HARVARD — In what has become an annual tradition, state Sen. James Eldridge and state Rep. Jennifer Benson came to the Feb. 15 selectmen’s meeting.
The purpose of these informal drop-ins is to provide updates on what’s up at the Statehouse and get a sense of what’s important to local officials and their communities. Typically, the two leave with a list of causes the selectmen would like them to champion.
Tuesday night was no exception.
The selectmen’s list included economic development, special legislation for one-day liquor licenses, the status of towns joining state employee health care plans, and expanded use of Community Preservation Act (CPA) funds.
Economic Development: Selectman Bill Johnson noted the initiative to develop the commercial corridor on Ayer Road, a project the Economic Development Committee has been working on. Voters agreed to establish the group as a standing committee at the Annual Town Meeting last year. He said they are pursuing the option to join an existing Economic Target Area (ETA) initiative with other communities such as Devens, Ayer and Shirley. An article on this year’s ATM warrant seeks voters’ input on that, Johnson told the two legislators.
Selectman Marie Sobalvarro obliquely noted the liquor-license issue, which she said the board had not yet officially discussed and about a pending bill to allow participating towns to use CPA funds to maintain properties.
Selectman Tim Clark noted a case in point, a dormant apple orchard that the town could restore and reclaim if it had funds to do so. The idea is to turn it into a “grassland habitat,” he said and asked if it would be useful to tell that story when a legislative committee discusses the bill.
Eldridge said yes. “That testimony would be very powerful,” he said.
He predicted some senators may balk if constituents object, but the bill has broad appeal. “It’s been refiled and there’s a lot of support,” he said of the bill. But there could be backlash from folks who don’t want CPA funds used that way.
Benson said the bill hasn’t been assigned a number yet, but will soon be on the House docket. She and Eldridge promised to let the board know when it comes up.
Clark also asked about reopening Devens procurement contracts for public services — the sole purview of MassDevelopment for the last few years — to local municipalities. After years of inaction on the issue, “there’s been a thaw lately,” Clark said. He credited Eldridge and Benson for bringing the issue closer to the burner.
Harvard selectmen drafted a letter to legislators on the subject and hope other towns — Ayer and Shirley, for example — will do the same or sign on to theirs.
Eldridge said the way to go is for the other towns to “write the same exact letter.” That would be ideal, he said.
Chairman Peter Warren said there’s local interest in shared services. About 20 people attended a presentation and public forum in town recently that addressed the topic and explored options, he said. Eight area towns were represented.
There’s been talk of a regional fire chief and exploring the option of a shared dog officer. Two or three towns might even share a kennel, Warren said.
Clark said that if things move in that direction, transitional assistance and equipment would be needed. “We’re looking for support from you,” he told the legislators.