| Sarah Heinonen
WILBRAHAM – The Board of Assessors met with the Wilbraham Select Board on Nov. 4 to present three options for the Fiscal Year 2020 property tax rate.
Principal Assessor Manny Silva laid out the choices in a presentation: keep a single tax rate; adopt a minimum residential factor (MRF), which shifts a portion of the tax burden to commercial properties; or impose a commercial tax exemption of 10 percent for commercial property valued at less than $100,000 and occupied by businesses with less than 10 employees. This option would benefit the landlord, rather than the small business.
Selectman Robert Russell said that historically they had had one tax rate. The select board chose to maintain a single property tax rate, the estimate of which is $22.38 per $1,000. They took no action on either a commercial property tax exemption or adopting the MRF.
Switching topics, resident Don Flannery asked the assessors who owns the buses at the Lower Pioneer Valley Educational Collaborative (LPVEC) school bus depot. They explained that the buses are the property of LPVEC, a 501(c)3 nonprofit.
Flannery wanted to know if that property could be taxed since it is essentially “rented” to towns. “If they can be taxed, I want them taxed,” Flannery said.
Silva told Flannery, “The assessors have deliberated on this time and time again.” He added, “What Don is indicating has been tried and it hasn’t worked.” Flannery argued that it had worked in other municipalities.
Select Board Chair Susan Bunnell declared the floor closed on the issue so the discussion could move along.
Matt Villamaino asked if the tax increase would be in line with other towns. Until the surrounding towns finalize their tax rates, Silva said they won’t know for certain.
The Senior Center Feasibility Study group, led by Dennis Lopata, asked the board for guidance in their next steps.
Over the past seven years, a needs study was done to decide if a new center was necessary and a Feasibility Study was completed with the goal of locating a site for the building. The site recommended to the select board by the committee is a parcel of land behind the town hall on Springfield Street.
The next step identified is to create a building committee.
A date for a public hearing to discuss the process has been set for Nov. 13 at 6 p.m. at the Minnechaug Regional High School auditorium. Russell said they would take a look at the process for selecting the building committee at the forum. Bunnell agreed and noted that the people they were looking for would have diverse backgrounds.
Ed Rigney, a resident who served on the building committee for the police station, said that after selection, the building committee would need to choose an owner’s project manager (OPM). He said there won’t be a shovel in the ground on the project for at least a year.
Flannery asked if there would be a projector and screen to present floor plans at this meeting. Bunnell told him that the current status of the project was far too premature for floor plans.
“Let me tell you about my intention,” Flannery said to Bunnell. He said that he wants to make a presentation in favor of Memorial School as the location for the new senior center. Bunnell said they would develop a structure for public participation at the forum.
Flannery continued, insisting that he wants there to be two plans available for people to see. Bunnell reminded him that they were not yet at the floor plan phase and that the purpose of the forum was to get everyone in the town on the same page.
Russell told Flannery that the select board is going with the location recommended by the feasibility study committee.
“As far as revisiting Memorial School, I’m not interested,” Russell said, but he noted that residents would decide at the annual town meeting.
Rigney said choosing a location may be early because the “peripherals,” i.e., heat, water and storage, may not fit in the desired location. A member of the feasibility study addressed his comment and said that they had considered precisely those things during the feasibility study.
“Due diligence was done,” the committee member assured everyone.
Villamaino suggested a robocall to let people know about the upcoming meeting, which Bunnell agreed was a good idea.
Resident Z. Kielczewski came before the select board as a candidate for the broadband committee. He told the selectmen that he had had 30 years of experience in broadcasting technology.
“I hope I can contribute with my experience,” Kielczewski said.
Russell commented, “It never ceases to amaze me the talent that lives in this town.” Another candidate, Joseph Lorenzatti, was not at the meeting. Appointments were postponed because Robert Boilard was not present.
During the public comment period, resident Robert Tourville told the board that a National Grid worker informed him that the town does not want the company to aggressively trim trees to prevent power outages.
“I think given the option of ‘does it look pretty’ or ‘does my power go out,’ [residents would] choose power,” Tourville said. Russell said that National Grid is responsible for trimming trees around their infrastructure and Bunnell added, “We need to find a way to talk to National Grid and let them know that we want them to be more aggressive.”
Lori McCool was hired as a board of health consultant to work on a facility capacity expansion request from USA Waste, which operates Western Mass. Recycling at 120 Old Boston Rd. A law firm was also hired. Bunnell said the company, not the town, is responsible for those costs.
The board approved a $471,875.13 sewer commitment for the FY20.
Ashley Bigda received an annual food permit to make jams and jellies in a residential kitchen. Her Jam Girl brand goods will be sold at Rice’s Fruit Farm in Wilbraham.