Comments are welcome as long as reasoned and free of personal attacks. Thanks.
Heath is in crisis – fiscal, emotional, and ethical. Heath is a small town with no industrial base. We are flirting with the tax levy limit but have limited tools to work with. While cutting costs is our only solution, few offer any constructive ideas.
A little background is needed here. In the past when a vote affecting the town was taken, whether or not residents agreed, they accepted the decision and moved on. When the residents voted down the purchase of the Mackey property on Main Street for a new library and additional Town Office space, the proponents of the proposal accepted the decision and moved on. When the battle over closing the Heath school ended, those deeply disappointed accepted it and moved on. Not so when the residents voted not to sell a 3 million dollar building for $250,000 to a venture capitalist with lots of promises and no business plan.
Those that did not accept the vote launched a campaign of misinformation, conspiracy theory, and defamation, accusing the Select Board of dishonesty and underhanded behavior. How is this done? It’s done by taking something out of context, telling only part of the story, and by insinuation.
A prime example is Mike Smith’s My Turn in the Recorder. Here are some more complete facts:
Downsize not being brought to town meeting:
Changes in personnel positions or job descriptions are not brought to Town Meeting, they are under the authority of the Select Board. What is brought to ATM is any unbudgeted increase in salary. To add foreman responsibilities to the mechanic position description meant reevaluation and regrading of the position. In Nov. when Brian made the statement about bringing this to ATM, he was referring to the fact that the salary increase had to be budgeted and that had to be done at ATM. As it turned out by the time the position change was actually made, it was determined that there would be enough funds in the highway salary account to give the employee a slight increase in wage, although the increase did not bring the wage to the new classification paygrade. The reason for the available funds is that there was a two-week gap between when a former employee retired, and the new employee began to work for the town.
All the current employees, when they were first hired, did not have all the required licenses, but were hired with the understanding that these licenses would be obtained as soon as possible. The employee in question did have his hoister’s license prior to being hired in Heath, but had not renewed it since it was not required for his previous employment. He is on the COVID backlogged list to take the test and regain this license as soon as possible. He does have his CDL, and his certification for adjusting air brakes. I don't have the exact number of years experience working with heavy equipment yet, but will add it when I do.
Job not posted:
Neither of the skilled laborers applied for the original mechanic position job when it was open and posted. The job change was not advertised because it was not a new position. It was additional duties added to an existing position. Shortly thereafter, there was additional responsibility added to all the highway positions. These types of changes and adjustments by the Select Board have been going on regularly in the three years I have been attending.
I came into the Town 20 years ago without any foreknowledge of the history and no predetermined mind set. I met many wonderful, kindhearted, helpful people in the Town of the Friendly Wave. I was then shocked by the behavior that followed that school building vote—the anger and bitterness displayed, the shunning of former longtime friends, the personal attacks on the Select Board members, the misleading articles in the Recorder. This behavior turned normal disagreement over a Town vote into a Town schism. To determine what was fact and what was not, I started attending Heath Select Board meetings regularly and have been attending them for three years. I wanted to find out firsthand how our Town was being run. Listening and learning I started writing Select Board notes in hopes of giving folks an sense of the meetings and decisions made.
Questions I asked myself from time to time: How do you stop the march towards the tax levy limit—by putting bandages on 100-year-old buildings when what they need is major surgery? How do you keep people safe during two years of COVID? Would I have the courage to make the hard choices such as downsizing the highway department? I don’t know the people on the Select Board or Finance Committee on a personal level with one exception, but they are my heroes. It takes courage to do the unpopular knowing that the disappointed are waiting to tear you down.
The Select Board members are hardworking, dedicated, and cognizant of their fiduciary responsibility. Are they working in the best interest of the Heath community of resilient and warm-hearted people that elected them? Hell, yes!
I continue to have faith that those of us who want what is best for the whole town will not be misled by misinformation, but will be sure to check the complete facts before coming to any decision on how to respond and act.
I will be happy to speak with anyone on these topics. You are welcome to call or email to get the other side of the story If I don't have all the answers, I will get them. 337-4078, email@example.com.
