ADAMS, Mass. — Town Administrator Jay Green started off Wednesday night's Selectmen's meeting with a Covid-19 update.
Most of it was status quo with what the situation has been since the governor declared a state of emergency on March 10 to address the pandemic. What was different was that the meeting was held without an audience and citizens were asked to call in during the broadcast on Northern Berkshire Community Television.
"We're doing our best to respond in a calm and reasonable fashion [to the crisis]. Protect the public health, and provide continuity of essential services and municipal operations," Green said. "I did speak with Rep. [John] Barrett today, he's working incredibly hard to address this from a constituent standpoint in terms of the effect this will have. Our voices are being heard."
He reminded everyone that the restaurant and bar gathering ban is still fully in effect as well as the closure of all non-essential businesses. Essential businesses remain open but are required to adhere to the social distancing guidelines set forth by the state. They include but are not limited to, keeping at least 6 feet away from other individuals, no more than 10 people in an establishment at one time, etc. He said the town is absolutely on the lookout for any violations.
"Our Police Department and inspectional services are operating as normal and are out and about and watching. As a warning to everybody, please continue to adhere to the guidelines set forth," Green said.
He added that besides police and inspection, the wastewater treatment plant and the Department of Public Works continue to operate as normal ... almost.
The town has instituted new guidelines for the DPW. For the time being, employees will be operating under a split shift in order to minimize potential exposure. There will also be only one employee per truck allowed. Green, along with the DPW Superintendent Robert Tober, agreed this was the best solution to avoid a worst-case scenario.
"We just have to accept the fact that we're not going to get as much work done as we usually do this time of year. But if these guys get sick we'd be getting much less work done," Green said.
The state Legislature is working on several bills that will extend deadlines for budget proposals, town meetings, and elections among other things.
Green said although he is unsure what the exact revisions will look like, the town of Adams will be prepared for whatever happens.
"Thanks to Town Accountant Mary Beverly, who has a tremendous amount of institutional knowledge, I am prepared to present [the budget] to the Selectmen. We do anticipate that we will have anywhere from a 30-60 day extension (for the budget process)," he told the board. "It is our goal here as a staff to be ready to go as soon as we can. I expect provisions in the legislative acts to allow towns to operate past the July 1st deadline."
When Green was finished, Chairwoman Christine Hoyt provided contact information for the Northern Berkshire Regional Emergency Planning center, which is spearheading the effort locally to keep everyone informed and to assist with services people may need during the crisis.
Hoyt said the center can be reached at 413-662-3614 weekdays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Board members had questions about current business the town is conducting and how the almost total shutdown might affect it.
Selectman John Duval, participating remotely, inquired about the police chief search. Current Chief Richard Tarsa will be retiring in June after six years in the position.
Green said the process has started and he sees no reason it shouldn't continue that way for the immediate future.
"We're still accepting applications until March 27. Then the balance of the [vetting process] can probably be done remotely. Once that's done, we will have to figure out the next step," he said. "Perhaps by the time that's done, the situation might have changed."
Hoyt announced that one member of the search committee had to drop out and that anyone interested in stepping in should contact Town Hall.
The board approved a "payment in lieu of taxes" agreement with a proposed solar installment in the Grove Street area. PILOT agreements are common for solar projects as most are tax exempt but it is seen as a good and neighborly business practice to agree to some amount of financial remuneration with the host town. In this case that will be $58,650 annually for the next 20 years.
Town Counsel Edmund St. John III explained the delicate negotiations involved.
"A lot of times when you sign these agreements you wonder if you're getting the biggest bang for your buck. You don't really have much leverage when you're in the position that the town is in," he said. "You're negotiating with someone who doesn't have to pay you a dime. I thought Jay and the assessors did a good job."
The project has already been permitted and will begin construction soon. The first payment to the town will be in March 2021.
Green ended the meeting much like he began, talking about Covid-19.
"I'd like to thank our town staff, every department, every office, they've really pulled together. This is new for all of us. I also want to let the folks know that there is a tremendous amount of collaboration within our Northern Berkshire communities. The town of Adams is not alone. I speak with Mayor Bernard (North Adams) every day, Town Administrator St. John (Cheshire) frequently, we are all trying to align our responses, our planning, everything we do. I implore upon everyone to limit your travel, keep physical distance from everyone and I promise you we will all get through this."
The next meeting of the Adams Board of Selectmen will be Wednesday, April 1. Hoyt asked the public to check with the town's website for details.
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