The Winchendon Courier
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Week of September 29 to October 6, 2022
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Town Manager Presents Final STM Warrant to BOS

At their meeting on Monday, September 26, the Town Manager presented the Final Warrant for the Fall Special Town Meeting, scheduled for Monday, October 24 at 7:00 p.m., to the Board. Instead of the thirteen articles in the draft Warrant presented on September 12, the final Warrant was slimmed down to only eleven separate articles. Town Manager Justin Sultzbach explained each one.

Final Special Town Meeting Warrant (PDF)

Proposed Town Charter Amendments (PDF)

Article 1 concerns the Finance Committee's report on the town's financial status, focusing on the amount in Free Cash and how the expenditures in the following articles will impact that.

"We're looking at a situation where Free Cash flow is going to range from about $100,000 to $1.8 million and that's a big swing," Mr. Sultzbach said. He explained that Free Cash has not been certified yet, although it will be certified by Town Meeting. There are some substantial outstanding amounts the town is still waiting for on both the town and school sides of the budget, approximately $1.2 million in outstanding grants.

"We need to get a draw down on those grants before we go to certify Free Cash. Otherwise, it looks like an outstanding expense. So it artificially ties up Free Cash or what would be Free Cash in that amount," Mr. Sultzbach explained. "That money doesn't go away. We don't lose it. It just means it won't be available until next year when we go to certify Free Cash. So that was something that we want to review with the community."

Mr. Sultzbach said he'd been talking with the Capital Planning Committee about the best way to balance drawing from Free Cash with borrowing to cover the expenses in the Warrant. It's ended up being about half of each. "But the important takeaway is a lot of the Free Cash items we're looking to fund aren't frivolous items. In fact, a majority of them are stabilization accounts. We're looking to take that money and earmark it, put it away for a rainy day. It's not going anywhere. It's not leaving us needlessly exposed." The $1.2 million in the Warrant will leave the town about $100,000 shy of the goal of having 5 percent of general operating costs in reserved, certified Free Cash. "So from a fiscal perspective, we're in really good shape, and we're continuing to trend in that direction," he asserted.

Article 2 is the $100,000 request for streetlights on Central Street and in the new gateway park at Lake Street and Spring Street. This covers the remaining amount needed on top of grants from the state and the Robinson Broadhurst Foundation. The Capital Planning Committee voted 4-0 to approve this article. This would come from Free Cash.

Article 3 requests $145,000 for Phase 2 of the Beals Memorial Library upgrade. This amount has been reduced from the $215,000 in the draft Warrant because it was found that the $70,000 left over from Phase 1 could be applied to offset Phase 2 costs. Mr. Sultzbach stated that the Capital Planning Committee approved the expenditure 5-0 on the condition that it come from borrowing, over a five-year period, not from Free Cash.

In response to a question from Board Vice Chair Rick Ward, Mr. Sultzbach explained that "borrowing" is not the same as a debt exclusion and will not increase taxes at all. There is a line item in the town budget for debt service and that will be increased, taking available money from other lines in the budget, but will not impact taxes. Mr. Ward objected that he felt paying 4 percent interest on a loan is a waste of money when they could simply take the money out of Free Cash.

"If it doesn't affect the tax rate, you need to say that on the Warrant, because the people that are voting need to know if it's not going to affect their tax rate. That needs to be on the Warrant, not spoken in Town Meeting all of a sudden," Mr. Ward asserted.

Selectman Barbara Anderson said, "I think my criticism for myself and for others that I've heard of is they're tired of seeing the library project there every single Town Meeting, and it looks like we're just getting money and not doing anything."

Mr. Sultzbach put in, "As someone who a portion of my day is soaked up by this project every time I walk in the door, I would argue a lot is being done even though people don't necessarily see it. I do agree with your sentiment. This shouldn't have come back a third time. I think we dropped the ball on this one." He recapped that the initial project was approved based on estimates, and actual costs escalated rapidly due to COVID--"not using that as a crutch, just as a matter of reality." So more funds were requested, but by the time the next phase went out to bid, costs had risen even more.

