SHIRLEY -- Wrapping up her report to selectmen Monday night, Town Administrator Patrice Garvin announced that John Oelfke had resigned as Council on Aging director.
Before advertising to fill the part-time position, which was upped from 19 to 28 hours per week during Oelfke's tenure, Garvin said it would be prudent for at least one board member to meet with one or more council members to discuss options.
The question is whether this job needs to be 28 hours, which would make it a "benefited position," Garvin said. While Oelfke did not take town insurance benefits and had pledged not to, a new employee hired for 28 hours would be eligible for benefits and could opt to do so, adding $18,000 a year to the cost of the position. A 19-hour position, however, falls below the benefit benchmark and would not add to the town budget's bottom line.
As Shirley's first COA director, Oelfke was among those who championed the building project that resulted in the town's first Senior Center, carved out of an old school building on Parker Road with many volunteer helping hands and town support.
During his years on the job, activities and programs at the center continued to grow, in large part thanks to grants and donations that he helped generate.
Chairman Kendra Dumont recalled when the town offices main meeting room served as an event and drop-in center for seniors. "We've come a long way," she said, and Oelfke deserves a share of the credit as well as the town's thanks for his work.
Dumont said she'd prefer not to pursue the matter at hand any further until the full board is present, with Selectman David Swain absent Monday night. In the meantime, she told Garvin to go ahead and set up a meeting for board and council representatives to discuss the issue informally.
In his resignation letter, submitted well before it was presented to selectmen in public, Oelfke set a Feb. 1 date to step down from the job he's held for five years. With Town Meeting approval and an anonymous donation that paid half his part-time salary the first year, he was appointed to the newly-created position shortly after the COA was reconstituted in 2009.
In a brief phone conversation later Monday night, Oelfke told the Oracle he's retiring, but staying in town, at least for now. "I've enjoyed the job, but it's time..." he said, citing future plans that include vacations with his wife, Charline.
In other business, Conservation Commission Chairman Nancy Askin briefed selectmen on forestry plans in progress for two town-owned parcels in conservation management: Rich Tree Farm, consisting of 111 acres and the 138-acre Pumpkin Brook trail link.
Both parcels previously had forestry plans, she said, but apparently they were not implemented. Now the state has a stewardship program that includes a monetary allocation that could cover the cost of hiring a forester, Askin said.
In conversations with three foresters, the cost projection she came up with is about $1,900 for Rich Tree Farm and $2,200 for Pumpkin Brook, she said, but no formal proposals were submitted. No RFP went out, she said, but the total is probably under the mandatory benchmark that would trigger going out for bids and it's likely the state program would cover the entire cost.
To begin with, forestry advisory services would be free, providing information about how to evaluate the land for forestry use in conjunction with other conservation-minded uses, such as wildlife habitat, environmental diversity and public access.
Old notes show that a former commission was concerned that proceeds from foresting the land, if any, would accrue to the town's general fund rather than to fund conservation programs. This board, however, feels its mission is to further conservation efforts, not generate revenue, one way or the other. "We don't want to do this for money," she said.
Selectman Bob Prescott saw good news, both ways. "It's great that you're headed in that direction," he said. But the town owns the land and must be concerned about its management, particularly since fires can start on untended, forested land. And if foresting the land generates revenue, the money could help the Conservation Commission reach some of the goals it can't fund now, he said.
"That's our slant," but it's up to Town Meeting to decide, Dumont added.
Askin promised to come back with a more fully developed plan, which will likely include one or more public information sessions.
She'll have help with the paperwork, too. The Conservation Commission recently hired a new agent, Nadia Madden, of Groton, who works 19 hours a week (upped last year from 12) and started her new job that day.