The Plympton Board of Selectmen met remotely on Wednesday, May 6. Town Administrator Elizabeth Dennehy told the selectmen that she is working with staff to figure out the best way to safely reopen.
They are paying particular attention to any structural changes that may need to be implemented. Dennehy and Selectman John Traynor met with Library Director Debbie Batson to discuss possible changes such as droplet barriers. Dennehy also said that Amazon sells large sneeze guards that might be useful for a temporary change to townhouse offices with large counters.
For those offices without counters, work has already begun to trim the doors and alter them into a Dutch style door where the top can remain open.
This alteration would allow business to be conducted through the door. Dennehy said they are also looking into what kind of face coverings will be required for the employees.
The Plympton Highway Department has resumed normal business hours but are still following social distancing protocols. One of those protocols is limiting vehicles to just one person. The department has begun their regular seasonal mowing.
Memorial Day activities postponed
The selectmen also discussed postponing the usual Memorial Day events in town. They had previously discussed moving the events to Veteran’s Day as other local communities have elected to do. Selectman Mark Russo said that he absolutely agreed that the events needed to be postponed but suggested making Veteran’s Day a tentative date with a firm one to come later. He said that if possible to hold the events sooner than Veteran’s Day, it might be a good opportunity to celebrate getting past the adversity that has been posed by the pandemic.
Tree loss on Green
The selectmen also voted to remove the tree that is down at the town green. Dennehy said she would find out if grinding the stump is a possibility. Russo said, “It is not infrequent when a tree comes down anywhere in town, but particularly the town green, that there are one or two citizens that get pretty upset.” He continued, “ That’s the reason we waited a week and got it on the agenda, moreover, any of us that have seen this tree it’s amazing it didn’t come down in the last week… this isn’t a debatable one and there’s no way that we could be held in any way but the highest judgement to get rid of that tree.”
Town Barn roof replacement
Selectmen Chair Christine Joy made a motion to open the town warrant to insert an emergency article to replace the roof and insulation at the town barn. The selectmen voted to do so before making a motion to close the town warrant immediately.
Free and reduced lunch program continues
Chair of the Plympton School Committee Jon Wilhelmsen was in attendance and gave an update on the schools. Wilhelmsen said that the chairs of the various school committees met with the administrators to discuss the ongoing free and reduced lunch program which has continued despite the school closures. The food service director requested that the program be opened to anyone who needs the assistance right now rather than limiting it to just those that had previously qualified.
Wilhelmsen also said that he had requested that the school budget be amended to adjust for items that are being put into the special town meeting as well as the actual numbers from the new bus contract.
Raises for town employees
The Selectmen and Dennehy were joined by Chair of the Finance Committee Nathaniel Sides and Committee member Marilyn Browne to discuss the FY21 budget. Dennehy said they were considering a 1.6 percent cost of living adjustment across the board for town employees. Dennehy said that she felt that it was a “defensible” number even after going over all the numbers with the town accountant. She said that it was actually a net decrease due to the rising cost of insurance. “From my perspective, it is also about building up some goodwill with the employees,” Dennehy explained. Russo noted, “Even the 1.6 percent cost of living increase is going to ruffle feathers a little.”
Sides said that it has been an extremely challenging time for the Finance Committee. After wrapping up the budget previously, they were looking at about a 3.8 percent increase. Sides said, “There were some asks from some various departments that we were supportive of and still would be in a perfect world.” He continued saying that it would be difficult to stand in front of residents, many of whom are without jobs, and propose a budget that was arrived at through normal means. “I think our committee realizes we need to take another look at everything and come back to the townsfolk with a revised budget,” he finished.
All were in agreement that fiscal year 2022 is going to be the more challenging year. “I think the bigger problem is going to be next year and kind of managing people’s expectations,” Dennehy said. Speaking of 2022, Traynor said, “I’m very pessimistic about it.” Dennehy said that they would likely have to continue the freeze for non-essential items through next year especially given the possibility of another wave of the virus. Dennehy did say that some items, such as vacation overages, should be reimbursable but noted that reimbursement can sometimes take up to two years. She said the town has been maintaining records for those items.
Russo asked if the town had any indication how much of the $90 million received by Plymouth County under the federal CARES Act might go to Plympton. Dennehy said, “We don’t unfortunately, and I just hope that whatever the process is, it’s transparent and its nonpolitical and every community gets what they rightly deserve.” The Plymouth County Commissioners have elected to distribute the $90 million themselves rather than letting the state distribute the money to municipalities as most other counties have done. The Halifax selectmen and town administrator expressed their frustration with the commissioners’ decision during one of their meetings.
New Normal committee eyed
Traynor said that it would probably be a good idea to form a committee to address how the town should plan for the “new normal.” Joy said that the Old Colony Planning Council had sent out a survey to help in coming up with a plan for maximizing resources, serving the town, and establishing a new normal.
Dennehy said that many surrounding towns have been moving their town meetings outdoors with alternate rain dates available. They have also been moving them earlier in the day in order to take advantage of daylight. The town moderator had concerns about moving the start time to 5pm, however, as it could impede on some residents’ ability to attend. Traynor suggested the possibility of holding it on a Saturday. Russo said he was going to take the minority position saying, “I think the less variables we have the better… I could make the case we said the seventeenth and we just make that happen.” Joy said she would like more time to think it over before deciding. If a town meeting doesn’t occur before June 30, the town will have to go to a 1/12 budgeting scenario.