He went on, "We're trying to move in a direction where we do a design, bid, build process, and that's your best bet, and that we as a community would fund projects that we have an interest in funding to pay for the design first. We can do the design, we can put it out to bid 30-60 days in advance of a special or an annual Town Meeting. And then we can go to the people on Town Meeting floor with a concrete number, and say this isn't what we think it's going to cost, this is what it's going to cost, period. And that's what we're looking to do moving forward."

Mr. Ward said that his objection was not to the cost per se but paying for it with borrowing and having to pay interest on a loan.

Article 4 requests increasing the budget line item for highway materials by $95,000 which will be covered by additional money from the state and used to make repairs on Pleasant Street, Island Road and a section at Pleasant and Summer Streets, before prices go up even more. The Board had no questions. This will come out of Free Cash.

Article 5 requests approval for a debt exclusion in the amount of $618,750 to cover designs for a proposed upgraded fire station. (A debt exclusion allows towns to raise taxes above the Proposition 2-1/2 limit, but only temporarily. Once the debt is paid off, the increase in the tax rate is rescinded. In an override, the increase is permanent. Like Prop 2-1/2 overrides, a debt exclusion must go to a ballot vote as well be being approved at Town Meeting by a two-thirds majority or greater.) Mr. Sultzbach stated that the debt exclusion will result in an "average" residential tax bill (on a home assessed at $242,405) going up by $33.94.

Ms. Anderson asked if voters could see what other debt exclusions are currently in effect, which will eventually be paid off and taken off the tax rates. Mr. Sultzbach said he will check.

Mr. Ward questioned the timeline, pointing out that it appeared that even if the article was approved, it would need to go to a ballot vote next spring before the architects could even start work. Town elections are held in May before Annual Town Meeting. Winchendon Fire Chief Tom Smith rose to basically affirm that, saying that it would take some six to eight months for designs to be completed, as these would be buildable plans, not just schematics. They would come to Fall Town Meeting in 2023 with the next step, approving construction. Mr. Ward wondered why they shouldn't just wait to bring this article to Town Meeting next May.

Selectman Amy Salter asked how they could be sure that the costs wouldn't have gone way up by the time the designs were done. Chief Smith explained that the architect would be creating plans based on specifications including financial costs. They've done a cost estimate with cost escalations built into the project. The architect would have to stay within those amounts in the design. Mr. Sultzbach added that the architectural firm "know definitively what we're looking for in terms of the floorplan and they know that that should not exceed eight and a half million [dollars] so they'll be designing something based on that."

Article 6 requests $9,560,000, via a 30-year borrowing plan, to replace the water main from Ashburnham to Winchendon.

Mr. Sultzbach explained that this amount is not what it appears. "So when we're bringing it to the town, we have to bring it in a full dollar value and get approval to borrow legally in the full dollar value. But that's not the amount that the people at Winchendon are going to be paying for this pipe. There is right off the bat that 19 percent forgiveness [of the cost by the state]. We're also setting up meetings with members of the state and federal government trying to identify different pots of money or resources. That could help defray some of this cost. Ultimately, its worst case scenario would be about a $350,000 annual debt payment. We're going to work to try to pull that down to about $250,000 Or maybe a little bit lower."

Asked why this article had no vote from the Capital Planning Committee, Mr. Sultzbach explained that it really fell under the Water Enterprise Fund capital expenditures. "The water plant has capital needs that we share with Ashburnham, so it's not going to be on our main capital plan. The wastewater plant, yeah, we do own it directly, but in the same way that we separate the water capital plan, we separate the wastewater capital plan. It could go before the Capital Planning Committee, it is an expense that realistically, it's not going to be paid entirely by the ratepayers. It is going to end up being a town expense in some capacity. I see no harm in maybe asking their opinion on [Town Meeting] floor."

Asked by Mr. Ward about "worst case scenario" cost, Mr. Sultzbach said they would be doing everything possible, including "value engineering" to pull down costs. Also, the amount cited is "a very conservative" (i.e. high) number, allowing for contingencies such as running into "way more ledge than you're realistically going to hit" during construction.

