PALMER — Town Council members voted for the resident and department head members of the town manager screening committee during their Jan. 8 meeting.

After discussion, the council selected Chief of Police Christopher Burns for the department head member along with Dave Golden and Roger Fortune as the resident members.

Two council members will also be part of the committee. However, this selection was pushed to the next meeting to include council members Robert Lavoie and Matthew Lemieux, who were absent at the Jan. 8 meeting. The council’s next meeting will be held at 6 p.m. on Jan. 18, Town Council President Barbara Barry confirmed.

Council members Karl Williams, Jessica Sizer, Mark Caci and Philip Hebert all expressed interest in a position on the screening committee, although Caci later offered to rescind his interest in favor of another councilor.

The decision to form a screening committee came after former Town Manager Ryan McNutt resigned on Oct. 26, 2023. In November 2023, the council hired Robert Reed as interim town manager and began working with Community Paradigm Associates as a consultant for the permanent town manager search.

Applications for the town manager were available until 3 p.m. on Jan. 14 and sent directly to Community Paradigm Associates. Once formed, the screening committee will conduct an initial review of the candidates before the finalists are presented to the full town council for interviews.

According to the Community Paradigm Associates’ projected timeline, interviews before the council should take place in late February, founder and Managing Principal Bernard Lynch stated during the council’s Nov. 16 meeting.

Pioneer Valley Transit Authority route changes

During the meeting, the Town Council also met with PVTA Director of Transit Operations Paul Burns, who provided an update to the organization’s recent route changes.

Burns explained that, following the division of the Palmer-Ware route into two routes, frequency in Palmer has increased from three hours to 45 minutes. Additionally, the organization hopes to offer more evening weekend hours beginning in late March, following the hiring and training of new staff.

“We received additional state money to enhance service across our service area over the next year or two- hopefully over the next five to 10 years — but certainly beginning this year,” Burns said, highlighting PVTA’s goal to “expand weekend service across the region, restore service that was reduced due to the staffing shortages and to increase frequency of all the routes in the system to 30 minute frequency.”

The Palmer and Ware routes were originally combined in 2017 due to state budget cuts, Burns said. He stated that the individual Palmer and Ware routes are unchanged following their separation.

The PVTA has also spent $100,000 of a Massachusetts Department of Transportation grant to improve select crosswalks and bus stops in Palmer, Burns reported. This includes installing a signal light and ADA-approved ramp at Thorndike Post Office as well as a signal light at Divine Mercy Parish. Similarly, they installed a signal light, two wheelchair-accessible crosswalks and a bus shelter near Rocky’s Ace Hardware, Burns said.

While use of the Palmer route has dropped by 1,300 people a month since the changes in 2017, Burns stated that greater use is anticipated with the coming warmer weather.

He emphasized that the PVTA’s largest issue remains staffing shortages and that “no one knows” when the PVTA’s increased funding will end, but it is expected to last “a few years.”

“We are taking advantage of it while we have it,” Burns stated. “It’s always at the whim of the legislature, unfortunately.”

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