New Senior Housing Proposal is In, School Boiler Replacement Heightens, and Plenty of Movement on Old Business at the Selectmen’s Meeting

Sherman, Conn. (Citizen News) – Last week at the monthly Board of Selectmen (BoS) Meeting several important reports, announcements, and updates were on the agenda. One anticipated update came from the Housing Commission…

A New Housing Commission Report

The Housing Commission provided a report to the BoS that included their assessment and recommendations about providing affordable housing to seniors in Sherman. Housing Commission Chairman, Art Von Plachecki, and Commissioner, Bruce Hoag, were the presenters.

The Findings:

There is a real need to develop a long-term plan to increase the availability of appropriate housing for seniors. A significant amount of seniors do not qualify for designated affordable housing so there needs to be a plan for all seniors, regardless of income level. They need to explore ways the private sector can meet the housing needs of seniors. A plan for seniors needs to also gain approval from Sherman residents, and without compromising the rural character of the Town.

Recommendations to P&Z:

Planning and Zoning (P&Z) should change the Accessory Dwellings Regulation to not limit the lots to being on 8+ acres and should change this to 1+ acres. The P&Z should possibly limit the size of the accessory dwellings by lot size using foot print, volume, or total square footage because this is what the real estate industry is doing. Current regulations require a property owner to occupy the prime area of the home if there is an accessory apartment. This should change so seniors can downsize, and stay in their homes by living in their accessory apartments. Instead of a “buy back” provision, P&Z should review a Master Plan of Development as an alternative.

Recommendations to the BoS:

A Housing Authority needs to be established and the BoS needs to review this. As a tax incentive for the construction of new accessory apartments / dwellings, the Housing Commission would like for the BoS to consider a Property Tax Abatement Program. The BoS should also consider a Property Tax Relief Program for the elderly.

New Business     

There is a sense of urgency for the Sherman School to replace a boiler system no longer under warranty. The Facilities Manager for both the Town and the School, Frank Spaziani, and Chairman of the Maintenance Committee for the Board of Education, Joseph Keneally, appealed to the BoS to start the process for replacing three boilers made of cast iron sections, which are defective due to poor casting. The school has had three serious section failures, in addition to several minor section failures, in the course of eight years. Presently “one boiler is out” of service, and this could be a major problem if another boiler fails because the school may need to close on a cold winter day. At this point, Mr. Spaziani thinks it doesn’t make sense to keep replacing the cast iron sections each time one cracks. He provided a boiler project timeline along with a breakdown of different phases in the project. The exact cost is unknown. Since the Sherman School is a town asset, the BoS unanimously approved the unplanned request that “wasn’t in the budget” for an Engineering Services RFP. This first step has an estimated cost of $14,000.

A New Appointment

For the Zoning Board of Appeals, the BoS appointed Samantha Addonizio to Commissioner. Prior to, she served as an Alternate. There are now two vacancies on the board: one for Alternate and one for Commissioner.

Board Vacancies Announcement

There are two open positions for the Board of Assessment Appeals. Presently, the BoS is reaching out to former members to see if they are interested. These positions are open to anyone qualified and a board member has also made a recommendation. Contact First Selectman Clay Cope if interested.

Old Business Updates

Proposed Ordinance and Septic Tank Visual Inspection / Walk-over Program: Scott Randall; advocate, resident, and Lake Advisory Committee Waterfront Delegate, presented to the BoS three language modifications he thinks should ease privacy concerns, give the property owner the option to use a licensed septic company of choice to do the inspection, and stop the program if at the end of the first three-year cycle it is deemed ineffective. Mr. Randall believes that anyone sitting on the fence about passing this ordinance will support it once they hear the proposed changes.

Related to this topic, First Selectman Cope read an email from resident Don Lowe who gave reasons why Sherman does not need this ordinance. Mr. Lowe thinks it would be ineffective and will add an unnecessary extra layer of local government.

Selectman Bob Ostrosky encouraged residents who are in strong support of this ordinance to speak up and share their opinions. The BoS agreed to add Mr. Randall’s proposed modifications to the next public forum’s presentation. The second forum on this proposed ordinance and walkover program will take place on Friday, Feb. 6 at 7 p.m.

Happy Acres Farm Committee: First Selectman Cope reported that Sherman residents, Sue Moga from Muscoot Farm and Ralph Gorman from White Silo Barn and Winery, will serve on this new ad hoc committee. They will be meeting with First Selectman Cope and Full Circle Farming within the next few weeks.

Happy Acres Farm: First Selectman Cope read a progress report email from Adam Mantzaris of Full Circle Farming about their first two weeks as new tenants on Happy Acres Farm. They are settling into a “rhythm to the chores” and have a meeting with the veterinarian soon to make sure all cows are healthy going into calving season. They are also “receiving a first batch of 50 layer hens” along with “two Nigerian dwarf goats.”

First Selectman Cope also brought up how there are farm expenses the Town needs to pay, such as the repair work done to the silo and a recent ceiling repair. Instead of having to go to a Town Meeting every time an expense needs to be paid, Treasurer Holub recommended that a separate operating fund should be set up “to pay for any expenses that do not exceed the income of the operations.” The BoS unanimously agreed to set up a separate fund that pays for any expense that does not exceed $10,000 if the funds are available.

Monthly Financial Summary:

First Selectman Cope reported the Monthly Financial Summary of the Town expenditures and “it’s all tracking accordingly.”