Highway Department Downsize
The rumor mill is buzzing, but I'm not sure it is providing accurate information. I was not able to attend last week’s meetings specific to the downsizing of the highway department, but here is what I know from the Select Board meetings I have been attending regularly.
Heath has had some serious financial hits lately, some expected such as the broadband notes coming due, and some unexpected, such as a significant increase in the Mohawk School assessment (which is now over $1,000,000). These developments have required the Selectboard to make some very hard fiscal decisions.
BACKGROUND: The Finance Committee was charged with looking at ways to save money. The Highway Department was a clear place to look as it is our biggest expense after the school assessment. To this end Will Emmet and Alice Wozniak contacted highway departments in Leyden, Colrain, Hawley, Charlemont, Bernardston, Warwick, and Sunderland. Their research was very detailed, including highway department budget, number of employees, miles of road broken down by paved versus dirt, and cost per mile of road maintained. Based on the data gathered the Finance Committee recommended to the Select Board that the town downsize the department. This was discussed with the Select Board in detail with great concern and reluctance to take such a step.
RATIONALE: Dohn Sherman's retirement left a void in mechanical skills needed by the highway department for equipment maintenance and repair. Anticipating filling this void the Selectboard updated the position description of Mechanic/Operator in June of 2022. The town then advertised for a Mechanic/Operator. There were three respondees, including Kyle Jarvis. Neither of the other two town employees expressed an interest in the position. When identifying a position to be eliminated, the logical choice was between the two employees in the less skilled Laborer/Operator position, Jason Lively and Mike Shattuck. Since Jason had more seniority, Mike Shattuck’s position was eliminated.
NOTE: Since Robyn has a personal relationship with Kyle Jarvis, she recused herself from both the hiring vote and the downsizing decision, trusting Brian and Sue to act in the best interest of the town, as I have seen them do in the years I have been attending these meetings.
This is not the end of the process. Heath continues to have serious financial problems. Other cost savings ideas have been discussed at recent Select Board meetings, some of which may take effect this next fiscal year.
If you see something on the agenda that is important to you, please come to that Select Board meeting to hear the deliberation around the topic. That is the best source of information rather than rumor or incomplete information.
For Those Who Store Grievances
"Those who store up grievances and rancor in themselves are like people who draw water and pour it into a cask full of holes." --Evagrius the Solitary. Fourth century monk in the Egyptian desert.
Submitted by Margaret Freeman
Jelani Cobb in a recent New Yorker Talk of the Town used the term "absurdist thinking." It makes me think of the Select Board information meeting on why the library should move - at least temporarily - to 18 Jacobs Road until Sawyer Hall is made ADA compliant. It is indeed absurdist argument for the library to stay where it is under present circumstances. Bill Lattrell put it succinctly when he pointed out that it is the law. To argue that we should ignore it, as we have done in the past, is to ignore the reason for the law: to make all public buildings accessible to everyone - not just the physically able. To deny people with wheelchairs or walkers access to the library, let alone the stacks themselves, is to discriminate. I little thought when we moved to Heath that this town we love so much would be guilty of such discrimination. —Margaret H. Freeman
Community Action is pleased to announce our Older Adult Home
Modification Program (OAHMP), a new initiative designed for eligible
lower-income homeowners, age 62 and older, living in Franklin and
Hampshire Counties and looking to maintain independence and lead safe
and productive lives in their homes.
Through this program, lower-income older adults can improve general
home safety through no-cost modifications that reduce the risk of falling,
increase accessibility, and improve the home's functional abilities.
If you currently receive Fuel Assistance and could benefit from the
installation of grab bars, railings, temporary ramps, tub/shower transfer
benches, raised toilet seats with hand rails, and stair steps, please contact
To ensure the highest quality programming, Community Action is
partnering with the team at LifePath, who have been providing services
to older adults in support of independent living in our area for over 45
HOMEOWNER MUST LIVE IN FRANKLIN OR HAMPSHIRE COUNTY
HOMEOWNER MUST BE AGE 62 OR OLDER
HOMEOWNER MUST MEET THE INCOME ELIGIBILITY GUIDELINES
413-774-2310 Option 4
Community Action OAHMP
PO Box 1432
Greenfield, MA 01302
Managing Waste to Avert Crisis
It seems inevitable that waste will become an increasing crisis. There's too much it, some of it is toxic, and we'll run out of space to store it at some point. Below are some links about the issue.
