The last public meeting held in Mattapoisett Town Hall before the building was effectively closed to public gatherings was a meeting of the Mattapoisett Finance Committee held on Thursday, March 12, at 4:30 pm.
The committee has been meeting weekly with various department heads to discuss FY21 budgeting and to share how FY20 plans and goals were moving along.
On this afternoon, outgoing Town Administrator Mike Gagne opened the meeting by saying a big concern for town governments across the commonwealth would be how to hold public meetings, conduct hearings, and still be mindful of social distancing and keeping public surfaces clean.
Gagne said that the public presentation and meeting planned for 6:30 pm on March 18 at Center School to discuss infrastructure improvements to Industrial Drive would instead be filmed and at that time on ORCTV without public participation. He said those wishing to share their ideas, questions, or opinions would be able to do so after the presentation aired via a link on the town’s website. He said it would not be prudent to invite the public into the school at this time.
Gagne briefly discussed the current COVID-19 crisis saying the town was in a “watch-see” mode at the present time, but that efforts to ramp up sanitation were in place with town hall employees wiping down counters and spaces used by the public.
To further the cleanliness of public buildings Gagne asked the Finance Committee to transfer $14,000 from the reserve fund to janitorial salary and services to give him the flexibility of hiring sanitation teams. He said that the town hall and library would be included in full-on disinfecting actions. He said such actions would also include three cleanings per week for all municipal buildings, up from two. The request was granted.
Other transfers that were also moved from the reserve fund were: $18,000 for legal services; $7,500 care of shade trees; $5,000 Route 6 hydrant rentals from the town of Fairhaven; $7,700 parks including additional improvements to the former Holy Ghost Park Street building; $15,000 to upgrade street lights to LED, and selectmen’s clerical salary $4,000. Regarding the LED upgrades, Gagne said that by switching to the more energy-efficient bulbs the town would see about a $50,000 savings over the next three years. He also noted that there are 368 street lights throughout the community.
Meeting with the committee was Kathleen Costello, Administrator of Assessing. Costello reminded the committee that she is also responsible for all information technology (IT) platforms and functions throughout the municipal system and that upgraded security systems were in place. She said she also maintained the highest level of security possible by ensuring that employees are not opening emails or other electronic transmissions from unknown sources. “We have to think about cyber-security,” she said, adding, “…most problems arrive through emails.”
In the wake of COVID-19, Costello said that she had been working to ensure that systems could handle an increase in online activities, including the collection of fees and payment of salaries.
Also meeting with the committee was Town Clerk Catherine Heuberger, who discussed the need to have volunteers on boards and committees fully updated and trained on rules and responsibilities including ethics and open meeting laws. She planned to reach out to committee chairmen regarding this matter.
One final comment from Gagne was a bright note – he said that currently, the town has approximately $1 million in five stability funds and $4 million in an OPEB trust fund. “That’s more than any other town in the SouthCoast – that’s incredible,” he stated.
At press time, all public meetings in Mattapoisett have been postponed. Check the town’s website for important updates at www.mattapoisett.com and call town hall offices if you need assistance at 508-758-4100.
Mattapoisett Finance Committee
By Marilou Newell