NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

March 11, 2013

Walking path from the new Poplar Hill development raises concern

Merrimac Notebook
Warren P. Russo

---- — Paul Sciacca of North Street appeared before the Board of Selectmen last week to resolve concerns about a walking path from the new Poplar Hill development that may impinge on his property. After much discussion about North Street, paper roads, minimum lot sizes and antiquated town plans, Sciacca agreed to have his property surveyed to protect buildable lots on his 7.2 acres of land.

Sandy Venner of the Planning Board was also present, helping to clarify and resolve the issues in an amicable manner.

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Police Chief Eric Shears obtained approval for a pay raise for reserve officers to $18 per hour from $14 per hour, plus a funding increase to cover $49,000 in unbudgeted overtime. He also announced plans to hire four additional part-time dispatchers and received approval for a $1,600 line item to cover officer training and education.

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Fire Chief Ralph Spencer received a $5,000 budget increase for fire alarm maintenance and repair. The department’s plan is to allocate that sum every year for the next five years “to bring the system up to date,” in the words of the chief. He also received $450 to cover the cost of Tier 2 reporting, which is a compilation of the types and locations of all hazardous materials in the town. Despite rising state taxes, Tier 2 reporting is one of many unfunded mandates, which must be paid for by Merrimac taxpayers.

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The Council on Aging received a budget increase of $19,048 to cover the cost of the increasing numbers of senior citizens it serves, as well as the panoply of services it continues to provide at the Senior Center.

“Everyone is working well beyond the time they’re being paid for,” said Laura Mailman, who temporarily stepped down from her selectman’s role to advocate on behalf of the Senior Center. “Everybody’s wearing several hats today, and while we’re serving more than 5,000 meals a year, we’re also providing transportation for medical appointments.”

The center’s head cook position has expanded so much, noted Mailman, that it has been redesignated as kitchen manager. Increased work hours for the position — deemed necessary to cope with the steadily increasing meal service — will trigger an additional $10,000 in benefits for a married employee or $7,000 more if the kitchen manager is unmarried.

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The lease issue for the Pentucket Regional School District properties has finally been resolved, with West Newbury now marching to the same beat as its partner towns. According to Selectman Rick Pinciaro, the lease subcommittee will now present the lease agreement as originally approved, rather than the non-conforming lease put forward earlier by West Newbury.

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A sign of spring — Merrimac’s Parks and Recreation Department is starting to review requests from teams and leagues for field use dates and times for the coming season. Armchair athletes should note that there is also an open position on the Parks and Recreation Commission.

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Field of dreams? A request from the town’s Lighting Department to add a proposal for a line of funding at this year’s Town Meeting for a solar field was summarily and unanimously rejected as entirely “premature.”

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The paperless office may be on the way, as Merrimac modernizes its office operations along with the town’s appearance, keeping pace with the world instead of fading into obscurity. Selectmen have approved an article for this year’s Town Meeting advocating the acquisition of tablet-based software and hardware for town officials to use at meetings for enhanced efficiency.

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The Department of Public Works and director Bob Sinibaldi were lauded for their superior snow removal performance this year in a letter addressed to the town’s selectmen from John E. Meserve, president of the Merrimac Savings Bank.

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Warren P. Russo covers Merrimac for The Daily News. He can be contacted at warrenrusso@live.com.