Selectman Amy Salter asked whether the funding costs would be covered by taxes or by the water ratepayers. Mr. Sultzbach responded that once costs were brought down as low as possible, "the question is going to have to be, will that be paid for by the ratepayers or will it be paid for as some type of blend? And that's not something that I care to stick my neck, my neck out on and offer a guess but I would imagine it would have to be some type of blended funding source."

Department of Public Works Director Brian Croteau rose to say, "The Massachusetts system for this loan is broken. What it gets us is a fixed interest rate. But what it doesn't do is give you a hard number or tell you exactly what you're getting for grants monies till you're approved. So without this approval in Town Meeting, it's pulled off from the state and it doesn't move forward on the project process. So it's kind of backwards if you ask me, they're supposed to change the process, but who knows how long that could take. So without a positive movement on this, it'll get pulled from the state and the additional funding that the state could potentially put into it, we won't get. We'd have to start from zero."

Resident Rick Lucier rose to argue that the town should use $366,000 in the budget from a past school override vote for this project or "a project like this."

Resident Tina Santos rose to state that the article should be clear on whether taxpayers or water ratepayers would be bearing the cost. "The water users are always getting hit with higher rates," she said. "And if that main water breaks, we have no water in Winchendon whatsoever. So that means this building, all our town buildings, our school buildings, and businesses down on Central Street and all around town. So not necessarily just because you do not have [town] water, you have a well, that does not mean it does not affect you. We have employees and or residents that work at Town Hall...we need to get away from water users versus well users. We're all a town and we all benefit no matter what events, school, town buildings, businesses, etc. We need to stop putting it on one set of people, our water users and sewer users, because it's a lot."

Articles 7, 8, 9 and 10 propose moving funds from Free Cash into various reserve accounts and elicited no questions or comments from the Board or residents.

Article 10 combined the two separate articles in the draft Warrant concerning the changes to the Town Charter. One amendment had been made and approved last year but had not gone to a ballot vote as required and had now expired. It need to be approved again and then go to ballot vote. The other amendment was made this year but held so that both amendments could be voted on at the same time. No costs are involved.

Selectman Danielle LaPointe raised a question about the change in requirements for recalling elected officials. The current Charter states that 15 percent of the number of voters who attended the most recent Annual Town Meeting are required to sign a recall petition. The amendment changes this to 15 percent of the total number of registered voters in town. Ms. LaPointe questioned whether this was making it much harder, perhaps too hard, for voters to recall an elected official.

There was a discussion about the amendment adding "town website" to the Town Hall bulletin board as a required location to post vacancies in town elected or appointed boards and committees. Board members argued that not everyone in town accesses either the town website or Town Hall. Ms. Anderson suggested the town Code Red auto-call system as a way of notifying residents.

With all articles gone through, Mr. Ward proposed amending article 3 (the library repairs) to be funded from Free Cash. The motion passed. The Board then voted unanimously to finalize the Fall Special Town Meeting Warrant as amended.

Winchendon P.D. Nabs Alleged Drug Dealer

On Tuesday, September 27, 2022 just after midnight, Winchendon Police responded to a report of a motor vehicle crashing into a mailbox and trash cans at a Spring Street address, then leaving the scene and heading toward downtown Winchendon. The reporting party provided a vehicle description and a New Hampshire plate number. Moments after it left the Spring Street location, Officer Joseph Champney stopped the vehicle.

During the vehicle stop, Officer Champney made several observations which gave him probable cause to search the vehicle for illegal drugs. The search yielded approximately 157 grams of suspected fentanyl packaged into 15 separate bags, and 86 grams of suspected crack cocaine packaged into three separate bags. A digital scale and a small amouht of cash were also found. The drugs "were packaged in a manner consistent with street level distribution," according to the Winchendon PD press release by Lt. Kevin Wolski.

The operator of the vehicle, Marshal Redfield, 26, of Keene NH, was arrested at the scene and charged with trafficking in more than 10 grams of fentanyl, trafficking in more than 36 grams of cocaine, possession with intent to distribute a class A drug, possession with intent to distribute a class B drug, negligent operation of a motor vehicle, leaving the scene of an accident with property damage and marked lanes violation. Mr. Redfield was held overnight on $25,000 cash bail and arraigned later that morning in Winchendon District Court.

