League of Women Voters – Observing Marblehead town government in action

Observation reports are submitted by Marblehead League of Women Voters members who have attended meetings of various town boards and commissions. Observers are solely responsible for accuracy of the information.  Complete reports can be found on the LWV of Marblehead Website www.lwvmarblehead.org.

 

BOARD OF HEALTH – 11-15-22

LWVM Observer – Thomas Krueger

Marblehead Counseling Center (MCC) – Ruth Ferguson (president of the board of the MCC came before the board (BOH) asking for ARPA funds that the Select Board had awarded to the BOH for mental health services. Ruth spoke about the circumstances and experiences at the MCC over the past few years.  Foremost, the demand for services has way exceeded the capacity.  The Hobbs center needed many repairs and changes to meet the need.  These included many outdoor repairs, making the building ADA compliant (there are many clients who are older or disabled), reconfiguring the first floor so the entrance was there, changing space on the first floor for clinical offices.  These all cost about $80,000, money that was drawn from the MCC endowment. 

With the huge demand for trained clinicians and the competition stiff, it has been difficult to hire and retain staff.  The MCC has had to be creative about the issue: allowing greater flexibility in the work environment; moving to have more Fee For Service clinicians, etc.

At this point the discussion turned to the ARPA requests from the MCC. (ARPA funds have a number of constraints and criteria. One constraint is that the funds can’t be used for salaries.) The request fell in to three existing needs – 1. Insufficient and inadequate technology and related equipment and software – request $50,000; 2. Expansion of clinical office space and building repairs – request in total $55,000; 3. Highly competitive environment for hiring and retaining mental health professional – request $40,000 for a bonus pool. 

The BOH was awarded $200,000 to be distributed for mental health services. (A fact that is not often recognized is that MHD town support for a mental health counseling center is unique and the residents of MHD are very fortunate.  Many other towns do not have this valuable resource.) The BOH unanimously is supportive of the MCC. They will look at the request and also see if there are any other mental health services they might fund. The BOH gives the MCC $60,000 each year. Would they like more? Yes.  The MCC will return in January as the budget is being created with a detailed request. 

Mental Health Task Force Update- With the guests still present, Ms. Miller, chair of the MHTF, related that much of the MHTF meetings were about the MCC. She reiterated how fortunate MHD is to have the MCC and how the MHTF is very supportive of ARPA funds going to the MCC.  When asked about the MHTF, Ms. Miller said it has operated on “no dollars.”  Mr. Petty suggested that the MHTF might look to see if they would need funds for further programs.  This would give the BOH a complete picture of where ARPA funds could go.  The next MHTF meeting is scheduled for 11/28 and 7PM, and a budget could be discussed.

At the last meeting of the MHTF, a discussion ensued of how to decrease the stigma associated with mental health issues.  They are looking at ways to actively do this.  

Another initiative has been one from the MHD Rotary Club, a program called Inner Explorer, one to help students and faculty in mindfulness. A brief discussion ensued about other possible initiatives. 

Transfer State Update – The next meeting in on 11/16 with the architect for Winter Street Architects present.  They are looking at location of the scale house/employee’s area, traffic flow, etc.  The scale will remain at its current location.  In the interim some potholes around the area will soon be filled. One request from a BOH member was that the meetings might be at night.  Mr. Petty replied that 3 town officials are part of the meeting so couldn’t be there. 

Waste Bans – A reminder that as of November 1st there is ban on disposal of textiles in the solid waste stream. Textiles include clothes, linen, curtains, etc.; these can be place in the bins near the recycling area.  These items should be cleaned and placed in plastic bags.  The transfer station does get paid for textiles as a bulk. Rugs and carpets CAN go in the solid waste stream. 

Also on November 1st, mattress and box springs can no longer go in the waste stream.  These can be recycled at the Transfer Station for $25 for mattress or mattress/box springs. This cost may need to go up to $35 as MHD: they will need to see what other communities in the state are doing, as they don’t want out of town use. 

Director’s Report

  • Paving will be done at the transfer station soon. This will require the TS to be shut down for the day. 
  • Opioid settlement – the town is to receive $100,993 over the next five years.  A budget will be developed for delivering services.
  • Household hazardous waste day – 12/7. The process (on-line sign up, etc.) will be the same as before. 

FAIR HOUSING COMMITTEE (FHC) – November 21, 2022

LWVM Observer – Bonnie Grenier

At the October 17, 2022 meeting, Select Board Chairman Moses Grader made a presentation to the committee informing them that the Select Board (SB) would be reorganizing the Fair Housing Committee. The purpose of the reorganization is to strengthen the FHC by having town officials serve on the board, broadening the committee mandate, empowering them to put initiatives into action, and enhancing communications and interactions with other town boards/committees. On November 16th the Select Board voted to reorganize the Fair Housing Committee as follows:

  • The committee would be comprised of nine members 
  • Representing the town would be SB member Erin Noonan; Thatcher Kezer, Town Administrator, and Becky Cutting, Town Planner
  • An individual representing the Marblehead Housing Authority (Teri McDonough), the Disabilities Commission (Katie Farrell) and the Task Force Against Discrimination (Deacon Joe Whipple). (All three are serving as current members of the FHC.)
  • Three continuing members of the FHC (Dirk Isbrandtsen, Debra Larkin, and Mimi Hollister)

Extended discussion revolved around which of the three current members would continue to serve as voting members of the FHC.  The three members not continuing as regular members of the FHC would focus on advocacy and community outreach and would vote only in the absence of a regular member. Kurt James and Bob Neuss both offered to serve as alternate members. Frank Evans was voted the third alternate member.  (Kurt James serves on the Housing Production Plan Implementation Committee (HPPIC) along with FHC members Dirk Isbrandsten and Teri McDonough.)

Additional discussion focused on the roles of the FHC and the HPPIC going forward. Erin suggested that the HPPIC schedule a meeting for December to discuss where each committee might focus their efforts. The 25 strategies of the HPP to increase affordable housing should be reviewed and a determination made as to where each committee would direct their efforts. (The HPPIC has not met since October 2021).

Coordination and communication between the FHC, HPPIC, and the Planning Board (PB) is critical to successfully advance options for affordable housing in Marblehead. 

Community outreach and education must be a focus to garner citizen support for affordable housing projects.  ECCO (Essex County Community Organization),

Harborlight Community Partners and Cathy Hoog from the Salem Housing Authorities will all be valuable resources and community partners in furthering the efforts of these committees.

Discussion about the role of the Affordable Housing Trust Fund (AHTF) included the suggestion that it act as the “banker” for proposed affordable housing projects. Questions remain as to how the AHTF would grow their funds and how these monies would best be utilized.

Members weighed in on the Planning Board’s public meeting on Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) as a possible way to increase affordable housing units in Marblehead.  Katie highlighted the need to bring accessibility of ADUs into the conversation while the PB is still in the process of developing a warrant article on the matter.  While the cost of making ADUs accessible may be prohibitive in many situations, Katie suggested that at the point of permitting, members of the Disabilities Commission could be brought in for recommendations as to how to enhance accessibility.

At the end of the meeting, Lou Meyi, a frequent attendee at FHC meetings and a self-described “adjunct contributor,” praised committee members and reminded them of the many accomplishments of the FHC over the years.