Shop owners at the Aquinnah Circle and in Menemsha will not have to pay their rent for this busy season, as summer visitor volume remains low.
Town administrator Jeff Madison said that Berta Welch, owner of Stony Creek Gifts at the Circle, reached out to the town as a leaseholder and asked whether selectmen had made a ruling yet.
“She said she doesn’t know whether no rent is the way to go, and she suggested that they should pay something,” Madison said.
Chair of the board of selectmen, Jim Newman, said he believes the shop owners should have their rents forgiven for the time being. Selectman Gary Haley said the volume of people on the Island is going to be “dramatically low this summer,” and Newman said it isn’t going to get better anytime soon. Approximately $36,000 in rent paid by the up-Island shops will be forgiven, according to Madison.
In other business, Aquinnah Police Chief Randhi Belain said that when the town increased employee step increases for the upcoming fiscal year for all town employees, the police department was left out.
Step increases are periodic increases in an employee’s rate of basic pay from one step of the grade of his or her position to the next higher step of that grade.
“I am not happy about it,” Belain said. “I think the communication about it was pretty poor. I think it’s sending a bad message, I don’t know why we were singled out.”
Belain said he expects the officers who did not receive their increases to be in contact with the town. Although Belain acknowledged that the town has been through tough times with the pandemic and circumstances are far from usual, he expected better communication from the town, “because as of late, there has been nothing.”
Newman said he agreed with Belain that leaving the police department employees out in the increases sends a bad message, and Madison said that “unless you are on the top step, you should be getting your step increase.”
Madison agreed to work with town accountant Emily Day and treasurer Sibel Suman to resolve the situation. Belain said that because the police department employees’ three-year collective bargaining agreement is in need of renegotiation, the attachment related to hourly rates has only been increased for this past fiscal year. Sgt. Paul Manning said that for FY21, there is no chart that lays out the incremental step increases for the police department. “The contract would need to be renegotiated and reworked,” Manning said.
Belain suggested the town negotiate with the Patrolmen’s Association and see if an agreement can be reached.
“I am happy it looks like we can resolve this,” Belain said. “It will do a lot for the morale of the department, but we should have had this conversation a long time ago.”
While the public bathrooms in Aquinnah are being repaired, the town has deployed porta-potties near the municipal parking lot, which Madison said are costing the town a lot of money.
“We put porta-potties at the restrooms to service folks for the past five or six days. Over this past weekend, they filled up,” Madison said. “Without getting into graphic details, it was pretty much a big mess.”
Currently the porta-potties are being cleaned three days a week, and will remain at the location until the actual restrooms are fully operational. Haley said he is excited to have facilities available that will be well-kept by the attendants.
Public works directors Jay Smalley said bathroom attendants will be cleaning the bathrooms from 10 am to 6 pm, seven days a week. The cost for cleaning is $35 per hour. Repairs are still needed to one urinal, and parts for a toilet in the women’s restroom.
The town offices are slowly reopening, and Madison said he works out of his office “pretty much full-time now.”
A glass partition was put in place in the selectmen’s meeting room, and signs have been put in place to make sure that people who enter the town offices do not enter the administrative area, and that only employees are allowed in the office corridor.
Madison suggested calling a collective meeting of town employees to provide them some training on how to safely use the town offices, while keeping in line with Gov. Baker’s guidance for opening municipal buildings.
Selectmen also decided to implement a hiring freeze due to the reduced budget for FY21. “I don’t think now is the time to be bringing on any new people, with the situation as it is,” Madison said.