Information gleaned during the arrest was passed on to Keene, NH Police Detectives. who later seized approximately 40 more grams of fentanyl from a Keene hotel room that Mr. Redfield had occupied.

197 grams of fentanyl is enough for a lethal dose, on average, for 98,500 people.

According to reports in the Keene Sentinel, Mr. Redfield has a very long history with the New Hampshire law enforcement and judicial system.

In June, 2008, when Mr. Redfield was 12, he was found guilty of possession and use of tobacco by a minor, received a deferred $100 fine and was required to attend Smokeless Saturday.

In January 2013, Mr. Redfield, then 17, was before the court on charges of theft from a building. The case continued for trial.

In September, 2015, Mr. Redfield pleaded guilty to carrying or selling weapons and illegal possession of alcohol. For the weapons plea, he was fined $1000 of which $800 was suspended on condition of two years of good behavior; for the alcohol plea, he was fined $372 to be paid through 37 hours of community service.

Mr. Redfield was arrested and charged with selling heroin to a Keene police officer in a sting operation in September 2017. He was then listed as homeless. in January 2018 Mr. Redfield was indicted on charges of sale of fentanyl, accomplice to sale of cocaine and accomplice or principal to sale of fentanyl.

In August, 2018, Mr. Redfield was given multiple concurrent sentences on both felony and misdemeanor charges, including robbery, burglary, resisting arrest, obstructing the report of a crime, criminal trespass, criminal mischief, check forging, selling fentanyl and receiving stolen property. The longest sentences imposed were three to six years in New Hampshire State Prison (with 304 days credited for time served in Cheshire County Jail while awaiting resolution of his case) and two to four years in state prison with 304 days credited for time served. He was ordered to pay multiple fines, penalties and restitution, including $40 in restitution to the Keene Police Department and $56 in restitution to New Hampshire State Police Sgt. William DiLegge for one of the resisting arrest charges. Some of the fines were suspended.

In every case noted, Mr. Redfield pleaded guilty to charges.

Be sure to check out our Classified and Employment Ads on the Events Page!

Smoke Testing Investigations beginning week of Sept 12, 2022

The Town of Winchendon will be conducting smoke testing investigations throughout Town starting the week of September 12. These investigations are being conducted to identify sources of extraneous water that discharge into its sanitary sewers. The testing involves blowing white smoke into the sanitary sewer lines in the street and observing/recording where the smoke leaks out. The smoke is harmless, odorless, non-staining, and leaves no residue.

Prior to testing, you can reduce the chances of smoke entering your building by pouring about a gallon of water down each sink, toilet, and drain in your home. This will allow water to fill each trap (bend in the piping under the fixture), which will in turn prevent the smoke from entering the building.

The hours for testing are between 8:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m., Monday through Friday. The Fire and Police Departments are being notified on a daily basis of all smoke testing work locations.

We appreciate your cooperation in our efforts to improve sewer service in Town.

Subway June 2022 New Steak Teriyaki Sub

Stone Ladeau Funeral Home

Gardner Woman, 28, Dies in Winchendon Motorcycle Accident

On Wednesday, September 21, at approximately 11:05 a.m., Winchendon Police and Fire Departments responded to a motor vehicle accident in which a 2002 Toyota Tundra pickup truck (weight roughly 4,000 pounds or two tons) and a 2022 Honda CBF300 motorcycle had collided in front of the Irving gas station at 93 Gardner Road (Rte 140) in Winchendon.

28 year old Megan Anne Bower of Gardner, MA was operating the motorcycle. She was transported by Life Flight to UMass Memorial Hospital in Worcester, where she died of her injuries after arrival. The operator of the Toyota Tundra, an adult male resident of Winchendon, was not injured and was released from the scene.

Winchendon Police, the Massachusetts State Police Collision Analysis and Reconstruction Section (CARS) and Massachusetts State Police Detectives assigned to the Worcester County District Attorney's Office are investigating the crash.

