HANSON — The Board of Selectmen offered kudos at their meeting Tuesday, Nov. 2 to the first responders and town officials who helped with the storm response and cleanup last week.
Town Administrator Lisa Green said the storm was worse that expected.
“I want to do a shout out to all of our first responders, the Highway Department, the Water Department and everyone who has been involved with the storm — police, fire water, highway — Lisa on the phone making sure everything is going right,” Selectmen Chairman Matt Dyer said. “We were really hit.”
Town Hall was closed for two days last week, although a few town officials had reported to their offices on Thursday morning after the building was powered by a generator, which led some residents to question why it wasn’t fully open. Dyer said the computer servers had also been down, which severely limited the work that could be accomplished.
“I just want to say a huge thank you to everyone,” he said, noting the cleanup was still ongoing.
Selectman Joseph Weeks was among the volunteers sawing up and removing the trees felled by last week’s nor’easter at Camp Kiwanee on Sunday, Oct. 31. The damage forced cancellation of the planned Halloween event planned for the camp that afternoon.
“We found ourselves in new territory,” Green said. “We know what we need to improve before the harsh winter moves in.”
She said the normal practice when storms are forecast is to watch weather reports and meet with department heads to go over response plans.
“This storm — I don’t think anybody thought it was going to be what it was, or it was worse than many people expected,” she said. “Nobody expected 100-percent power outages in this entire area to the Cape and islands.”
Green and IT Director Stephen Moberg did the best they could with what they had available, she said. She had charged both her phones, and when she lost power at 4 a.m., Green began working the phones trying to get messages out about Town Hall.
“Unfortunately, with cell service not running, some people didn’t get messages, they didn’t get text messages.”
Town Clerk Elizabeth Sloan and Police, Fire and Highway departments had “excellent response” to the situation, Green said. By the time the Town Hall generator kicked in, the computer servers had gone down and emails were bounced back when sent out.
“I’m really hoping that going forward, we could try to do a better job of a consolidated message of library, senior center, what the fire and police have got to say, through the town website and Facebook page,” Selectman Laura FitzGerald-Kemmett said, noting it was not meant to criticize Green. “I just am hoping that prospectively we do better.”
Green said a storm-specific plan is being formulated, including a broadcast text message to all employee cell phones to get the word out without draining her phones.
“I was trying to limit my phone use to keep my batteries alive,” she said. “But we’re well on our way to fixing that and being ready for the next storm.”
The insurance carrier has informed the town that premium for the Maquan School has gone up “substantially,” according to Green. The one-year premium to insure the vacant building is now $38,029. The budget provided $30,000 for that bill. Selectmen voted to request a reserve fund transfer from the Finance Committee of $8,029 to make up the difference.
Green said a letter from the insurance company explained that the longer a property is vacant, the chances of severe damage increases, which increases the premium for coverage. She said there is a bidding process for insurance coverage and would have to look into whether there is any option for shopping around for better coverage.
“We’re going to see the premium rise as long as we hold onto this building,” Green said.
FitzGerald-Kemmett spoke about the intent to use the building as affordable senior using, but after that original objective was agreed to the town has seen a lot of housing units for the over 55 population that are not affordable, but target the same demographic.
“As a committee [the Maquan Reuse Committee] felt the timing wasn’t right to do affordable housing there,” she said. “We probably need to look at it being used for the library, the senior center or some kind of recreation for the town. We’re still looking for a reuse. It was never our intention to still have that building standing and not reused, but we are working on it.”
She asked if there was anything the town could do to bring the premium cost down. The premium last year was closer to $25,000.
“Their main focus is the building is vacant,” Green said, noting she would ask the carrier if there was any kind of security measures the town could take to bring the cost down.
Despite the challenges of asbestos that needs to be removed, it is not ADA compliant and lacks fire suppression, “the bones are really good,” FitzGerald-Kemmett said, indicating grants may be available to help make the building useable for the library or other such purpose.
If it is more cost-effective to tear it down, the committee would favor that, she said, but cost-effective reuse is preferred.
The Board of Assessors met jointly with Selectmen to set the tax classifications for fiscal year 2022. Assessors recommended and Selectmen approved, that a uniform tax rate for residential and commercial tax rates in town be continued. The tax rate has been calculated at $15.09 per $1,000 assessed valuation. Personal property makes up 93 percent of tax revenues with commercial/industrial makes up 7 percent.
Selectmen also accepted the assessors recommendation against a residential tax exemption, typically used only for communities with a high number of rental properties, or a small commercial exemption, used typically for businesses that own their own property. Any reduction in the tax would not be guaranteed to reach businesses that rent their property. Only eight businesses in town would qualify to benefit the small commercial exemption.
The excess levy capacity for 2022 is $14,241.73.