WHITMAN — As the town begins work on the fiscal 2020 budget next month, Town Administrator Frank Lynam informed the Board of Selectmen on Tuesday, Aug. 28 that early calculations show a very preliminary structural deficit of $1.9 million.
A budget committee is being formed with the aim of beginning its work in mid-September. Selectmen to serve on the panel will include Scott Lambiase, who is spearheading the project and Brian Bezanson. Finance and School committee representatives will also be named to the committee, which Lambiase said could also include department heads. The Finance Committee met jointly with Selectmen Tuesday before going into its own scheduled meeting.
“I want to put a working group together, as we discussed, with some members of Finance Committee, members of this board and we talked about hopefully including the School Committee, a couple department heads, Frank [Lynam] of course,” Lambiase said. “What we want to come up with, at least in my opinion — in my thoughts — was a sort of a formula that we’ll follow this year and then, hopefully, every year going forward.”
Lynam said Superintendent of Schools Jeffrey Szymaniak has also expressed an interest in that work and that WHRSD Business Director Christine Suckow would also be very involved. Selectmen Chairman Dr. Carl Kowalski also advocated including one or two at-large community members.
Lynam said he has been crunching numbers to get an early picture — “a very, very rough draft” — of what an FY 2020 budget may look like.
“There’s no magic associated with this,” he said explaining that the levy limit is increased by 2 ½ percent and then by new growth taxable this year. “The tax levy that we expect to see for 2020 is $26,514,684.”
Roughly $11 million additional funds are anticipated to come in from “all other sources.”
Under contracts for employees in effect for 2020, a 2 percent increase is factored in. The school budget is estimated to be up 5 percent, or $1.5 million over the previous year, according to Suckow.
“The 5 percent in and of itself is not necessarily a back-breaker until you consider that the $23 million we get from the state for Chapter 70 money, last year increased by $100,000,” Lynam said. “It’s minimal, which means virtually all the increase will be on the burden of the two towns.”
Other educational costs such as South Shore Vocational Technical High School and Norfolk Aggie are also expected to increase for the coming fiscal year, according to Lynam.
“When you factor in the money that we’re looking at for fiscal 2020, we have a structural deficit of $1.9 million,” he said. “That’s based on everything we know right now.”
He argued that the meetings Lambiase has in mind are intended to “look at how we look at the budget,” how it is estimated and if it can be broken down to critical and non-critical components.
Lambiase said Tuesday’s joint meeting was meant to determine what each board is looking for and information they are obtaining to avoid duplication of effort.
“How can we work together to do it?” he said.
Finance Committee Chairman Richard Anderson said his board is “definitely encouraged” by the opportunity to meet with the Selectmen and said better communications would be helpful, suggesting that the Selectmen’s liaisons with various town departments could be helpful in that effort.
“We start meeting with department heads and talking about budgets, I think more communication would be better,” Anderson said.
Lambiase agreed and said he encourages participation by all boards concerned with the budget.
“They know their departments,” Selectman Dan Salvucci said, arguing they could help find alternative ways of funding equipment they need. “They know what they can and cannot do.”
Anderson also lauded the Community Assessment as a way “to find out what kind of community we really want to be” as Kowalski has said in the past. Lambiase said that process will be helpful, but that most of the information gleaned from the assessment will be more useful for long-term planning.
Anderson said planning is vital.
“[An] override, if that’s the direction that the town goes, fails at the ballot box, we need to have a backup plan,” he said. “You can’t make it in the short amount of time that we have and that we worked with last year.”
In other business, Board of Selectmen voted to table a vote on the revised WHRSD Regional Agreement due to a change in Section 9B pertaining to the process by which amendments may be made.
Amendments other than withdrawal from the region must be initiated by a vote of the School Committee through a petition signed by 10 percent of the registered voters.
“The question raised is, if the Board of Selectmen in its role as the executive board of the town had a concern or issue with the agreement … prior to signing this agreement, the board would sign a proposal for an amendment, discuss it with the schools and if the board wishes to move forward, would place it on a Town Meeting warrant,” Lynam said. “Now we need 990 registered voters to sign a petition before we can raise that question.”
Lynam said he has sent word to the School Committee that he understands its wish to maintain its responsibilities and control, but the new language takes away the Board of Selectmen’s authority to act as an executive board for the town on an issue that may involve presenting an amendment.
“The question is whether that’s important enough to hash out,” he said.
Salvucci said, as elected officials, the School Committee has authority over the region.
“Wouldn’t that be in their hands and not ours?” he asked.
“They’re not accountable to us,” Lynam said, noting the region was set up as a separate political subdivision of the state. “The question that rises here, is whether the Board of Selectmen for town of Whitman or the town of Hanson — or any town that’s in the region — should be permitted to present a proposal to amend the agreement?”
Lynam said it only requires 10 citizens to put an article on a Town Meeting warrant and suggested it is an effort to make certain that it takes a super-majority of the towns to make a change in the agreement. Bezanson noted the town doesn’t always see 990 voters turn out for an election.
“That’s been my view all along,” said Selectman Randy LaMattina. “We’ve gone from powers of this board that have worked [and] now, for no apparent reason, giving them away.”
LaMatinna urged the board to make specific recommendations for how the agreement should be changed, but Lambiase had already made the motion to table it and declined to withdraw his motion.
Lynam said he had other concerns with portions of the agreement that were required by statute, but the amendment procedure is not covered by statute.