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Council’s plate full tonight

GREENFIELD — Town Council will tackle several issues tonight, including who will take James Allen’s seat on the Planning Board, whether the town will buy an Olive Street property from Greenfield Redevelopment Authority to make room for a municipal parking garage and whether the town will begin putting away enough, beginning this year, to pay its former employees’ nonpension benefits in years to come.

According to at least one town councilor, members of the town’s Conservation Commission plan to attend tonight’s meeting and speak during the public forum period, which happens at the beginning of the meeting.

Apparently, they plan to talk about Appointments and Ordinances Chairman David Singer’s decision to invite Albert Norman, who is known nationally as a “sprawl-buster,” to present his rewrite of the commission’s rewrite of Greenfield’s wetlands ordinance on Feb. 10. Except for the chairman, commission members did not find out about Norman’s rewrite or presentation until the day after it happened.

Appointments to Planning Board

The council will decide whether Virginia Desorgher, a registered nurse who has lived in Greenfield for two years, will take the seat left vacant last fall by James Allen, after the council refused to approve his re-appointment by the mayor. Councilors will also vote on the mayor’s appointments of Jamie Pottern, a Devens Street resident with a degree in environmental studies and landscape planning and design, and George Touloumtzis, who has lived in Greenfield since 2002, helped write the town’s sustainable master plan, and has worked in the mental health field for many years, as first and second alternates on the board.

Martin originally appointed Touloumtzis to the Planning Board, but withdrew that appointment when the council denied Allen’s reappointment.

Later in the fall, the mayor appointed former At-large Councilor Isaac Mass to the Planning Board, but the council denied that appointment, with many members saying they didn’t want someone who was so blatantly pro-growth seated on the board. Many councilors also expressed their disappointment in the mayor’s withdrawal of Touloumtzis’ and Wilson Roberts’ appointments. Roberts’ name was also withdrawn by the mayor when Allen was not re-appointed.

The council’s Appointments and Ordinances Committee will recommend the appointments tonight before a vote is taken. Three members of the committee, Precinct 5 Councilor and committee Chairman David Singer, Town Council Vice President and Precinct 6 Councilor Hillary Hoffman, and Precinct 8 Councilor Karen Shapiro Miller voted to send a recommendation to the full council, while Precinct 1 Councilor Marian Kelner abstained.

Former Hapco building

Also on the council’s agenda tonight is a request by the mayor for the town to purchase the former Hapco auto parts building on Olive Street to make way for a municipal parking garage the town hopes to build there eventually.

Martin is looking for the council to approve $150,000 for the purchase. He said he believes the town has a better chance of securing funding for the garage project.

The GRA bought the property in 2008, when Martin was its chairman, in anticipation of the town building the garage.

The $150,000 is what it cost the authority to purchase the property, along with interest and other expenses it incurred along the way.

Martin said the town has begun working with legislators and is going to apply for money from the state’s transportation bill.

“We’re hoping we find something out this spring,” said Martin. “We’d like to move forward on the project.”

Martin said he is determined to build a three- to four-story municipal parking garage off of Olive Street; it’s just taking longer than he had hoped.

He said with passenger rail coming to Greenfield by early next year and the courthouse renovations expected to be completed in a few years, the town needs a 300-space garage.

MassWorks turned the town down when it asked in 2012 for $9.3 million to build the garage.

Martin said it will cost between $5 million and $7 million to build. He said he has not ruled out the possibility of the town funding the project with a combination of grants and a revenue bond, but said he doesn’t want the project to cost taxpayers.

“There’s too much activity in Greenfield’s downtown to not have a municipal parking garage,” he said.

The town intends to raze the 94-year-old building. A couple of site assessments have been done on the property and a preliminary geotechnical engineering study has been completed.

The town has spent about $650,000 in grants so far to pay for the reports and assessments.

The state Historical Commission has given the town permission to raze the building, which had been deemed eligible to be placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Retired employees benefits

The council will also discuss and vote on whether to transfer $150,000 into a trust, which the town will deposit money into each year in its effort to accumulate $74 million over the next two to three decades.

That money will pay for its former employees’ non pension benefits.

According to a recent actuarial study the town had done, Greenfield will need to have about that by 2038 to cover the cost of health insurance and other benefits for its retired employees and their spouses.

Marjorie Lane Kelly, the town’s finance director, said the town currently spends about $6 million a year covering benefits for both its active and retired employees and their spouses, as per contracts with the town.

Kelly said the town, like all government entities, has had the liability for many years, but since 2009, it has been required to report the liability on the town’s balance sheet. She said all cities and towns are being advised by the state to develop some sort of funding mechanism to anticipate the growing liability.

The state suggested that its municipalities look at future costs and establish an Other Post-Employment Benefits (OPEB) liability trust.

Late last year the council voted to adopt the state’s legislation concerning OPEB, so it will decide how much to deposit into the trust account tonight.

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