10 Takeaways From The March 13 Select Board Meeting: Town To Try To Buy Sciarappa Farm With Eye Towards Fire Substation & Possible Ice Rink

WILMINGTON, MA — Below are 10 takeaways from the Wilmington Select Board Meeting held on Monday, March 13, 2023 at 7pm in Room 9 of Town Hall.

The Select Board met in Executive Session prior to the meeting to discuss pending litigation regarding 773 Salem Street (Shea Concrete) and the potential purchase of some or all of 333 Andover Street (Sciarappa Farm).

All members were present. Selectwoman Lil Maselli participated virtually.

#1) Several Wilmington Girl Scout Brownies were on hand to ask the Select Board and Town Manager questions as part of their “Democracy For Brownies” journey. These third grade covered a wide variety of topics in their questioning, including the replacement of the Butters Row Bridge, the future of the Wildwood Early Childhood Center, and the history of the Town Seal. Additional questions included: Why doesn’t Wilmington have a splash pad?; Will the Ice Skating Rink ever return at Rotary Park; and How do residents pay property taxes after they retire?

Select Board Chair Judy O’Connell explained the role of the Board, and noted that there is a lot of misconceptions about the Board’s power and purview. She also encouraged the youngsters to do their own research, noting not everything you read or hear is necessarily true, and noted that sometimes the world isn’t always kind. Board members encouraged the girls to consider running for office in the future. O’Connell added that the very room the Select Board meetings are held in was her first grade classroom.

#2) Wilmington Health Director Shelly Newhouse announced Wilmington recently formed a tri-town coalition with Burlington and Lexington in order to receive a Public Health Excellence Grant in the amount of $300,000 per year, for the next three years, with an opportunity to extend for an additional three years (six total).

The grant will fund shared services which align with the goals of the state’s Department of Public Health. The three communities are currently working on identifying deficiencies and gaps in public health services provided to residents. Once the “capacity assessment” is complete in May, the communities will develop a plan to utilize the funds.

Initially, Newhouse believes some of the grant will support a tobacco inspector who  provides training to all establishments in town that sells tobacco. The position is currently funded by a different grant, with funds expected to expire in June. Newhouse believes the grant will also pay for translation services on an as-needed basis, as well having an epidemiologist to consult for future disease outbreaks. A services coordinator to administer the grant has already been hired, and will be headquartered in Burlington. The Burlington Health Department will serve as the fiscal agent.

Newhouse is open to input if residents have suggestions on how to use some of the grant funding. Select Chair Judy O’Connell noted that the need for mental health services is off the charts, adding that there are not enough clinicians in the private sector with availability for new patients.

The tri-town agreement has been reviewed by Town Counsel and is in the process of getting signed by the Chairs of each community’s Board of Health and Select Board.

#3) Wilmington Health Director Shelly Newhouse announced that Wilmington was randomly selected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as one of the seven towns in the Middlesex County to participate in the National Health & Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES).

NHANES visits 15 counties every year — examining 5,000 Americans. Officials conduct home visits, followed by physical exams in mobile examination centers (trailers). The results help health policy makers and physicians discover trends in health and nutrition. More than 240,000 have participated over the lifetime of the program. Participants are provided with a debit card as a token of appreciation, plus they receive their results, which they can share with their doctors.

“30 homes will be selected randomly in Wilmington. They will receive something in the mail announcing that they were selected to participate, with a link to register. My job is to make sure people in the community don’t think it’s a scam,” explained Newhouse.

The in-home interviews will take place in June. Exams will take place nearby at the Burlington Marriott during the summer. Newhouse was not sure of the identities of all participating Massachusetts communities, but knows Cambridge and Lawrence are on the list.

“This is incredibly excited,” added Board of Health Vice Chair Dr. Jane Williams. “NHANES data has been used since the 1960s to formulate and help physicians decide the health of Americans – high blood pressure, diabetes, mental health, etc. To have Wilmington be a part of this data collection is really cool.”

#4) Wilmington Economic Development Committee Chair Mike Champoux and Wilmington Planning & Conservation Director Valerie Gingrich provided the Select Board with an update on the Committee’s recent work.

Champoux explained that, under the state’s local rapid recovery program, Wilmington businesses were surveyed and it was discovered that one of their top desires was a shared marketing campaign. The Select Board allocated $50,000 from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds to support such a campaign. The Economic Development Committee issued a request for proposal (RFP) in May 2022 and hired a local firm, Stirling Brandworks. The firm spoke with business owners, residents and town officials — and consulted results of a variety of Wilmington surveys — to produce a brand identity for Wilmington. A new tag line — “It Starts Here” — was created.

