Chair of the Plympton Board of Health Art Morin reported to selectmen at their first meeting of the new year to speak to the COVID situation in town. Morin said that the numbers that the Board of Health have been supplying to Dennehy come directly from MAVEN, the secure web-based surveillance and case management system for infectious diseases in Massachusetts. Morin told the selectmen Plympton saw its highest monthly total of 11 positive cases in December. He went on to say that as of that day there were 8 total cases for Plympton in MAVEN in January with another two not yet listed in the system reported. “That brings us to 10 and it’s only the eleventh of January,” Morin said. Morin also told the selectmen that he has “gone old school” using a hardcopy calendar to track cases per day as it is “foolproof.”
Morin also made a point of stating that he believes that most of the spikes in cases are coming from people gathering over the holidays rather than from establishments like grocery stores and even restaurants. Regarding spread of the virus, Morin said, “…that’s the fastest way to do it, groups in small spaces.”
Wilhelmsen, who serves as Chair of the Plympton School Committee, provided an update on COVID in the school district. The number of total cases throughout Silver Lake Regional District was 28 leading into the week of Christmas. According to Wilhelmsen, as of Monday’s meeting that number had climbed to 109. While Dennett has been fortunate to have only a small number of cases, Wilhelmsen said, “but if the numbers keep climbing everywhere else, they’re going to climb there too.”
Chair of the Dennett C.A.S.A. (Community and School Association) Sarah Prario joined the Plympton selectmen during their Monday, Jan. 11 virtual meeting. The selectmen have recently started a new tradition of inviting a representative from a different town organization to each meeting to provide an update. Prario spoke about the challenges posed by the pandemic saying, “We haven’t been able to do pretty much anything that was on our usual schedule, but we are adapting as necessary.” Prario said that that they have been able to continue with their luncheons for staff which they have been attempting to hold every month. Prario said that some local businesses have been providing the funding as C.A.S.A. doesn’t feel it is an appropriate time to fundraise from families.
Currently, the C.A.S.A. meetings are being held virtually over ZOOM and attended by only five or so people. Prario said that once in-person meetings resume, she would like to maintain the ZOOM option for those who may be unable to attend in-person. Prario also told the selectmen that C.A.S.A. has recently been granted 501c3 status designating them as a nonprofit organization which enables them to receive contributions including grants. Prario said that the organization was eager to do fundraising for other areas within the community. “You guys do great work and you do really tangible work,” Selectmen Chair Mark Russo said. “We’re grateful to have such a great community,” Prario replied.
Town Administrator Elizabeth Dennehy provided an update on the town’s newest project – “What Makes Plympton Unique.” She said they kicked off the project that day on the town Facebook page highlighting the Plympton Kindness Tree. Several years ago, resident Stephani Teran and her son thought up the idea to have a tree on their property during the holiday season where community members could stop by and place kind sentiments about people or things in the town within a glass ornament and hang it from the tree. Writing utensils, paper, and ornaments are supplied as well as sanitizer this year. At the end of the holiday season, Teran would give a nice accounting of the things that were written. Dennehy will continue to highlight the things that make Plympton unique on the town Facebook page.
The selectmen then turned their attention to various priorities in town with Chair of the Town Properties Committee Jon Wilhelmsen leading off the discussion. Wilhelmsen said that the Committee has been working with their consultant Beta Group to begin conceptualizing how best to use the space. They are working together to validate what can and cannot realistically be done. “Septic and water are always the things that limit us in town,” Wilhelmsen told the selectmen. The Committee is also working toward prioritizing what needs to be fixed right now versus what needs help in a year. Wilhelmsen said that by 2022 he expects tangible results from the work being done now.
Wilhelmsen delved into specific potential projects. He said that the Committee has removed the consideration for a municipal garage due to space constraints. The Committee plans to go to town meeting to ask for funds to replace the flagpole on the town green. The cistern on the town green is no longer holding water and is also on the Committee’s radar. Wilhelmsen also said that a roof assessment will eventually be done for both the Townhouse and the library. An inexpensive fix has been established for lighting concerns at the library though Wilhelmsen noted that a lighting consultant may want to be brought in at some point for a better solution.
Several items pertaining to the Highway Department were also discussed. Dennehy said she and Highway Superintendent Rob Firlotte had met earlier that day with the selected contractor for the highway barn roof and insulation project. Materials are being ordered for the work soon.
Russo said that the signs indicating the safety zones that were established by the selectmen per town meeting’s approval have been placed. Road painting indicating such will have to wait until the spring.
Finally, there was a brief discussion regarding procedures for removing brush and chips from trees that have been taken down. Firlotte feels that it doesn’t fall under the purview of the department.
Technology upgrades in town were also discussed. Dennehy said the fiber optic upgrade is in progress and that local government offices should expect to be updated in the next week. Dennehy said the only setback was a minor one locating the wiring in the library.
Selectman John Traynor said he had an agreement with the Fire Chief that street number signs would be installed on municipal buildings in town. He said that given the magnitude of the work currently on the Chief’s agenda, he assumes it will be done once COVID is over.
Russo spoke to another possible priority saying he would like to seek funds at town meeting to have a hydrologist come in to analyze Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) reporting as well as compliance from Rocky Harvest LLC. Russo said, “it wouldn’t be a lot of money and there is a really good guy around who has done some work for us in the past.”
Dennehy gave an update on emergency management in town saying the hazard mitigation planning grant is still in process. The project meeting is set for the end of February. The end goal will be a stand-alone plan rather than a plan that was embedded in a larger regional one. This project was funded through grant money. Dennehy also gave a brief financial update saying that the budget process is well underway and that the Finance committee has been looking at the capital plan.
An update on elder affairs was also provided. Until recently, a volunteer was coming in two days per week to manage the pantry as paid for by Citizens for Citizens. The organization, however, made the decision that it was too risky to have volunteers going into the building due to the state of the pandemic. As a result, the Director of Elder Affairs will be managing the pantry on Thursdays from 10 am to noon.
Dennehy said that they are looking for a volunteer for Mondays. She said the hours are flexible but noted that the original hours were from 9:30 am to 12:30 pm. Dennehy also said that with the Townhouse closed, volunteers would not be near others. Prario offered to help secure a volunteer and assured the selectmen that she would find someone for this coming Monday.
It was also noted during Monday’s meeting that there would be a mailing going out to residents shortly to detail various volunteer opportunities in the community.
As always, the selectmen ended their meeting with their rants and raves. Selectwoman Christine Joy was quick to say that hers was a rant rather than a rave.
She began by saying how troubled she was by the deep divide in our country. She also said that while she doesn’t condone violence, she does understand the pain of many Americans whether it be based in racial injustice, the pandemic, or frustration at the government.
Joy said, “For me, Wednesday and the summer protests have really served as a wake-up call and the need for us to stop talking at one another and start talking to one another. Instead of pushing further apart, we should be working to find common ground; this will only be accomplished through freedom of speech, the sharing of ideas, and spirited debate through open dialogue – talking and listening with tolerance and compassion. We are all Americans and as such are capable of working together to make our union stronger than before.
We need to stop the rhetoric and name calling, stop the vilifying of those that don’t agree with us – start seeing each other as individuals, as fellow Americans not defined by our political ideals. It is the diversity of our people and ideals that give us strength. Through true collaboration we can rise above this and work together to rebuild our United States of America.”
“Amen, amen,” Russo said before adjourning the meeting.