LEVERETT — Residents Steve Wiess and Eva Gibavic, representing the Rattlesnake Gutter Trust, or RTG, came before the Selectboard last week to begin the process of applying for grant monies to pay for future uses of the former road. Annual Town Meeting voted last month to close Rattlesnake Gutter Road as a publicly maintained thoroughfare.

“The section of Rattlesnake Gutter Road that lies on town land has been discontinued, enabling us to become eligible for grants,” Wiess said. “It’s time to develop a plan to restore the road as a recreational trail, for the long term, and to begin drafting the grant proposals that we will need to start submitting, beginning in the fall.”

Wiess and Gibavic wanted to confirm the Selectboard is still interested in working with the RTG. The representatives also wanted to know if the Selectboard would be the formal sponsor of the grant proposals.

Wiess explained that if the Selectboard is the named sponsor for grants it will make dealing with the money streamlined and much easier. A private sponsor would have to receive the money from a grantor, Mass Trails for instance, then be reimbursed.

“It sounds like an easy thing to do,” said board member Patricia Duffy. “Is there any disadvantage to doing it?”
Procurement law is not understood by most volunteers serving on town boards and committees. Town Administrator Margie McGinnis picked up the microphone. “If you guys have immunity from procurement law, because you’re a nonprofit, you lose that if the town sponsors” the grant applications.

Procurement law requires licensed contractors and laborers be paid at prevailing wage rates, more in line with rates paid in eastern Massachusetts. Grant funds would pay for much less work if the RGT has to comply.

Gibavic said the RGT is not a non-profit. She also confirmed the RGT will do the work associated with the grant applications for Community Preservation Act money or a Mass Trails grant from the commonwealth. Wiess said they will report regularly to the Selectboard.

New Selectboard member Jed Proujansky, seasoned by serving on the Finance Committee and other assignments, raised another difficulty the RTG might encounter if the grants are under prevailing wage statutes: disagreeable contractors.

“You’re obligated to take the lowest bid,” Proujansky said. “The people submitting the lowest bid may not be the people you want to work with … It all becomes part of a controlled bid process.”

Gibavic said the RTG wasn’t completely settled on what the grant applications would encompass. The current intention is to apply for a grant of about $25,000. Whether it’s a planning grant or to accomplish work on the trail itself, that has not been decided.

Gibavic and Wiess have been involved in the effort to settle the fate of Rattlesnake Gutter Road for many months, culminating in the Town Meeting decision to close it. Hankinson had no concerns the two would disappear when the work started.

“If two or three people wandered in off the street, I would have reservations,” Hankinson said. “With you, I’m not concerned. You’re in it for the long haul.”

Wiess said they would be returning for another visit with the Selectboard when more details of the work are settled. Board members voted unanimously to partner with the RTG to secure the grant.

Wiess also came before the board to offer a constructive response to the number of open positions on committees and boards. Wiess said volunteers are essential for running the town.

“The way this town is structured, it depends on people volunteering to take up a number of roles,” Wiess said. “People aren’t volunteering because they’re not getting paid a great deal to take on responsibilities for the town.”

Wiess’s suggestion was to send letters to residents discussing the need for volunteers to serve on committees. Wiess said it should be the responsibility of someone in an elected or appointed seat to find their replacement when they decide to step down. The letter, which he volunteered to write, would cost between $900 and $1,000.

“If we could encourage even ten people to really think about and maybe volunteer for one of these open positions, it would be worth it,” Wiess said. “It’s always been an ordeal to recruit people to serve.”

Hankinson happily weighed the prospect of a recruitment drive.

“The notion of having a committee recruitment drive, driven by someone other than the Selectboard or Town Hall, I think sounds refreshing, especially since you’re doing the work,” Hankinson told Wiess.

Duffy contributed an interesting option: create a culture of recruitment where those leaving a position find their replacement, advertise in the town newsletter and reassure residents the positions aren’t that demanding.

Duffy said residents may feel intimidated and under-skilled for positions on the Finance Committee.

Board members voiced the most enthusiasm for Duffy’s idea to stage a recruitment day at the town transfer station. Committee members would engage residents dropping off recyclables to talk up a committee seat, chat about what it’s like to make decisions and that it is a responsibility of residents to serve their community.

Proujansky praised the idea of a transfer station recruitment day, as did Hankinson and Duffy. Hankinson, a veteran of the Selectboard, knows too well the difficulties of recruiting. No vote was taken on Wiess’s idea of a letter, but Hankinson wanted him to write one.

“Our efforts to fill empty positions has been an ongoing process,” Hankinson concluded. “I don’t want someone to walk away from this table saying, we lost the enthusiasm.”