Champoux and Gingrich unveiled a new website as part of the campaign, which aims to assist existing Wilmington businesses and attract new businesses to town. The website can be found at https://www.itstartshere.wilmingtonma.gov. The website features marketing tools that local businesses can download for free to participate in the campaign. There is also a video, entitled “Discover Wilmington,” promoting some of the town’s crown jewels, including Analog Devices, Tremezzo Ristorante, and the Fun on the Fourth celebration. The site includes a webform which allows current and prospective businesses to easily contact the planning department.

Stirling Brandworks will run a paid campaign on Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn during the months of April, May and June. The Economic Development Committee will also promote the “It Starts Here” campaign through local and regional media and press, as well as with the Wilmington-Tewksbury Chamber of Commerce and the Wilmington Memorial Library. Committee members may also go door-to-door to visit local businesses with marketing assets to give away.

“We look to support local businesses with shared marketing to get more people into their storefronts, as well as attract new businesses in key areas, like restaurants & experiential entertainment,” said Planning Director Valerie Gingrich. “I hope we get serious inquires from folks wanting to open businesses in those important sectors.”

Gingrich said the Economic Development Committee will report back on the success of the campaign. Champoux encouraged board members — and residents — to help make the campaign go viral on social media when it begins in April. O’Connell noted that there may be additional ARPA funds available down the line for other economic development committee initiatives.

#5) The Select Board, Town Manager Jeff Hull, and Police Chief Joe Desmond had a lengthy discussion regarding the funding of the police department’s tasers.

The Town purchased tasers from a company called Axon five years ago. The town was offered two funding arrangements at the time. The town opted to pay approximately $107,000 to receive a taser for every officer, with a five-year warranty, and an annual amount of accessories/cartridges provided. This was referred to as the “TAP Program.” At the end of the five years, it was believed the town could receive a brand new taser — at the same current model — for every officer at no cost, under another five-year warranty, or attain credits to be used towards the purchase of a newer taser model, also under a five-year warranty.

“The devil is in the details,” noted Desmond, as it was recently discovered that (a) the taser company will only provide a one-year warranty, not a five-year warranty, if the town receives  brand new tasers at the current model and (b) the company has indicated it may soon stop providing maintenance and support on the model of taser the department uses, which would necessitate an upgrade. The Town, nor the company, has been able to locate the signed agreement from five years ago, and both the marketing reps and the police leadership has since changed. Additionally, while Desmond has been pleased with the product itself, he notes that he’s less impressed with the company’s sales team, which was reportedly attempting to hurry the Town into making a decision.

“The Axon taser is the gold standard. The product is very good. We’re having issues with their marketing practices, but I would stick with them. I think their [product] is that good,” reiterated Desmond. “The sales part has been frustrating… Their sales reps change quite a bit.”

Desmond noted there is nothing wrong with the tasers at this point, but it is advisable to replace the tasers at the five-year mark and a decision needs to be made in the next year on how to proceed. He noted the newer model is the superior product — you can shoot further, it’s quicker to shoot a second cartridge after a misfire, and the charge is a little stronger. With these advantages, however, comes cost considerations.

“I need to make decision within the next year of where we want to go with the program. As Chief, I have to balance fiscal responsibility versus getting officers the best equipment for them to do their job,” said Desmond.

“Bottom line is we sold [the taser program] to taxpayers for $118,000,” said Finance Committee Marianne Gallezzo, who was in the audience. “We said we wouldn’t have to spend any more money for tasers for 10 years. This was told to the Select Board, the Finance Committee, and the taxpayers… We prepaid $118,000 for 110 tasers over the 10-year period. This company is now coming back to us and saying they’re not going to honor it.”

Select Board members Kevin Caira and Greg Bendel shared those sentiments.

“The taxpayer was told, up front, what the deal was. I think we should honor that deal. That’s my own personal opinion,” said Caira.

“I agree, but there’s a difference of opinion on what the deal was five years ago,” responded Desmond. “[Axon] thinks they’re honoring the commitment. We’re getting free tasers at the end of deal, but they’re only going to give a warranty for one year. That’s what they’re teling us. That’s what we’re telling us.”

In response to questions from Selectwoman Judy O’Connell and Selectman Bendel, Desmond noted that Axon seems to have a monopoly in the police taser industry.

“They’re the only game in town,” admitted Desmond. “As a result, they get to make some of the rules.”

In good news, Desmond reported that only six tasers have had to be serviced in five years, and that one of those tasers were damaged as a result of an officer jumping into Silver Lake during a drowning.

Desmond will keep the Board and the Finance Committee up-to-date as the decision process continues.

