By Cameron Myette
HANSON — The Board of Selectmen discussed the ramifications of an override in the effort to close the $2.1 million school district budget deficit during its Tuesday, March 21 meeting.
Selectmen also voted to close the warrant for the May 1 Town Meeting, opting to place the override and ballot question articles, but not to make recommendations at this time — as was done with all incomplete budget issues.
“We can’t recommend if we don’t know the figure yet,” Town Administrator Michael McCue said.
W-H Business Services Director Christine Suckow said if both towns agreed to 6.25 percent within the levy limit, an override would amount to $1 million split between the two towns, with roughly 60 percent of that ($600,000) being Whitman’s share and about 40 percent ($400,000) Hanson’s based on student population.
Taxpayers in Hanson could expect to pay 34 cents per $1,000 valuation on their property taxes — $98.60 on an average household of $290,000 based on the current W-H assessment — if an override is passed.
“Once both towns decide this, what’s inside the levy and what’s outside the levy, than I can create more accurate numbers,” Suckow said.
Seletman Bruce Young asked why the district accepted the governor’s budget numbers, which provide only a $20 per pupil Chapter 70 aid increase, instead of planning for the $50 that local legislators are again seeking to add. Last year, they were successful in pushing that increase to $55 per pupil — $135,000 for fiscal 2017.
“Almost inevitably, [the governor’s] number doesn’t hold up,” Young said. “It’s part of their anticipated revenue.”
School Committee Chairman Bob Hayes said the district couldn’t budget effectively on a figure it doesn’t have.
“If it does come through, you get another bite at the apple,” he said. “Everything has a drop-dead date. … You would never have this situation if the governor’s budget came out in January.”
Superintendent of Schools Dr. Ruth Gilbert-Whitner said that situation is also a by-product of the district’s dependence on state aid, and that last year’s failed override would have added services to an already level-service budget that was inside the levy limit. This year’s increase is intended to maintain a level-service budget.
“That’s the difference, and I think it’s important to remember that,” she said. “It’s a quite different story than last year. … This year it’s not as positive a scenario due to cost increases.”
In Hanson, some capital projects for schools, public safety, recreation and highway needs are also combined in a single article.
The frame on one of the Highway Department trucks has failed, resulting in a need to obtain a new truck. The old truck lasted 19 years of service on the highway department and the new truck that the department is looking at will have a life of about 20 years.
David Hanlon of the Highway Department said the cost of the new truck would be well worth the investment and the strength covered by this one truck would be the strength of one and a half trucks, if purchased. A price for the vehicle is still being estimated.
Ramp and windows
In other business, Selectmen dicussed a letter from the Hanson Food Pantry board of directors including safety standards concerning the windows and ramp that is attached to the Hanson Food Pantry Building. The Hanson Food Pantry (HFP) Board recently met to discuss some of these matters.
The state found the ramp is not in compliance with Architectural Access Board (AAD) standards, which are more demanding than the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
Volunteers working on the pantry renovation had installed the ramp as close as possible to compliance, according to Building Inspector Robert Curran, but it was not quite correct. A post supporting a corner of the roof is in the way of complete access, and Curran has estimated it will cost more than $27,000 to be done as he would recommend.
They met again and came up with a new plan to widen the ramp, support the roof and would cost between $6,000 to $10,000. He is now awaiting bids before it can go before Town Meeting.
“A complaint was received and we had to respond,” he said. Curran has done so in writing.
McCue is looking into obtaining an ADA grant for the ramp work.
Curran said McCue asked him to look at the windows and verified issues raised by a letter from the pantry board, offering to have a contractor look at the 27 windows for an estimate of cost.
“We are truly grateful for the roof repairs that have been done. It has mitigated potential future degradation of the building,” Food Pantry Board member Laura FitzGerald-Kemmett stated in a letter to Selectmen. “While the majority of the building is completely weather tight, the front building that was formerly occupied by the Plymouth County Extension Services is not. There are several windows that are missing. This has caused heating costs for the HFP (as well the town for the non HFP-occupied portion) to increase as a result of heat being lost out of the broken windows. Additionally, it will likely end up resulting in wildlife occupying the building and in water getting into our building.”
She explained that the pantry board was asking if Selectmen were aware of the window situation and if it would be possible to get new windows installed.
“While placing boards over the windows may be a good short-term solution, we are hoping that replacement windows could be sought as the long-term solution,” FitzGerald-Kemmett wrote.
She told Selectmen volunteers would be welcome to help on the ramp project, under close supervision of a professional contractor.