Hampden Recreation director place thought-about, Belief asks for reimbursement

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HAMPDEN – Hampden Parks and Recreation Board Chairwoman Carrie Gray Joseph came before the Board of Selectmen to propose the creation of a paid position as Director of Recreation. There are currently four people on the board with one vacancy and Gray Joseph stated that there were not enough staff to create and maintain programs.

Donald Davenport, a member of the Board of Selectmen, asked Gray Joseph about attending parks and recreation programs. She told him that the number of children attending had declined and that this may have been due to an overall decline in the under-18 population in the city. There was a discussion of programs that could be offered to engage participants where staffing allows.

Board of Selectmen Chair John Flynn said he supported the creation of the position, recalling that such a post previously existed but was axed due to budget constraints.

Gray Joseph suggested using Federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds for the position’s salary, but Board of Selectmen member Craig Rivest told her such use was unlikely to be eligible for ARPA, but suggested suggested that other grants were available for this purpose. Gray Joseph will work with city manager Bob Markel to find a source of funding. If one can’t be found, Flynn said, the spot could go before the City Assembly for budget approval.

On another topic of outdoor recreation, Minnechaug Land Trust’s Sherry Himmelstein asked the city to reimburse the conservation organization $6,000 for tree work. The city had agreed to pay for the removal of trees on city lots that could fall on Trust-operated land. She explained that the Trust was given a $5,000 offer to remove damaged trees, but when tree service arrived she was told the job would take several days and cost more than $5,000. According to Himmelstein, the service offered to stop after the $5,000 work was completed, but she said there were still too many trees “at risk of falling over,” so she let the service continue operating.

“But you were out of money,” Flynn pointed out. He also said the board was frustrated that the trust had waited seven months to reopen the issue.

Himmelstein said she thinks ARPA funds could be used to fund the difference, arguing that the trailheads are in disrepair due to heavy usage during the coronavirus pandemic. Flynn explained ARPA was for infrastructure repairs, while federal coronavirus funding known as the CARES Act addressed the fallout from COVID-19. That funding expired in 2021, he told her. When asked, he said it was unlikely the starting points would be accepted as an infrastructure issue.

Instead, Flynn suggested that she contact the Community Preservation Commission to apply clearance funding to reimbursement. He said Himmelstein would have the board’s support in her application.

Update on the dog issue

On April 11, the board held a hearing into the dog fight between neighbors Steve Haskins and Anne Thomas. At that time Animal Control Ofc. Shelley Sears said Steve Haskins had complained about his neighbor Anne Thomas’ dogs roaming his property on Rock-A-Dundee Road attacking his dog and chickens.

Thomas had submitted a written letter to the board showing that she had hired a dog walker to move the dogs and said her dogs would be tethered going forward. She also said she will put up an electric fence around her property. The Board accepted these changes and resumed the hearing at a later date.

During the June 27 meeting, Flynn followed up on the issue, explaining that Thomas’ dogs had once again escaped her property and attacked her when she was trying to break up a fight with another animal. Flynn said the dog would be euthanized later in the week.

other topics

Two new members have been added to the Hampden Fire Service. Fire Chief Ed Poulin introduced Ryan Fitzgerald to the board for approval as a probationary paramedic/firefighter. Fitzgerald is a licensed EMT and works part-time for the National Ambulance. He’s interested in trying firefighting, Poulin said.

Michael Patrick was hired as a driver/operator for the department, driving fire trucks and freeing a firefighter to pursue other duties. Patrick is trained with all the equipment in case his help is needed. He has experience as a firefighter from his work at Westfield.

The annual audit of the city’s finances was recently completed. “It really shows that the city is doing well,” Flynn said. The Board will conduct an in-depth review of the audit with the City’s Legal Counsel and Chartered Accountant, Cliff Bombard, at a later date.

Resident John Plaster brought up a property on the corner of Main Street and North Street. He said the lawn was overgrown and “in a terrible state”. Although there is no ordinance in Hampden governing yard maintenance, Plaster said: “I disagree with that.” Flynn asked that Commissioner Wendel Hulbert send a letter to property owners expressing “concern”. .