By Chris Mazachrism@thereminder.com
EAST LONGMEADOW – At the Board of Selectmen’s June 5 meeting, the Town Counsel James Donahue outlined the parameters of a payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) agreement that the Board of Assessors recently negotiated with Bay Path College
Donahue said the college has agreed to pay the town $20,000 a year and provide scholarship opportunities to East Longmeadow residents as part of the agreement regarding its graduate studies building currently being built in town.
“They’re also going to try to establish a work study program with some of their students through the East Longmeadow school system,” Donahue said.
Donahue explained the college was exempt from property tax payments to the town as an educational entity. The assessors, he said, had already voted to approve the PILOT and the college required a decision by July 1.
The two-story building, located at the corner of Denslow and Shaker roads
, will house its new health sciences programs and will serve approximately 275 graduate students as well as about 20 faculty and staff members.
Bay Path bought the 11-acre parcel on which the building will stand for approximately $1 million in October 2013 and the school officially broke ground on the construction on Nov. 15, 2013. The building project will cost an estimated $15.2 million.
Selectman William Gorman asked Donahue if the amount to be paid to the town was equitable in relation to the town’s established tax rate.
“It’s not the equivalent to what the tax bill would be,” Donahue answered. “I don’t have the numbers in front of me and the assessors would know better than I, but it’s probably closer to what they would pay discounting the fact that there weren’t going to be students using the school system.”
Saying he had received inquiries from residents, Gorman asked Donahue if a change of zoning was needed in order for the building to be erected. Donahue said the property was always part of the industrial park and a change in zoning would have had to go before Town Meeting.
“As an educational entity, it is exempt from zoning requirements as to what we permit in the zone,” Donahue said. “It’s not like if I wanted to put a retail store there, which wouldn’t be permitted in that industrial park zone. Because it is exempt from the zoning provisions, much like a church, they acquired the land [and] they have the right to put a building up as long as they comply with the structural requirements of the park’s requirement.”
Addressing other town business, Gorman, who serves as the chair of the Board of Health, stressed the need to devise a solution to its health agent issues.
“We have a real problem because we’ve been through a number of health agents just since I’ve been here [and] since [Fred Kowal] retired,” he said. “It’s making it difficult because when we do a health inspection, we do it with this person, but when we go back to re-inspect it later, we’ve got someone else and it’s getting kind of messed up there.”
He said that the current health agent, Lori McCool, works part time and also serves two other communities – Hampden and Palmer – and her “primary [focus] is to her other towns.”
The challenge the town faces in retaining a health agent lies in the level of compensation they receive for their services, Gorman asserted, explaining they do not receive mileage reimbursement and are paid $150 a week, or $15 an hour.
“That barely pays for gas if you’ve got to run all over town,” he said.
Gorman added that this time of year has been especially challenging because in addition to inspecting establishments, the health agent is faced with issues related to the opening of the Pine Knoll Recreation Area pool
and the Fourth of July Parade and the schools are supposed to be checked twice a year.
Reading a statement from another health agent, he said the compensation “might be enough for a recent college graduate” The agent said while working as a health agent 20 years ago, she made the same amount of money as one would while working for East Longmeadow. That person suggested $25 to $30 per hour should the position remain part time without mileage reimbursement.
Another statement he referenced suggested a system through which the town pays per inspection with a developed payment structure specifying the rate for different kinds of inspections.
He added that one way to defray some of the costs if they went to a pay-per-inspection system is to have the establishment pay for it.
Board of Selectmen Chair Angela Thorpe said the level of compensation suggested in the first statement “isn’t even in the picture,” but acknowledged the need for a review of the situation.