With active COVID-19 cases standing at 15 and the town’s infection status in the green zone, the Mattapoisett Board of Selectmen discussed the reopening of at least two town buildings, the library and Town Hall.
Coming before the board during its March 2 meeting was Library Director Jennifer Jones, who offered a phased approach to granting access to the public. Her detailed plans call for allowing interior building access to 30 people over a one-hour period. For the purposes of contact tracing in the event disease spread becomes a factor, Jones said names and telephone numbers would be recorded. Masks and social distancing will remain a critical component to the reopening of in-person services as well. Calling it a “slow opening,” Jones also said that a limited number of computer stations opened, and that staff would assist patrons with other office equipment.
In the second phase of reopening, Jones proposed allowing up to 60 people into the building, again for no longer than one hour, and Phase 3 would be a complete return to normal scheduling.
Selectman Jordan Collyer asked Jones to evaluate staying open for longer hours so that more people could enter the library while still limiting the number allowed inside at any given point in time. But Jones hesitated to extend hours to include a Sunday, given that staff members who work those hours have expressed concern as they await vaccinations.
The library is planned to reopen on Saturday, March 13, with state and local guidelines implemented.
The selectmen also discussed reopening Town Hall. Presently residents and others with business requiring face-to-face interactions are allowed in by appointment only.
Town Administrator Mike Lorenco said that the building could accommodate five visitors at a time, and state guidelines for the wearing of masks and social distancing would be maintained. He said that the building is currently sanitized three times per week. He said that someone would be stationed by the front door to collect names and telephone numbers for contact-tracing purposes. He proposed opening the building on Monday, March 8. The selectmen were in agreement on both proposals.
Regarding the Council on Aging and Recreation Department, the selectmen asked that those department heads submit a reopening plan, but most likely, those departments would not reopen to public access until sometime in April.
In other business, Police Chief Mary Lyons came before the selectmen with her department’s proposed FY22 budget. Step increases, which are part of the department’s employment agreement, represent the budget increase, Lyons said. A year-over-year increase in salaries of $100,544 was noted as a 4.9 percent increase. The total FY22 budget stands at $2,400,028, or a 4.6 percent increase over FY21.
Collyer said after Lyons’ presentation, “You need to find a way to reduce your budget.” He suggested backing out the cost of one of two new cruisers that the department was seeking, representing a cost of $55,000. Collyer thought that monies could be found in free cash to cover the cruiser. A second cruiser is planned for purchase in FY22 in the department’s Capital Planning proposal.
On the topic of the cost of hiring officers to cover shifts when sick and vacation time are used by officers, Lyons said that she had taken $40,000 slated for part-time employees and spread that across other line items that were falling short. She said that reserve officers had been deployed as one way to cover shifts and keep costs in hand but that it is getting hard to recruit anyone these days. “People don’t want the job the way they used to,” Lyons said. She added that new police reforms would require that part-time officers take full-time training, directly impacting the department and staffing. Lyons said a state-level meeting next week would produce more answers on the reforms being planned by the state government.
Collyer asked Lyons to review the budget further and bring the total increase closer to the 2 percent mark as possible. He also said he wanted to work with the chief and department management on a succession plan, adding that he thought if a part-time reserve officer knew they were next in “pecking order,” they might be inclined to stay in Mattapoisett.
The next meeting of the Mattapoisett Board of Selectmen is scheduled for March 9 at 6:30 pm.
Mattapoisett Board of Selectmen
By Marilou Newell