Marblehead League of Women Voters
The Marblehead Current is pleased to be supplementing its coverage of public meetings with Observer Reports provided by volunteers from the Marblehead League of Women Voters. To learn more about the League and its activities, see my.lwv.org/massachusetts/marblehead.
Fair Housing Committee, Nov. 21
At the Oct. 17 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 Nov. 16, 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 Select Board member Erin Noonan, Marblehead Town Administrator Thatcher Kezer, and Town Planner Becky Cutting, 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, 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 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 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 Planning Boad 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. – BONNIE GRENIER
Marblehead Board of Health, Nov. 15
Ruth Ferguson (president of the board of the Marblehead Counseling Center), Ron Grenier (board member) and Terri McDonough (director of the MCC) came before the Board of Health asking for ARPA funds that the Select Board had awarded to the BOH for mental health services.
Ferguson introduced herself as living in the town for 40 years, has been an MCC board member for six years and became president on July 1. Grenier joined the board in July, too.
Before discussing the request for funds, they were asked to talk 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 its needs. 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, and changing space on the first floor for clinical offices. These all cost about $80,000, money that was drawn from the MCC endowment.
Then COVID hit, which led to a shutdown of the building and even more people in need of services. Information technology had to be upgraded with further investment in telehealth capabilities and training.
Now the center is open, but the demand has continued to increase. The center is continuing to operate in a hybrid model (in office and remote). 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.
Since operating expenses are almost twice revenue, the MCC has been looking at insurance providers who remit for services – each company has a different rate. (MassHealth is actually one of the higher ones, and the MCC has a lot of MassHealth patients.)
Fundraising campaigns have been successful in the past, but there is always concern about the long run.
A board member was concerned about other building repairs, specifically the boiler and the roof. It is unclear whose responsibility this is: The town owns the building, but the MCC has a “lease” that stipulates repairs to the building. (This will be investigated further.)
Another concern expressed: A waiting list for services. The number is approximately 200, with 70-80 percent Marblehead residents (the reimbursement from out-of-town clients helps the finances of the MCC), and all clients under 20 Marblehead residents. Previously, the list had been 300, but was reduced with more hires.
A third question concerned the building capacity. This varies depending on the continued use of the hybrid model. No one is discussing giving up the hybrid model. Clinicians can use telehealth from the center or elsewhere. The building does not seem to be a constraint. (Of note, there have even been some home visits, and thoughts about visits at the school.)
A fourth question was whether there was a psychiatrist at the MCC. Yes, so prescriptions can be written. (Also of note, the MCC has a person on-call 24 hours a day, who can identify urgency and level of care needed.)
Another question concerned what the wait periods are. All referrals are triaged with Marblehead residents taking priority, and it depends on the clinician’s schedule.
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 into 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 Marblehead town support for a mental health counseling center is unique, and the residents of Marblehead 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.
Grenier said that the MCC needs the funds soon, and has had for the past 18 months. The MCC has only gotten through this through donors.
Not related to the ARPA request, a brief discussion was held about the funds MCC does get from the town. 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. – THOMAS KRUEGER
Marblehead Finance Committee, Nov. 14
The Fiscal Year 2024 Budget Schedule:
FinCom will send out a request to all town departments to submit their proposed FY24 budgets the week of Dec. 12.
Select Board will review the collected budgets in early January
State of the Town Meeting: Jan. 12
Fin Com liaison meetings: January – March 3
Full FinCom review and approval of all budgets in meetings scheduled for Feb. 13, Feb. 27, March 13 and March 27
Public hearing on the 2023 town warrant: April 3
Town Meeting: May 1
The Fiscal Year 2023 Town Meeting Article 44 (Open Meeting Law Compliance) Study Committee: Pat Franklin Fin Com/Article 44 liaison
The committee was formed to report on and calculate the costs of implementing the requirement that all Marblehead public meetings be hybrid ones.
It has identified six possible locations for use by groups subject to open meeting laws: Mary Alley building, Abbot Hall, the Jacobi Community Center, Abbot Public Library (including its interim location at the Eveleth School), Marblehead High School, and the Marblehead Municipal Light Department.
In the spirit of brainstorming for the committee’s liaison, Pat, FinCom members discussed possible costs including one-time infrastructure needs for each location, equipment/technology costs, periodic maintenance of equipment and software, training, identifying, and paying staff to facilitate/manage the technology at meetings, costs of video recordings and their storage, etc.
Just a few of the many reflections expressed by FinCom members included the possibility of having tech-savvy MHS students get involved in facilitation; of the need to consider folding costs into the FY24 budget process; of the concern that it would be problematical to expect to have July 1, 2023, as a starting date if the new warrant is approved at Town Meeting.
There was also considerable discussion about adopting requirements for open meetings, which might exceed Massachusetts law. What would the implications be? – KATHARINE REDMOND