#6) The Select Board closed and signed the warrant for the Annual Town Meeting on Saturday, April 29, 2023. But before finalizing the warrant, members made two significant changes:

  • The board added Article 40, which — if approved — would allow the town to acquire by gift, purchase, eminent domain, or other means, all or part of the property at 333 Andover Street (Sciarappa Farm). The land would be used for municipal purposes, including — but not limited to — a fire/police substation and active & passive recreation uses. There was no dollar amount mentioned during the discussion.
  • The board also added Article 31, which — if approved — would fund the design, engineering and replacement of the roof at the Harnden Tavern. This project is estimated to cost $98,000. Hull noted that, already in the warrant, the Tavern will receive new windows, as well as a new roof for the Carriage House next to the Tavern.

Additionally, the Select Board voted to decrease its pre-payment to the Middlesex County Retirement System (Article 38) by $500,000, and add that money to the town’s Capital Stabilization Fund. The Town will still be allocating $1.24 million to the retirement system above its required payment. The Finance Committee still needs to weigh in on this change, but the Town Manager does not believe the change will have any negative impact to the otwn.

#7) Under ‘Communications,’ Town Manager Jeff Hull provided the Select Board with a number of memos and letters on a variety of topics:

  • Hull provided a brief update on maintenance efforts at town buildings, addressing issues recently raised by Selectman Kevin Caira over some of the town’s non-school buildings. “In my estimation, the town is paying attention to all of our buildings, while recognizing [we have] limited resources.” Hull stressed that the town’s Public Buildings Department has significant responsibilities, responsible for over 750,000 square feet of space. He noted that the Harnden Tavern, a topic of concern for Caira, has had its handicap accessible platform, gutters, and downspouts all replaced in the recent past.
  • Hull provided a quarterly update from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regarding the Olin Chemical Superfund Site.
    • The comment period for the Community Involvement Plan ended on January 18, 2023. The EPA is currently reviewing comments, and expects to issue the Plan this the Spring.
    • At the direction of the EPA, Olin has collecting data gap information for 2021 & 2022 to characterize the depth and shape of the bedrock, which will assist the remediation plan. The treatability plan is also ongoing, with EPA experimenting with different methods to address the dapple.
    • The EPA and Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) continue to negotiate with potentially liable parties to reach a consent order to finance the cleanup.
  • Hull noted that, based on the Governor’s current plan, Wilmington will receive $786,000 from the state for the next two fiscal years in Chapter 90 funding, which will support local road and bridge projects in town.

#8) The Select Board approved all of its Board Requests on the agenda, including

  • a request of the Wilmington Farmers Market Association to use the Swain Green to conduct a Farmers Market on Sundays, from 10am to 1pm, from June 11, 2023 through October 1, 2023. The Market will be held at the Yentile Farm Recreational Facility on July 2 as to not conflict with the Fun on the Fourth festivities.
  • a request to illuminate the Town Common blue during the month of April in observance of Autism Awareness.
  • a request from the Wilmington Band Parents and Friends to sell coffee, donuts, popcorn, cold drinks, pompoms and balloons during the Memorial Day Parade.
  • a request from the WOW Junior Club to use the Town Common on Saturday, April 8, 2023 at 2pm for an Easter Egg Hunt.
  • a request from the Wilmington Sons of Italy to use the Municipal Parking Lot and Fourth of July Building on Saturday, April 1, 2023, from 8am to 4pm, and Sunday, April 2, 2023, from 8am to 4pm, for a Drive-Thru Diaper Donation.
  • a request from the Wilmington Public Schools Choral & Theater Support (WPS CATS) Parent Group to place signs on various town properties to promote Wilmington High’s upcoming “School of Rock” musical.
  • a request from the Middlesex County Retirement System to a provide a one-time COLA (cost of living adjustment) to retirees of 5% instead of 3%.

#9) Under ‘Public Comments,’ Select Board candidate Frank West spoke. As a captain in the Wilmington Minutemen, he invited residents, the Select Board, and the Town Manager to the Annual Installation of Minutemen Officers on Sunday, March 26, 2023 at noon at Minutemen Headquarters, located behind the Harnden Tavern (430 Salem Street). The ceremony lasts approximately 20 minutes, with light refreshments to follow. Learn more about the Wilmington Minutemen HERE.

#10) The Select Board recognized Wilmington Fire Chief William F. Cavanaugh III during its ‘Salute To Service.’ Selectman Greg Bendel presented Cavanaugh with a citation, thanking him for his service in the U.S. Navy, from 2002 to 2006, as a Petty Officer, 2nd Class. Bendel also thanked Cavanaugh, a lifelong resident, for his service to the community, serving as a Firefighter (2007-2014), Lieutenant (2014-2018), Deputy Chief (2018-2020), and Chief (2020-present). Bendel noted that Cavanaugh was sworn in as Chief exactly 3 years ago today.

The meeting lasted nearly three hours. The Board’s next meeting is scheduled for Monday, March 27, 2023 at 7pm.

The Select Board met in Executive Session after the meeting to discuss collective bargaining with the firefighters union.

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