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2013 in review: Area faces changes, challenges

Jan. 2, 2014 |

By Chris Maza chrism@thereminder.com
MGM negotiates with surrounding communities
GREATER SPRINGFIELD – After a referendum vote in Palmer on Nov. 5 defeated Mohegan Sun’s plans for a casino development in that town, MGM’s proposal for a gaming facility in Springfield’s South End remained the only one vying for the gaming license for Western Massachusetts. As part of the requirements for a gaming license according to state legislation, MGM Springfield was required to identify communities that would be affected by the development and develop surrounding community agreements that would outline the method in which those adverse effects would be mitigated. While East Longmeadow and Wilbraham recently signed agreements and were designated surrounding communities, Longmeadow stood firm in its plans to build a proposal based on traffic studies performed by MGM, Greenman-Pedersen Inc. – the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission’s traffic consultant – as well as its own traffic and public safety consultants. MGM’s most recent offer to Longmeadow proposed $125,000 for reimbursement of consulting and legal fees, $100,000 in guaranteed minimum annual mitigation payments, plus a total of $750,000 in mitigation payments during a 13-year period and a “look back” approach in which net negative impacts would be measured to determine if additional mitigation funding would be necessary. Longmeadow’s counterproposal called for $950,000 in up front payments for infrastructure improvements, up to $100,000 in payments to offset the legal and consulting costs accrued during the process and $500,000 in annual payments with a 2.5 percent annual increase, It also proposed periodic “look back” studies, and the opportunity for Longmeadow to reopen negotiations with the gaming company should it expand its development in Springfield. Both Wilbraham and East Longmeadow agreed to receive $100,000 mitigation payments annually for 15 years with a one- and five-year “look back.” MGM Vice President of Global Gaming Development Michael Mathis has since informed Longmeadow Town Manager Stephen Crane that the gaming company would not accept the town’s counter, stating,“as far apart as both parties are on dollars, we are even farther apart conceptually.” MGM submitted its gaming license application into the Massachusetts Gaming Commission on Dec. 30, 2013, Any city or town not designated a surrounding community at that time has until Jan. 10 to petition the commission for that status. The commission would then determine whether a municipality qualifies later this month. If surrounding community status is received, the town would have 30 days to negotiate an agreement, starting on Feb. 7 and ending on March 10 at which time arbitration proceedings would begin.
Villamaino, Llewellyn plead guilty in voter fraud case
SPRINGFIELD – Former East Longmeadow Selectman Enrico “Jack” Villamaino and his wife Courtney Llewellyn pleaded guilty to charges related to their execution of a scheme to defraud the voting system during his 2012 bid for state representative for the Second Hampden District. Llewellyn and Villamaino admitted to changing the voter registration status of 284 registered East Longmeadow Democrats to unenrolled in order to take out absentee ballots in those individuals’ names in order to illegally cast votes in Villamaino’s favor during the 2012 Republican primary against Longmeadow Selectman Marie Angelides. Villamaino pleaded guilty on Aug. 5 to nine felonies – four counts of forgery, four counts of perjury and one count of conspiracy to commit a voting violation – as well as misdemeanor charges of larceny under $250 and interfering with election officials. On Aug. 7 he was sentenced to a one year split prison sentence on Aug. 7 and was ordered to serve four months at the Hampden County House of Corrections in Ludlow. Llewellyn pleaded guilty and was sentenced on Sept. 5 to one year of probation with 200 hours of community service on a misdemeanor conviction on one count of interference of an election official. Four other charges she also admitted to – larceny under $250, perjury, forgery and conspiracy – were all continued without a finding, meaning that if she successfully completes a year of probation on those counts, they would be dismissed. Villamaino has since been released from prison. The remainder of his sentence includes an the suspended portion of his jail sentence – eight months – during which he remains on probation and an additional year of probation once the suspended portion of his sentence is complete.
East Longmeadow Planning Board shuts down Korean Massage
EAST LONGMEADOW – Korean Massage Therapy Center, located at 611 North Main St., was officially shut down by the Planning Board after it denied the business a special permit to operate by a unanimous vote on March 26 Issues with the business, which were the subjects of three separate raids in connection with possible prostitution and illegal immigration, prompted the Board of Selectmen to draft a zoning bylaw change that was approved at the May 21, 2012 Annual Town Meeting requiring all licensed massage businesses to obtain a special permit. Questions were raised about the massage parlor owner Gye-Hwa Shin’s residency, proper licensing, the kinds of therapy performed at the establishment and the number of documented employees. Then-Chair George Kingston said the uses of the property “were not in harmony with the zoning bylaws” and board member Michael Przybylowicz added that he suspected “a lack of instutional control.” The portion of the building at 611 North Main Street has not been occupied by any other tenant since the Planning Board’s decision. Shin remains a licensed massage therapist; however, her license expires on Jan. 28, according to the Massachusetts Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation’s Division of Professional Licensure.
East Longmeadow holds recount after close special election
