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In The Arena

In the Arena: Changing tack on Lunt

It would appear that Greenfield’s abortive efforts to purchase the former Lunt property on Federal Street are finally at an end.

Or are they?

The Greenfield Town Council appeared to be the final kibosh on Mayor Bill Martin’s efforts to buy the entire parcel Wednesday when it rescinded the $1.5 million in borrowing authority for that purpose. Shortly before the vote, however, Martin indicated that though the town has no interest in buying the entire site, negotiations are not entirely closed.

“There have been some other new discussions on a smaller portion of the property,” Martin said, declining to reveal specifics. “We had two primary interests here — to protect the ball fields and maintain them as recreational space, and to deal with the off-site contamination, which could affect properties near that site.”

Martin said the town has been able to guarantee that protection through testing agreements with federal and state agencies. He also indicated that a mitigation plan is in place, but the town is “not going to be a part of it.” As for the baseball fields, negotiating a deal could be tricky, given the way the property is divided and how that translates in the bankruptcy process.

Hopefully, it will get figured out soon, lest Greenfield’s baseball stars of the future end up caught in the switches.

A leadership bottleneck

I’m sure Franklin-Hampshire Sen. Stan Rosenberg’s ascension to the Senate presidency can’t come soon enough for certain people — especially those who have a desire to see the state’s minimum wage increase from its $8 rate.

The Senate earlier this year approved separate bills to address unemployment insurance rates and the minimum wage, that, under the Senate bill, would rise to $11 an hour over three years. The House this month was prepared to take up the unemployment insurance and a minimum wage increase to $10.50 as one bill, which Rosenberg didn’t see as a problem.

“It’s a different process with the same intent,” Rosenberg said. “Let’s do good stuff around these issues and get them to the governor’s desk before the end of the session.”

Not everyone in the Senate leadership apparently feels that way. According to 2nd Hampshire State Rep. John Scibak, Senate President Therese Murray used existing committee rules to block the measure from moving forward.

“Both the House and Senate chair have to vote to bring the bill out of committee and, for whatever reason, the Senate chair chose not to do it,” Scibak said.

The major differences between the House and Senate bills, other than the House connection to unemployment insurance reform, is that it goes up faster under the Senate version and automatically ties future minimum wage increases to the rate of inflation — two points that Scibak says Murray clearly feels strongly about.

“Maybe it’s because she’s in the twilight of her tenure and she wants her bill and that’s the end of it,” Scibak said. “But it has definitely delayed things.”

For how long is anyone’s guess.

Help with addiction

Politicians have been doing a lot of talking about the dangers of heroin and opiate addiction, but haven’t necessarily turned those sentiments into any kind of tangible action.

Addiction specialists are hoping that will change this spring with the passage of House Bill 995, a measure that would make licensed drug and alcohol counselors third party insurable, which means they would be covered by most insurances policies.

“This could have a huge impact,” Justin McNary, community outreach and advocacy coordinator for the RECOVER Project, said recently. “Currently, you can see licensed social workers and get reimbursed, but not addiction specialists.”

McNary said insurance will typically pay for 12 visits to any behavioral health therapist, “but we’d like to see more of them be absolute specialists in the field of addiction, and this bill could help make that happen.”

The legislation was first introduced last year and is, at last check, in the joint Committee on Financial Services. It remains to be seen whether it will come up for a vote by the end of the current legislative session, but even if it doesn’t, we can expect the well-meaning rhetoric to continue to fly around a problem that government action alone can’t possibly fix.

Chris Collins is the Franklin County News Bureau Chief for WHAI, WPVQ and WHMP Radio. He is a former staff reporter for The Recorder, and is a Greenfield native.

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