Global Waste Crisis-a-Rising Threat to the Environment
"The global waste crisis has become an issue of concern worldwide in an age of climate change. The World Bank warns that global waste will increase up to 70 percent on current levels by 2050 unless urgent actions are undertaken. The international financial institution also mentions that global annual waste is expected to jump to 3.4 billion tons over the next 30 years. The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) also reports, The world produces over 2 billion tons of municipal solid waste every year, enough to fill over 800,000 Olympic sized swimming pools.' ''
"PFAS are a large, complex, and ever-expanding group of manufactured chemicals that are widely used to make various types of everyday products. For example, they keep food from sticking to cookware, make clothes and carpets resistant to stains, and create firefighting foam that is more effective. PFAS are used in industries such as aerospace, automotive, construction, electronics, and military.
PFAS molecules are made up of a chain of linked carbon and fluorine atoms. Because the carbon-fluorine bond is one of the strongest, these chemicals do not degrade in the environment. In fact, scientists are unable to estimate an environmental half-life for PFAS, which is the amount of time it takes 50% of the chemical to disappear."
Waste to Hydrogen Project Set for California
"The California Energy Commission in a June report said a lack of existing renewable hydrogen production is creating a gap with fast-growing demand for the fuel. The International Energy Agency, also in a June report, said there is a definite need for renewable hydrogen production to meet rising global demand."
It seems that we have lost the ability to have disagreement in Heath without attributing nefarious motives to dedicated public servants. I had hoped that an AT&T blog would be a way to have a reasoned dialogue on the tower. Unfortunately, while there was some learning, the blog became a vehicle to attack the Select Board unfairly. The Select Board can not defend itself while there is ongoing litigation. Unfortunately, I felt it was necessary to remove the blog.
I have been attending Select Board meetings for over two years. I know how hard these folks work outside the Select Board meetings putting in their time to meet with engineers, electricians, plumbers, FRCOG members, attending several meetings both with town bodies and outside committees. They do this public service, which is sometimes thankless, for a love of Heath.
I am grateful to a Board that has a strong desire to do what is best for all the Heath community, are dedicated, and willing to sacrifice personal and family time on our behalf. I also know from my experience attending Select Board meetings how much thought and personal angst goes into decision making to do what’s right and best for the town.
Please be cognizant that there are two sides to every story and do not pre-judge and possibly libel our Board who is prevented, due to litigation, from speaking on their own behalf. From my personal experience our board members are dedicated, trustworthy, respectful of all Heathans, and I am grateful they are guiding us.
PUBLIC STATEMENT~~FINAL (12/17/2021)
After careful consideration and considerable deliberation, the Select Board has determined it would be in the best interest of the town to resolve the litigation titled New Cingular Wireless PCS, LLC d/b/a AT&T Mobility v. Town of Heath, et al. This litigation involves an application by AT&T for a special permit to construct a 180 foot telecommunications tower at 0 Rowe Road and the Planning Board’s decision denying that special permit. The Planning Board’s denial was based upon the application of the Town’s Zoning Bylaw, which allows for telecommunications towers at a height up to 110 feet. The litigation challenging that decision was brought in federal district court, alleging that the denial violates the provisions of the federal Telecommunications Act. That Act prohibits the Town from taking action that would effectively prohibit the expansion of telecommunications service. While the Select Board respects the decision of the Planning Board in seeking to enforce the provisions of the Town’s Bylaw, the Select Board also recognizes the burden this litigation would place upon the Town’s financial and administrative resources, and the risk to the Town, especially in light of the clear mandate of the federal law.