The Treasurer’s Revenue Report: Treasurer, Eric Holub, stated “the Town is in okay shape.” He reported that 65% of the budget is collected and that the town is ahead of budget on revenue. Mr. Holub also indicated that building permits are down $14,000 from last year and thinks this might be a seasonal trend. Overall, he’s not worried about the revenue side and said “everything is tracking okay.”

Disbursement Controls Policy: Selectman Ostrosky gave a brief update and stated that “the Department of Public Works and the Department of Parks and Recreation (P&R) will report in February.” Related to this…

Parks and Recreation (P&R) Audit: Selectman Ostrosky said that in response to the auditor’s comments, he is gathering input / output and has asked P&R Director, John Wrenn, for a formal SPARK report and needs to see the bank statements.

Public Works Department: Selectman Ostrosky said that when he met with Supervisor Don Borkowski to go over the capital plan and purchasing process he saw firsthand the effects of salt and pollutants on the newer Town trucks and sees the value in the Public Works Wash Station. The gas bill is also high and he will look into possible ways to save money. There is also a lot of older and unused equipment on the property, so the Town plans to advertise a “list of assets” that are up for sale.

Wash Station Open Bid Announcement: First Selectman Cope announced the Public Works Wash Station bid documents will soon be available. The Town recently received a STEAP Grant of $275,000 for the construction of this project.

HVCEO / SWPRA / WCCOG: First Selectman Cope wants to put back “on the table”, the importance of joining the new COG, which is a State Mandate to meld 18 towns together to form a regional council. He stated “we are the only town of 18 that did not join” and wants this on the agenda for February. He also provided a PowerPoint deck by WCCOG demonstrating the value to the town in joining this COG.

Communications Update

Emergency Radio Communications Report: David Hopkins, Chairman of the Radio Communications Committee, presented his status report to the BoS and is requesting $33,000 from the Town to improve the fire department’s radio system in the coming fiscal year. The main ticket item in the Northeastern Communications estimate is for $28,000 in Motorola equipment and installation. First Selectman Cope said that if the Town is awarded the STEAP Grant of $500,000 to fund this project then this Public Safety Communications Project will be paid for with STEAP funds.

Completed Town Projects

Sherman School Roof: First Selectman Cope said the school roof repair is complete and the inspection was completed and approved by the Town Building Inspector, Bill Jenks.

Sherman Volunteer Fire Department: First Selectman Cope reported the tires will be purchased for $7,300 from the Belardinelli Tire Company.

Recurring Town Projects Update

Playhouse Bathrooms: First Selectman Cope reported that the plumbing and electrical roughs are done, the lighting is installed, and the walls are painted. Installing the floor tile is a work in progress and the completion time should be within three weeks.

Briarwood Road Bridge Replacement: First Selectman Cope said “decisions need to be made” about the construction of the bridge and what materials should be used for this new bridge, like concrete or wood.

Briarwood Road Open Bid Announcement: First Selectman Cope announced the engineering phase only of this project will be open to bids. Wolff Engineering estimates this part of the phase will cost $40,000.

Spring Lake Road: First Selectman Cope stated that the NJR Construction Company, who subbed out the paving part of the contract to A&J, has made repairs to the road. The next step is for Supervisor Don Borkowski and Joe Wrenn, the engineer of the road, to determine if the repairs are acceptable. If yes, then the Town will release the final payment.

Emergency Services Facility: First Selectman Cope reported that the fire department doesn’t like the original design of the coiled airdrops from the ceiling because they ricochet and hit the volunteer firefighters when in use. The Town will replace them with winding air hoses and pay for a hose reel. $5,000 is needed to make this modification and the money is coming out of the remaining balance of the project.

Public Comments

Terri Hahn, resident and President of the Timber Trails Property Owners Association, voiced her neighborhood’s concern about “having absolutely no cellphone service within our community. However, some people have found a way to satisfy that by using a booster.” She continued to say this is not the answer to the root of the problem because if a car breaks down or there is an accident in the southern quadrant then there is no way for people in distress to call for help. Ms. Hahn has also contacted New Fairfield to provide a communications assessment report indicating the dead zones. Ms. Hahn believes New Fairfield also has a vested interest because the buses turn around in this area all the time and can encounter problems like icy patches.

Representatives from the Sherman Cell Tower Committee (SCTC), Gail and Steve Maletz, continued their in-person pleas for cellphone coverage in Southern Sherman because not having coverage is a matter of public safety.

Steve Maletz read aloud a letter from the Connecticut Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection he received about how many accidents and other incidents there have been on Routes 37 and 39 in Southern Sherman for the years of 2012, 2013, and 2014. For this three-year time period, there were 1,393 reported, which included 17 accidents with injuries.

Ms. Maletz requested an update to the possibility of the Town rescinding its letter to AT&T. First Selectman Cope recommended that the BoS puts on the agenda for next month the need for a discussion about municipal preference.

Public Correspondence

First Selectman Cope read two correspondence letters received regarding the recent non-illumination of the cross at Happy Acres Farm. The first letter to go on record was from Jerrold Siegel. He wrote about his original concern and reiterated that using town property for the display of religious symbols was a violation of state and federal laws. He wanted residents to know that the BoS made the decision on their own in order to comply with these laws.

The second letter was from Gary Albert who wants the BoS to review, before the 2015 holiday season begins, a Massachusetts ordinance that allows for temporary displays of religious and holiday symbols on public property.

This article by Alicia Sakal ran in the January 28th Edition of the Citizen News, serving Sherman and New Fairfield, Connecticut.

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