It was the second fatal traffic accident in Winchendon within one week.

Central Mass Tree

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Winchendon Businesses, Organizations, Services, and Government

Letter to the Editor

Winchendon/Gardner/Athol/ and more sustain or realize significant viral increases

The Town of Winchendon per the most recent Massachusetts Department of Public Health Report dated Thursday, September 29, has maintained 11 percent viral positivity or higher for the third consecutive week, now documented by the D.P.H. at 11.76 percent SARS-CoV-2 positivity via 255 molecular tests, for the report period dated September 11, through September 24. In the past three reporting periods, Winchendon has now while maintaining 11 percent or higher, risen from 11.11 on September 15, to 11.43 on September 22, to its now current 11.76% positivity.

Also realizing significant increases in the area, were the Town of Athol with it's 11,500 residents, increasing from last weeks 4.15 percent positivity, to virtually doubling to this weeks newest report of 8.22%, a nearly 100% week increase based on 657 reporting period tests. Joining Athol on a large increase from Tool Town to the Chair City, the City of Gardner with 21,000 residents increase substantially from last weeks reporting period listed 9.29% positivity, to this weeks newest D.P.H. report of 13.80 percent positivity, a one reporting period increase of nearly 50 percent. Additionally, the Town of Westminster increased from 13.97 to 16.80% positivity, joined by the Town of Royalston which in one week, while on a very small number of tests, also rose from zero percent, to 16.13% positivity.

Rounding out the rest of our Ten Town Area, Ashburnham registered at 7.75%, Ashby at 7.46%, Templeton at 7.53%, Phillipston at 9.76%, and Hubbardston at 10.26%. In other North Quabbin area towns, Petersham registers at 14.71%, Barre at 11.83%, and Oakham at 12.82%. To our east in the Twin Cities Fitchburg registers at 10.18% based on nearly 1,200 molecular tests, and Leominster registers at 9.58% positivity. The Commonwealth average is currently 7.68% positivity.

In closing, I have just negotiated 30 cases of I-Health COVID-19 test kits for our Public School System and for our Town of Winchendon to help keep students in the classroom where they belong, and an additional 1,000 KN-95 masks for the town, at a replacement value of nearly $50,000 through the Massachusetts Executive Office of Health & Human Services, at ZERO COST TO THE TOWN. Please take heart in knowing we have done all we can ahead of time, to help keep our children in school through the holidays where numbers tend to spike the highest,to the best of our ability.

Keith Kent

Senior Center Seeking Food Donations

We've been so successful we need your help. We love helping our seniors, so now our Food Pantry is running low. If you can do it, we'd love your help replenishing it with such commodities as: Hormel 'Compleats' meals; Chef Boyardee ravioli, spaghetti & meatballs, etc; applesauce; canned vegetables; juice boxes; Ensure; spaghetti sauce; Cookies; Crackers; small (individual) packages of cereal, etc. And anything you think would help. Thank you very much! Bring donations to the Old Murdock Senior Center, 52 Murdock Ave., Winchendon.

Town Committee Vacancies
as of September 26, 2022

If you'd like to be an active participant in decision-making and management for your community, consider joining a town committee or board. There are a number of vacancies currently open.

Communications Committee - 1 vacancy
Community Preservation Act Exploratory Committee - 2 citizen vacancies
Cultural Council - 13 vacancies
Fence Viewer and Field Driver - 1 vacancy
Library Trustee - 1 vacancy
Master Plan Implementation Committee - 1 vacancy
Open Space Preservation Appraisal and Survey Revolving Fund Advisory Committee - 1 vacancy
Zoning Board of Appeals - 2 alternate member vacancies

If you'd like more information about any of these positions or are interested in being considered for an appointment, contact the Town Manager's office at 978-297-0085, or send a letter to Town Manager, 109 Front Street Dept. 1, Winchendon MA 01475.

Complete description of each committee's responsibilities, updated for May 10, 2021 (PDF).

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Special Town Meeting October 24, 2022

The Board of Selectmen has scheduled a Special Town Meeting for MONDAY, OCTOBER 24, 2022 beginning at 7:00 p.m., to be held at Murdock High School.