The Select Board, with input from the Planning Board, entered into settlement discussions with AT&T. Those negotiations centered on reducing the proposed tower height, obtaining data demonstrating an actual gap in cellular communications coverage, arranging for installation of the Town’s public safety transmitters on the tower, payment of outstanding consultant fees, securing a removal bond should it be necessary to remove the tower, and compliance with other laws and regulations. AT&T has already provided the requested data and agreed to reduce the base tower height to 120 feet, pay for installation of the Town’s public safety transmitters, pay outstanding consultant fees in the amount of $2500, provide a removal bond, and comply with applicable laws, codes, and regulations.
It is important to note that the federal law (the so-called “Spectrum Act”) allows for an increase in tower height of 10% or up to 20 feet, whichever is greater, above what is otherwise allowed. Thus, a 110 foot tower height, as already allowed by the Town’s Zoning Bylaws, may be immediately increased to 130 feet. AT&T has agreed to a tower height of 120 feet, limiting the total height to 140 feet, meaning that the compromise resolution allows for an increase of only ten feet above what is effectively allowed by the Zoning Bylaws, and avoids the possibility of a 180 foot tower at that site. The additional benefits in the resolution address public safety needs as well as reimbursement for some of the Town’s costs in the application process.
The Select Board thanks the Planning Board for its efforts in seeking to protect the interests of the Town in accordance with the Zoning Bylaw. Resolution of the case recognizes the impact of federal law on local law, and the emphasis of the federal law on assuring wireless service coverage throughout the Town, the Commonwealth, and the nation. The negotiated resolution takes into consideration the Town’s Zoning Bylaws allowing towers of up to 110 feet, minimizes impacts on the Town under federal law, brings recognizable public safety benefits, and eliminates the cost and uncertainty of ongoing federal court litigation.
Acronyms & References
List of Acronyms and Terms Used at Select Board Meetings. This is a living document and is by no means comprehensive—it’s a foreign language.
American Rescue Plan Act Final Rule
Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds
Federal government programs for COVID relief.
ATM: Annual Town Meeting
CH: Community Hall, Town municipal building,, 1 West Main St
JR: Jacobs Road, Town municipal building, 18 Jacobs Rd, Town Offices
SH: Sawyer Hall Town municipal building,, 1 East Main St, Post Office & Library
BUC: Building Use Committee
Town committee to oversee building use.
CARES: The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act)
FCCDC/CDC: Franklin County Community Development Corp
CCG: Community Compact IT Grant
CDBG: Community Development Block Grant
COLA: Cost of Living Adjustment
Chapter 70: State aid program to public schools under DESE.
DESE: Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education
EEAC: Energy Efficiency Advisory Committee
FRCOG: Franklin Regional County of Governors
HAY: Hawlemont Agriculture and You
A collaboration with local farmers and community members where children engage in hands-on learning as they care for animals, nurture gardens, and develop new skills in a real farm setting.
MLB: Municipal Light Board
Municipal Light Board manages the Heath Broadband Network (Municipal Light Plant -MLP).
The Heath Municipal Light Plant (MLP) is managed by the Heath Municipal Light Board (MLB) and the MLP Manager, with the purpose to oversee the building and operations of a fiber-optic broadband network for Heath homes.
MTRSD: Mohawk Trail Regional School District
School district for Heath students. The elementary school is Colrain and secondary (7-12) is the MTRHS.
MVP: Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness
The MVP grant provides support for cities and towns in Massachusetts to begin the process of planning for climate change resiliency and implementing priority projects.
Regional Animal Control: Franklin County Regional Animal Control
Sue Lively is Heath’s rep
SOA: Student Opportunity Act
Mass Gov act to improve inequitable gaps for ethnic and racial groups.
TMS: TMS Educational Solutions
The Management System, consulting firm used by MTRSD to calculate school assessments.
WRAP: Winter Recovery Assistance Program
"Provides cities and towns with funding to improve their transportation networks in response to harsh winter weather. Funds must be spent by June 30, 2023."
Carson Ovitt, Carpenter, CH doors
Roger Harris, Project Engineerer for Rise Engineering, Green Communities Grant, Community Hall HVAC
Paul Harnett, Plumbing