Reminder Assistant Editor
WILBRAHAM Businesspeople of Hampden and Wilbraham gathered for a Small Business Morning Roundtable discussion and the amity between the men and women was obvious. Conversation came easily and the networking opportunities were plentiful.
Robert Weitz, Town Administrator for Wilbraham, welcomed all and began his discussion of updates on town business. While all the updates presented good news for the future of the town, it was the conversation afterward that left an impression.
"Wilbraham has so many projects going on," Wilbraham & Monson Academy's Head of School Rodney Labrecque said. "We're looking at a new safety complex, a new high school. In East Boston, a small fee was implemented on rental cars are the airport to raise money for town projects. Is there any way we could do something like this to raise money for the town?"
"Maybe a toll booth?" Weitz laughed. "We can levy a jet fuel tax, but that won't get us too far. There's also been discussion of a meal tax."
"We have to get the entire community thinking alike and working together to achieve our goals," Labrecque replied. "We're all in this together. It's a philosophical question: How do we function as a community?"
Labrecque added there will always be different factions in a population but great things can be accomplished when the people join together.
The businesspeople at the roundtable and the members of the Hampden-Wilbraham Chamber of Commerce proved this to be true, not only with their early morning networking but also with the way they openly talked about ways to improve their towns at the meeting.
The numerous projects mentioned in the discussion included the appointment of John Pearsall, Planning & Community Development Director, to a committee formed by the towns surrounding Palmer, the future site of a casino. Weitz said he wants to know what kind of impact the casino will have on Wilbraham.
The sewer project on Main Street's preliminary plans are completed and the Conservation Commission is reviewing them for any wetland impact; the plans must also be submitted to the Environmental Protection Agency by Dec. 1. The town will be submitting an application for money from the state's revolving fund for the project. Weitz expects the bidding process to be handled quickly, with construction starting next summer.
"It's an ambitious plan," Weitz said.
The water project currently undergoing work on Main Street is expected to be done by this week.
The traffic light project at Post Office Park is "moving forward, but we don't know how fast," according to the town administrator. "It will probably begin next spring and be completed by spring 2009."
Proposals for studies were discussed as well. One study would concern public safety staffing what levels the different public safety groups throughout the town should be at. Another study, called a municipal benchmarking study, would compare the basic data of Wilbraham to 20 other similar communities. When the benchmarking study is completed, it will posted on the town's Web site (www.wilbraham-ma.gov) for viewing.
The discussion ended with talk of how to unite the town to achieve its goals.
"We need to focus on change, about the good that comes from change and the bad that comes from not changing," Labrecque said.
"The town meeting form of government is very fickle," Terry Nelson, Vice-chair of the Hampden-Wilbraham Chamber of Commerce, said. "It's a government system New England towns love. The Concerned Citizens of Wilbraham have really broadened interest in town issues."
Weitz feels that a truly united community isn't a far-fetched idea. "We have lots of committees and lots of volunteer participation in this town and it's appreciated," he said.
The next Small Business Morning Roundtable will be Nov. 15, with Capt. Tucker of the Wilbraham Fire Department discussing identity theft. For more information, contact Sylvia Poole at firstname.lastname@example.org.