WILMINGTON, MA — At their emergency meeting on Friday night, the Wilmington Board of Selectmen unanimously declared a local state of emergency.
“The move will give the town increased financial flexibility if we need it to get through this crisis and still maintain a high level of service,” explained Selectmen Chair Greg Bendel.
The Declaration reads as follows:
WHEREAS, the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) is a highly contagious and potentially fatal respiratory disease, the prevalence of which is increasing rapidly throughout the world, inclusive of the United States and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts; and
WHEREAS, on March 11, 2020 the World Health Organization designated the COVID-19 outbreak a Pandemic Health Emergency; and
WHEREAS, on March 10, 2020, the Governor of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts issued a Declaration of a State of Emergency to Respond to COVID-19; and
WHEREAS, on March 13, 2020, the President of the United States announced a national declaration of emergency; and
WHEREAS, on March 15, 2020, Governor Baker announced emergency actions to respond to the evolving COVID-19 public health emergency impacting the Commonwealth, including prohibitions on public gatherings of twenty-five or more people and prohibiting on-premises consumption of food or drink at bars and restaurants from March 17, 2020 until April 6, 2020, as well as suspension of elementary and secondary school educational operations from March 17, 2020 until April 6, 2020; and
WHEREAS, the Board of Selectmen the Town of Wilmington, Massachusetts in consultation with other municipal officials has determined that COVID-19 presents a major disaster which poses an immediate threat to public health, safety, and general welfare of people residing both within and outside of Town of Wilmington; and
WHEREAS, the Board of Selectmen of the Town of Wilmington, Massachusetts has determined that immediate public action is needed in order to prevent or minimize the spread of COVID-19 by and among the people of Town of Wilmington; and
WHEREAS, it is critical to take additional steps to prepare for, respond to, and mitigate the spread of COVID-19 to protect the health and welfare of the people of Wilmington; and
WHEREAS, declaring a state of emergency will facilitate and expedite the use of resources to protect persons from the impacts of COVID-19, including but not limited to emergency expenditures pursuant to Massachusetts General Laws, Chapter 44, Section 31 and limitations on operating hours and access to public buildings; and
WHEREAS, the Board of Selectmen of the Town of Wilmington, Massachusetts recommend that a state of emergency be declared in the Town of Wilmington.
NOW THEREFORE, we, Board of Selectmen of the Wilmington, Massachusetts, hereby declare that as of March 20, 2020, a state of emergency exists in the Town of Wilmington. This declaration of emergency shall remain in effect until further notice is given, pursuant to our judgment that the conditions leading to this declaration no longer exist.
Selectmen Chair Greg Bendel noted that several communities in the area have already taken this action, including Billerica on Thursday and Tewksbury on Friday morning. He added that Town Counsel feels this is an appropriate step for the board to take. Bendel added that the town is very lucky to have the free cash reserves that it does. “You can consider this a rainy day,” he said. Town Manager Jeff Hull noted some of the costs the town is spending on the COVID-19 response will be reimbursed by FEMA.
Below are 25 other takeaways from the meeting, which updated the community on the latest information regarding the COVID-19 health crisis and the town’s response to date:
Selectman Greg Bendel stressed residents should sign up for the town’s emergency alert program. The town will also provide information through its website, its Twitter account, the Board of Health’s Facebook page, the Police Department’s Facebook page, the Fire Department’s Facebook page, the Police Department’s Twitter page, the Fire Department’s Twitter page, and Wilmington Community Television. The town will also provide their updates to the Town Crier and Wilmington Apple.
Bendel thanked the School Department for the work they’ve done to keep Wilmington’s children safe and engaged outside the walls of the schools. He also praised the school system for providing meals to children in need. Bendel praised Superintendent Dr. Glenn Brand and School Committee Chairwoman Jennifer Bryson for their leadership. He noted he’s in frequent contact with Bryson.
