Westport Selectmen put brakes on planner hiring

The process of hiring a new town planner has been put off until after the New Year in order to give the Board of Selectmen time to take a closer look at the job description. Planning Board members attended last week's Selectmen meeting to ask that work begin to find a replacement for Sarah Raposa who announced recently that she was leaving to take a similar post in Medfield, Mass. Her last day on the job was Dec. 18. Before a replacement can be hired, however, the town would have to lift its hiring freeze and the Selectmen majority wasn't prepared to do that last Monday. Selectman Craig Dutra made a motion to lift the hiring freeze for this particular instance but no other members of the board supported his motion. Selectman Antone Vieira Jr. said the Selectmen may want to consider taking a look at the position's job description, perhaps requiring experience in civil engineering. Mr. Vieira denied that his effort amounts to micromanaging town planning work, saying he sees no urgency in deciding whether or not to lift the hiring freeze before the New Year. But Planning Board members said that they think the job description is adequate, adding that they believe Ms. Raposa had done a good job during her time here. In the end, the Selectmen deciding to meeting with the Planning Board on Wednesday, Jan. 2, to discuss the matter further.   Payment from nonprofits Also stirring debate last week was a proposal to require some sort of payment in lieu of taxes by nonprofit property owners in town. Mr. Vieira said the discussion is needed because nonprofits now hold some $35 million and growing worth of property in town from which the town collects no taxes or gets tax revenue at a drastically reduced rate. Many Massachusetts towns, he said, expect nonprofits to pay an amount (25 percent, he said, is common) of money in lieu of taxes. In addition to conservation restrictions placed on farmland, Mr. Vieira pointed to groups such as the Historical Society, Grange, churches, Veterans of Foreign Wars and others that own buildings. He noted that the VFW operates what is essentially a bar business in its untaxed headquarters. Selectman Dutra said that the problem with setting an arbitrary contribution rate is the fact that nonprofits differ greatly in their ability to pay. Selectmen said the matter needs further discussion but did ask the town administrator to pass on the town's support of payment in lieu of taxes at the next meeting of he Massachusetts Municipal Association.   Recycled asphalt for East Beach Road Selectmen also heard a report from Town Administrator John Healey that a plan to repair East Beach Road with recycled asphalt has been forwarded to state and federal authorities for review. Tibbett's Engineering, the company hired by the town to come up with recommendations for the storm-battered road, has prepared a proposal to use recycled asphalt on the stretch that was washed out, most recently by Hurricane Sandy. Recycled asphalt is essentially ground up asphalt that can be mixed into existing sand and gravel. It binds with that material over time to produce a firm yet somewhat flexible surface. industry website claims that it is well-suited to difficult terrain and is less prone to cracking than asphalt in places that lack a proper roadway foundation."Once the permitting is secured, the project will be bid early in the new year," he said. Hix Bridge issues Selectmen were told that cracks that have appeared on a column of the recently rebuilt Hix Bridge over the Westport River do not appear to be structural in nature, according to Alton Ellis of the Bridge Section of the Department of Transportation in Taunton. Mr. Ellis said the cracking is a separation problem common to this type of construction and is likely limited to the fiberglass jacket over the column. He said he intends to check it more thoroughly and report back.


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