| Sarah Heinonen
WILBRAHAM – The town of Wilbraham has declared a state of emergency at the urging of Fire Chief Michael Andrews, who leads the town’s emergency management team.
Beginning March 17, all town offices were closed to the public. The Senior Center had already been closed to the public, as Andrews said the population that uses those services are the most vulnerable. The chief provided the select board with an update on the actions taken to prevent the spread of coronavirus at the board’s March 16 meeting.
Andrews said the fire department has an adequate amount of medical-grade masks, as well as gowns and other supplies that will be used to treat any cases of COVID-19 that first responders encounter.
He also said that protocols have been put in place to screen for symptoms that may indicate a coronavirus infection. He also said they're limiting the number of personnel responding to each call to minimize the risk to firefighters, EMTs and other responders.
Andrews said there is a secure location in the fire station in case an infected individuals go there to seek help.
With the closing of the town buildings to the public, staff are still expected to report for work. Select Board Chair Susan Bunnell said Town business will still be conducted but much will be done online or via phone. The Department of Public Works was tasked with putting up signs at the various buildings in town to explain the situation to the public.
Police Captain Ed Lennon said the police can respond if there is any trouble clearing businesses with shortened hours.
Bunnell expressed concern with how many people were still “out and about.”
Public Health Nurse Jill Consolino, who is a member of the town’s emergency management team said, “It's definitely a time when people may not want to hunker down,” but she urged people to stay at home. “Is this an inconvenience for everybody? Yes, but it is a temporary inconvenience,” She also assured there were no cases in Wilbraham.
Bunnell asked Consolino and Lori McCool, the Board of Health agent, to verify for people that COVID-19 can be transmitted before symptoms appear. Both health officials agreed with this.
“There are going to be some instances where people have to go out. That social distancing is going to make the difference,” McCool said and urged frequent hand washing as well.
Consolino said the people who are otherwise healthy do not need to wear a mask and that it will not protect them from the disease. Masks should be worn by people infected with COVID-19 to keep from spreading it. Consolino also warned that there would be a dramatic increase in the number of diagnosed cases in the next few weeks due to more widespread testing.
Town Attorney Steven Riley said that according to Gov. Baker's order, Committees and boards can conduct meetings without the public present as long as the audio or video is posted to the town website in a timely manner. Public hearings must be postponed because the public will not be able to participate.
Financial Committee Chair Carolyn Brennan discussed the Hampden-Wilbraham Regional School District budget request with the board. Brennan said a recent presentation by the district was compelling but was looking for more information from the select board members. The school district is facing a estimated $2.1 million shortfall.
“It’s a challenge not knowing what numbers will come from the state,” Brendan acknowledged.
Select board member Robert Boilard said the town does not have the capacity to fund the budget gap. Brennan agreed, asking, “We want the best schools, but are there other ways for funding,” aside from a tax rate increase.
It was noted that there is a capacity for $65,000 to be raised while staying under the two and a half percent budget cap.
“I’d be inclined to talk about that $65,000,” select board member Robert Russell said of making it available for the school budget. Russell participated in the meeting via phone.
“It’s not just extra money. You still have to raise and appropriate it,” Brennan said. Bunnell acknowledged that it was, “an enormous challenge.”
The school committee must pass a budget at least 45 days before the town meeting, which is currently scheduled on May 11. The select board said the town meeting may need to be rescheduled or take advantage of legislation to allow a lower quorum of residents. The bylaw states the town meeting must be in April, May or June.
Anthony Aube, head of the Wilbraham Public Access requested a technology deficiency listening-assist technology that would Aid hearing impaired residence by allowing them to connect they're hearing devices directly to access Audio. Aube said there was a potential risk of liability for non-ADA compliance by not having this technology available for use. The board recommended approval of $1,123.96 for three receivers and the license for an unlimited number of app downloads for users.
The board also recommended the approval technology and efficiency fund transfer of $7,081.63 from Kate Demers, director of the Wilbraham Public Library. The money was to reimburse the cost of three cameras and associated wiring for security in the parking lot of the building.
The deadline for annual town meeting warrant articles passed on March 13, but the board approved extending the deadline to March 21 considering the current upheaval caused by the virus.
The board also established a solid waste advisory committee of seven members. Submission is open for applications.