Bendel thanked the local business community for stepping up to help residents. He noted that several Wilmington pizza places were featured on the news for their efforts. Bendel also thanked the grocery stores for their performances and altering their hours to accommodate senior shoppers. Bendel encouraged residents to support local restaurants by taking advantage of their take-out and delivery options.
Bendel praised the town’s Public Buildings Department, which cleaned and disinfected 700,000+ square feet of town buildings in less than 5 days — all schools on March 12 & 13, Senior Center, 4th of July Building, and former Arts Center on March 13, Town Hall on March 14, and the Library on March 16. He thanked their maintenance and custodial crew for their hard work.
Bendel thanked the town’s first responders for working around the clock to keep residents safe. He also praised the town’s Crisis Management Team, which is chaired by Fire Chief Bill Cavanaugh, for their leadership and coordination. “It’s been quite a first first week for the Chief,” noted Bendel.
Health Director Shelley Newhouse reported there were no positive cases of COVID-19 in Wilmington. The three presumption positives from last week came back negative. She encouraged the public to continue “the great job” they’re already doing with social distancing and hand-washing. Newhouse warns residents that the state and county are going to see a spike in positives now that more testing is available, but it will eventually flatten out if precautionary measures are followed. She noted she is fortunate to have such a great staff. Selectman Eaton noted the Health Department’s work is greatly appreciated by everyone in the community.
Bendel noted he recently had a conference call with the Town Manager, Town Counsel, Finance Committee Chair John Doherty, and Town Moderator Rob Peterson. As a result of the conversation, the big Planning Board and Finance Committee’s Public Hearing has been postponed to Tuesday, May 12, 2020 at 7pm in the Town Hall Auditorium, while the Annual Town Meeting has been postponed to Saturday, May 30, 2020 at 10:30am in the Joanne Benton Memorial Auditorium at Wilmington High. Bendel noted the dates are subject to change if the virus continues to require social distancing measures.
Bendel noted he’s in constant conversation with the Town Manager. They speak multiple times a day. They recently spoke more than 10 times in one day. Bendel’s colleagues praised the Town Manager’s communication throughout the crisis. “We feel like we’ve been in the loop,” said Selectwoman Jomarie O’Mahony.
Town Manager Jeff Hull announced that the town’s buildings will continue to operate without access to the public. “This is no means intended to be punitive in anyway, but a safety precaution,” stressed Hull, “We’re going to continue in this mode until it appears we’re able to reopen or until there is notice from the Governor of a shelter in place order.” Town Hall will be “open” from 8:30am-4:30pm, while Library, Senior Center, and Veterans Department will operate from 9am to 5pm. Staff remains reachable by phone and email during those times. Hull encouraged people to use the drop box next to the Main Entrance at Town Hall.
Town officials have been planning for the prospect of a shelter in place order, which would restrict the number of people who can work at Town Hall. Hull has identified five individuals that are critical to maintaining the town’s key operations. Under a stay-at-home situation, the Town Manager, Assistant Town Manager, Payroll Benefits Coordinator, Town Finance Director, and one of the Director’s assistants would come in on Tuesdays & Fridays to prepare warrants, process payroll and pay vendors. All five would also be able to work securely from home, but some of this work must be done in-person. Police, fire and dispatch would continue to operate 24/7.
Hull noted the town has temporarily closed all town parks, playgrounds, courts, walking areas, and all passive and active town-owned recreation spaces in order to minimize the opportunity for people to gather together.
Hull stressed that Russell Disposal will continue their trash and recycling collection on a normal schedule. Curbside collection and the Town Yard Waste Center openings will proceed as planned in April.
Hull noted the Senior Center is closed to the public, but the Elderly Services Department continues to operate. All programs for the next 30 days have been cancelled or postponed, including the AARP Tax Prep program. Homebound delivery of lunches continues, but is now being coordinated through Minutemen Senior Services. Transportation remains available for wellness visits. Care packages were recently delivered to seniors. Hull also thanked the Wilmington Panera Bread for recently donating meals to the seniors at Deming Way.