EAST LONGMEADOW – A close Board of Selectmen race between Former Selectman Peter Punderson and Selectman Angela Thorpe came down to a recount. In a late-December 2012 special election to fill the seat of former Selectman James Driscoll, Punderson trumped Thorpe by a mere 12 votes, 836-824, prompting Thorpe to submit a petition for a recount. The recount took place on Jan. 5 and confirmed the initial count, allowing Punderson to continue serving the remainder of Driscoll’s term, which ended in April. Thorpe said in the wake of the voting scandal involving former Selectman Jack Villamaino, the recount proved the voting system works and should restore residents’ faith in the process. She pledged to run again in April and did so, this time defeating Punderson by 84 votes to earn a three-year term. Thorpe currently serves as the chair of the Board of Health and was the board’s point person in the recent surrounding community agreement negotiations with MGM Springfield.
Wilbraham marks 250th anniversary
WILBRAHAM – During the past year, Wilbraham celebrated 250 years as a town with a host of events and initiatives that promoted community involvement and entertainment for residents of all ages. The festivities kicked off with a First Night celebration hosted by Wilbraham United Church, the Masonic Hall, Wilbraham & Monson Academy, the Athenaeum Society and the Wilbraham Public Library that featured, musical and other performances, ice sculptures, presentations by the town’s Youth Ambassadors and open houses. The year-long tribute ended with the reburying of a time capsule at Crane Park on Nov. 17. Other commemorative events included a dinner dance at Chez Josef, townwide tag sales, a golf tournament, a driving tour and scavenger hunt and a reenactment of the 1908 Monson Road Hill Climb.
Wilbraham fire station renovation completed
WILBRAHAM – The Fire Department officially opened its state-of-the-art renovated main fire station on Boston Road with an open house on June 16. The year-long construction project by Western Builders Inc., which closed the facility completely for several months, expanded the station from 3,600 square feet to 11,500 square feet and was completed without the need for a Proposition 2 ½ override. The Capital Planning Committee approved a $2.2 million appropriation for the project and voters at an April 2, 2012 Special Town Meeting approved the use of $336,860 from the Ambulance Fund and $195,000 from the Capital Stabilization Fund, to finance the remainder. Congressman Richard Neal also presented the department with a $79,338 Department of Homeland Security Assistance to Firefighter's Grant for the installation of a vehicle exhaust system and the purchase of an Air Pack system. The renovation included updated equipment, expanded and additional bays in order for all apparatus to be properly stored, a new public entrance in the front of the station and new living facilities for firefighters, including some cooking equipment and carpeting provided by Friendly Ice Cream Corp. With the fire station project completed, the Board of Selectmen recently created committees to explore the feasibility of a new senior center and a new police station. The current senior center is 3,840 square feet for 3,612 seniors. Director of Elder Affairs Paula Dubord has said she believes the town needs a 12,000 square foot facility. Police Chief Roger Tucker has cited a lack of space in the 110-year-old police station as his primary concern and stressed any new station should be centrally located and accessible to the public.
Longmeadow School Committee, Select Board battle over budget
LONGMEADOW – Completing the development of the fiscal year 2014 (FY14) budget was an arduous task for the Select Board and School Committee, who greatly differed in their opinions as to what kind of funding the school department should receive. The School Committee proposed a budget $726,000 higher than that of the Select Board after the board directed all departments to submit budgets that contained 0 percent increases. Eventually, after negotiations between a working group made up of Select Board and School Committee representatives, the School Committee proposed an increase of $353,000, half of what was originally requested, but the Select Board voted 3-2 not to approve the compromise. The School Committee eventually took the matter to the town meeting floor, proposing the $353,000 increase as an amendment to the budget presented to residents at the meeting. Town Manager Stephen Crane told voters the Select Board’s position was to utilize funding to address a backlog in capital projects. The motion began a 90-minute debate in featured three separate proposed amendments, including a facetious budget adjustment proposal of $2.5 million. The $353,000 increase was eventually approved by residents, many of whom voted in favor of the amendment, but left before voting on the actual budget. Budgeting for FY15 has begun with all departments receiving a charge from Crane to develop a level service budget. The School Committee is faced with an additional $850,000 in salaries and benefits due to a 2 percent raise negotiated into the teachers’ contracts, step increases, and incentives for continuing education.
New Longmeadow town manager hired
LONGMEADOW – The Select Board ended a months-long process of finding a new town manager when it completed a contract with Stephen Crane in February after voting 4-1 to hire him on Jan. 24. Crane, originally from Lowell, joined the town after acting as city administrator for Lancaster, Wis., a community with a population of approximately 4,000 people, for four years. Crane officially started work in April 2, taking the reins from Acting Town Manager Barry Del Castilho who was brought in on Oct. 10, 2012. His starting salary was $105,000 a year and his contract will run through June 30, 2016. Prior to the hiring of Crane, the board twice attempted to agree on contracts with individuals they had selected to replace Robin Crosbie, the town’s first town manager, who announced in the fall of 2011 her intentions to leave and not seek an extension of her contract that expired in June 2012. In its first round of interviews, the board settled on Bourne Town Administrator Thomas Guerino after a lengthy deadlock, but the town and Guerino were unable to come to terms. The board then unanimously voted to hire Bonnie Therrien after a second round of interviews; however, she accepted a position with another community prior to the completion of a contract. Crane is now in the midst of his first complete budget development cycle with Longmeadow – Del Castillo developed the fiscal year 2014 budget – and has also been active in the town’s surrounding community agreement negotiations with MGM Springfield.

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