not to vacate immediately, he said.
In other grant-related news, Fohlin said that the town is continuing to go through a procurement process to hire a relocation recovery agent to assist current Spruces residents and facilitate the disbursement of residents' share of the FEMA grant money.
"It has to be a competitive, open Chapter 30B procurement process," Fohlin said of efforts to hire the agent. "I have a list of people who are known to have these qualifications, but I can't pick up the phone and hire somebody like an employee. I have to go through -- I'll call it a bidding process."
"The person that we select has to be approved by the [Massachusetts] Department of Housing and Community Development before we can hire them."
Fohlin said he did not have a timetable for naming the relocation agent.
The timetable for the special town meeting is also to be determined. Fohlin said it is likely the Board of Selectmen will have a warrant to approve for the meeting at its Oct. 28 meeting with a meeting anticipated some time in November.
The board's next meeting will be held at a special time and on a different day -- Oct. 15 at 5 p.m.
The board routinely moves its twice-monthly meetings to a Tuesday to accommodate holidays, and its next regular Monday coincides with Columbus Day. But this week, it was announced that the Williamstown Fire District (a separate governing body) has scheduled a special meeting for Tuesday, Oct. 15, at 7 p.m. at the Elementary School.
The district will ask voters whether they will approve borrowing $575,000 to purchase the 3.7-acre parcel on Main Street currently owned by the estate of Kurt Lehovic.
John Notsley, who chairs the Prudential Committee, notified the Selectmen of the potential conflict. Board of Selectmen Chairwoman Jane Allen consulted her colleagues about their availability for the earlier meeting time.
Notsley also addressed the board Monday along with Andrew Hogeland, with whom Notsley serves on a joint town-Fire District Public Safety Building Study Committee. The committee requested and received permission to spend up to $25,000 to evaluate space needs for a proposed police station and assess sites for their suitability to host either a police station or a combined police and fire station.
At May's annual town meeting, the town approved spending $160,000 from the unreserved fund balance to fund preliminary police station design work.
In other business Monday evening, Allen used the meeting to notify residents of a potential phone scam involving callers who claim to be from Microsoft and are seeking online access to residents' home computers to fix a purported virus.
"According to Microsoft ... neither Microsoft nor its partners make unsolicited phone calls," Allen reported. "I know about [the scam] because I got such a phone call. A man called identifying himself as being from tech support and said my computer had a virus. ... Thankfully, I realized this didn't sound quite right, so I told him I was very suspicious and hung up the phone."