In a lengthy discussion Monday night, members of the Select Board shared their views on the potential hire of a sustainability coordinator.

The conversation stemmed from a 2019-20 goals-and-objectives agenda item drafted by the board and town manager. The new position would fall into the energy and sustainability goal and was approved by the board in a 4-1 vote. Board member Alex Vispoli was the one vote against it.

Town Manager Andrew Flanagan said the position has to be funded within the budget and there would be no increase in benefited positions.

But Vispoli said, "I question a dedicated resource at this time, with no identified goals or objectives. We are already doing a disaster preparedness and I'm not sure I see the benefit to Andover taxpayers, especially as the state is paying for resources for this."

Vispoli said the state is in the process of hiring regional coordinators to help communities address concerns relating to climate change.

"It's a great opportunity to utilize this research being funded by the state," he said. "I think it's a great opportunity to take advantage of this."

Though board member Annie Gilbert said the points Vispoli outlined were important, she was in support of the new position. She said although great work toward sustainability has already been done in Andover, there is much more to do.

Andover recently participated in the state Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness Grant Program to address climate change issues the town foresees and focus on climate adaptation projects.

Vispoli said the community workshops held as part of the program resulted in the town drafting their top three priorities surrounding the issue.

Now, the town can apply for grants to support and implement plans to address these priorities.

Vispoli said it would be beneficial to first hire a consultant to identify true goals and objectives before dedicating a resource to sustainability.

Noting the progress Andover has made so far, Vispoli said the town was one of the first green communities in the state. He said about 43% of the town's buildings are solar powered and all of the street lights have been converted to LED.

Gilbert, however, said the town could be doing more.

"It's an investment that not only speaks to the right thing to do, but in a myriad of ways can save taxpayer dollars," she said. "I'm not sure why we wouldn't invest in that if we can do so without getting into the budget and hiring a full-time employee."

Board member Dan Koh said energy and sustainability is a top priority given the challenges ahead. He said it is necessary to have someone focused on it day-to-day.

"Respectfully, given how much there is to do, given how much community engagement we see on this issue, the mere fact that we are having a debate as to whether or not we should dedicate a single resource to all the sustainability issues, to me is incredibly inconceivable," he said.

Koh said the implications of climate change could cost the town billions of dollars if not tackled now. As a former consultant, he said there is no comparison between hiring a consultant and having a dedicated, in-house resource.

Flanagan said a decision will be made within the month on whether to hire someone.

"Based on the feedback, it's likely we will move forward with hiring a dedicated staff person," he said.

Residents in attendance at the meeting spoke largely in favor of the position and the critical timing of doing it now. Citing concerns and statistics on the impact of climate change, the urgency of action was heard in their comments.

"This is something we need to do, and we need to do it now," Andover resident Steve Fink said.

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