Hull noted that the lobby to the Public Safety Building remains open to the public, but access to the rest of the building is limited. The department has cancelled its weekly car seat installation program. All licensing and finger printing appointments have been postponed. Meanwhile, Board of Health inspections continue as needed.
Hull noted all library programs have been cancelled through April 10. The book return has been closed as staff encourages patrons to keep their items. There will be no penalties for overdue items. The library is promoting its digital services during its building closure.
Hull noted that the town is proceeding as if the local election (with no contested races) will be held as scheduled on Saturday, April 25. However, the Secretary of State has filled a bill that allow municipalities to alter their election dates. If approved by the state legislature, the town may consider moving this date. Hull noted April 6, 2020 is the last day to register to vote in the election. The Town Clerk’s Office can help those looking to register. Hull noted many of the Town Clerk’s services often requested by can be completed online, rather than in-person. Hull added that the Town Clerk is working the Town’s IT Director to develop a Facebook page for some of the town departments as an additional means of communication with residents.
Hull reported that all programs and trips in the Recreation Department have been cancelled at least through April 1. Many programs were stopped in mid-session once the schools were closed. Hull noted the Department is not purchasing any tickets to upcoming performances or theaters as there’s a 25% non-redundable cost and too much uncertainty surrounding the duration of the virus. “Things are changing by the hour, and sometimes, more frequently than that,” noted Hull.
Fire Chief Bill Cavanaugh noted the Town’s Crisis Management Team is doing its best to keep informed with what the DPH, CDC, and Governor are putting out, and making every effort to keep the public and town employees safe.
Cavanaugh stressed that crisis services from Samantha Reif and Lou Cimaglia are still available. “If you’re having a tough time, give us a call, and we’ll point you in the their direction.”
Cavanaugh noted that the town’s first responders are taking additional precautions. If the situation isn’t life threatening, personnel are acting very deliberately. “Please be as honest as you can with your symptoms,” added Cavanaugh. “If you’re calling for a police issue, for example, but someone is sick, we don’t want incidental exposure. We’re trying to keep our first responders safe.”
Regarding medical and sanitary supplies, Hull noted the town is currently in “decent shape,” but if the situation goes on awhile, “we’re going to have a problem.” Cavanaugh noted that if residents have N-95 masks, surgical masks, gloves, and/or disposable eye protection laying around at home, they can bring them to the Public Safety Building’s lobby. If the departments’ supply levels are good, the materials will be forwarded to Winchester, Lahey and Boston hospitals, which are facing critical shortages. Selectman Jonathan Eaton praised the Wilmington Library for attempting to make N-95 masks with its 3D Printer, but the machine was too small to do so.
Selectman Mike McCoy asked the Town Manager if he would consider a grace period for the upcoming April 1 property tax bill deadline. Hull responded that real estate taxes (and excise taxes) have payment deadlines and associated elements that are established by the state legislature. The town doesn’t have the ability to waive taxes; those rules, requirements and deadlines are up to the legislature. McCoy asked Hull to send a letter to Wilmington’s state legislative delegation to act.
Hull noted he’s working with the Town’s IT Department on establishing the capability of holding remote meetings for various town boards, committees, and commissions. He added that the town would use the Zoom video conferencing tool. Selectmen agreed on Monday, March 30 at 7pm as their next meeting. They hope to meet in-person, but will meet virtually if necessary. WCTV will air the meeting live in either format.
Selectman Kevin Caira noted that Wilmington is once again coming together during difficult times. He encourages residents to donate food or money to the Wilmington Food Pantry.
Selectman Greg Bendel stressed that the Board of Selectmen’s top priority is the health and wellness of the community and the town’s personnel. “Staying home is the least we can do to keep our families and community safe,” said Bendel. “Let’s make the best of it. Enjoy spending time and reconnecting with your immediate family…. Stay safe and stay informed.”
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