Select Board Weighs Benefits of Adding Sustainability Director Position

The Select Board this week asked Town Manager Sarah Stanton to evaluate the value of adding a sustainability director to the municipal staff, and perhaps proposing the new position on the 2022 annual town meeting warrant.

Two members of the Energy and Sustainability Committee presented the case for the new position at the board’s virtual meeting Monday.

The board’s reaction ranged from Bopha Malone’s wholehearted endorsement to Ed Pierce’s concern about possible redundancy.

Committee member Emily Prince said the position was a key component of the town’s net zero plan, adopted in October 2019. “There’s an enormous amount of work to be done,” she said, such as transitioning municipal buildings to renewable energy, converting transportation, and undertaking other initiatives.

Her fellow committee member, Dan Bostwick, said most cities and towns inside Route 128 have added a position like sustainability director, and they are realizing grants, savings, and rebates worth several times the position’s salary. Data from eight towns in particular, he said, show net benefits ranging from $92,000 to $912,000. “There really is a network of these positions across towns,” he said, and they “collaborate on initiatives.”

The vision in Bedford, he said, is a director who will lead the implementation of the net zero plan, coordinating with town departments and committees as well as state agencies, residents, and businesses “to develop and implement sustainability initiatives.”

He offered several examples. The director could interface with the Planning Board on implementing a green component in the zoning bylaw. The director could assist businesses with obtaining funds for sustainable building improvements, as well as homeowners looking for ways to save energy through solar paneling, heat pumps, and electric vehicles.

Bostwick listed several current grant opportunities that the new director could pursue or investigate, helping Bedford meet mandated sustainability goals.

Bostwick enumerated prospective roles and responsibilities: everything from managing data collection efforts and working with agencies to design education and training programs to serving as a liaison among business, industry, and town government. The director will also free personnel from spending time on some of these issues, he added.

In answer to a question from board member Emily Mitchell, Bostwick said specifics like job title and salary range will be proposed through town management.

Selectman William Moonan challenged the availability of unconditional grants. Many grants require a local match, he said; “It’s not like you’re getting $250,000 for free.” Bostwick acknowledged that some awards are matching, but added that there are also opportunities for funding with no strings attached. He added that there is also money available for projects the town would eventually adopt in any case.

Sometimes the match required is in personnel costs,” board Chair Margot Fleischman pointed out, and sometimes there are rebates on planned purchases.

Pierce asserted that the new position has “operational” impact, and thus “the town manager and her staff have to determine whether this makes sense for us.”

Two department heads – Facilities and Public Works – are now addressing most sustainability issues for infrastructure and equipment, he said, noting that there may be existing positions in the manager’s staff who could adapt to the role envisioned for a sustainability director.

“But that’s for Sarah to interpret – whether we need to add a position or whether we have the requisite staff that can lead this change,” he said. Moonan also suggested exploring to see if any of the roles could be filled by a “paid or incentivized consultant.”

Fleischman noted that according to the town’s net zero plan, municipal inventory is not the primary challenge, when compared to the business sector. She said the board should decide “whether this is a priority of ours, then find the right way to fit it into our structure.”

She asked for a motion to have the town manager include the position in the budget proposal and present to the board a recommendation for “a model that might be right for Bedford.” Pierce felt that the word “recommendation” was a “leading proposition,” and preferred the word “analysis.” There were no objections.

“Right now it’s important for the town to hear whether we wish to see this be part of the budget development,” Fleischman said. “So we really need to decide by the first week in January.”

The board decided not to formally vote, choosing to accept a “consensus.”

Mike Rosenberg can be reached at mike@thebedfordcitizen.org, or 781-983-1763

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