Please feel free to contact the Town Manager's office at 978-297-0085 with any questions you may have concerning this Special Town Meeting.

The Finance Committee will conduct a Public Hearing on Tuesday, Sept. 27 at 7:00 p.m. at Town Hall to review the warrant and answer any questions the public may have.

FY 23 Senior Tax Work-Off Applications Now Available!

Once again this year, we are pleased to announce the Senior Work-Off program was approved at our Annual Town Meeting. The Senior Work-Off Abatement Program is a program allowing the Town of Winchendon the opportunity to utilize the knowledge and skills of its senior residents in exchange for credit toward the resident's property tax bill. The purpose of this program is:

  • To employ qualified senior citizens who will apply their earnings toward payment of a portion of their property taxes;
  • To increase senior citizen involvement in local government; and
  • To enhance municipal service by using the skills of resident senior citizens.
Qualified and income-eligible residents will accrue the Commonwealth's minimum wage per hour ($13.50/hr) toward a maximum credit of $1,100.00 per household during the fiscal year. The criteria for this program is:
  • You must be 60 years old or older
  • Homeowner in Winchendon and occupy property
  • Annual income below $40,150 if single; or below $45,900 if married.
Applications for the program are now available in the Town Manager's office or on the town website, and will be accepted until the eight slots are filled. There are different types of positions that are available depending on the preference and qualifications of the resident and the needs of each department. Types of past and current positions have been: Custodial services, clerical help for both School & Town, library aides, Senior Center aides, cable station operator, Bike Path clean up, painting, light outdoor work and classroom volunteers. Click here for more information and a downloadable application.

Toy Town FYIs

Transfer Station Summer Hours

Through Sept. 30, the Transfer Station hours are:
Thursday 8:00 a.m. - 7:00 p.m.
Friday 8:00 a.m. - 4:00 p.m.
Saturday 8:00 a.m. 4:00 p.m.

653 River Street
Sticker price: $70
Pay-As-You-Throw bags required

2022 Street Lists Available

The 2022 Town of Winchendon Street List of Residents is now available at the Town Clerk's office in Town Hall, 109 Front Street. Cost is $8.00 each, $5.00 for seniors.

2022 Dog Licenses Now Available

2022 dog licenses are now available. You may purchase at the Town Clerk's office using check or cash, or you may purchase through the mail, Town Hall drop box, or online through the Town Clerk's page. The licenses will be mailed to you. Please be sure to provide a valid rabies certificate. Spayed and neutered dogs are $10.00. Non-spayed and non-neutered dogs are $20.00.

Sign up for Code Red Emergency Alerts
Sign up for our emergency notification program today! Receive up-to-date information before, during and after an emergency in your neighborhood. You can choose to be notified via voice, text and email notifications of emergency and inclement weather alerts.

Is Your House Number Clearly Visible from the Street?
The Winchendon Fire Department reminds all residents to make sure their house number is clearly visible for first responders who may need to find you. Numbers should be at least four inches high and facing the street, with lighting if possible. Put numbers on a contrasting background so they will stand out. If your driveway is long, put the number on a mailbox or pole on the street or at the end of driveway, facing in both directions. (Reflective numbers are helpful.) Check your house numbers to make sure foliage has not grown up in front of them without your being aware of it.

Report a Pothole to the DPW

You can report potholes directly to the DPW using this form on the town website:

Winchendon Town Hall & Transfer Station Now Accepting Credit/Debit Payments

We are excited to announce that the DPW, Treasurer/Collector's Office and the Transfer Station can all now accept in-person credit and debit card payments. This means next time you need to purchase or pay for:

Trash bags
Transfer station stickers
Excise bills
Tax bills
Water & Sewer bills
And more

You can pay with a credit or debit card! (subject to a convenience fee).

If You Call for Emergency Services...

...the Winchendon Fire Department asks that you let the dispatcher know if you have flu-like symptoms, are quarantined or are under self-quarantine. This will allow the first responders to take all necessary precautions to avoiding spreading COVID-19 and to protect themselves and you.