WHITMAN — The Buildings, Facilities and Capital Expenditures Committee is considering the appropriate role for the board toward the ultimate goal of creating an operating plan to identify and prioritize capital needs.
The committee plans to meet again at 4:30 p.m., Thursday, April 26 to discuss their impressions of a planning guide and manual from the state’s Department of Revenue Division of Local Services as a blueprint for a town capital planning bylaw proposed by Finance Committee member Shawn Kain.
“I don’t disagree,” said Town Administrator Frank Lynam, who chairs the Buildings Committee. “What I do disagree with in his recommendation is the immediate implementation, because until we have a sense of organization and how we’re going to approach it, putting a bylaw on the books is not going to accomplish much.”
He said it would be up to him, the Finance Committee and department heads to work through the numbers in department requests, instead of bringing them back before the Buildings Committee.
“I would rather devote our efforts to building a plan, creating a process — a matrix — and then begin to follow it,” he said. The aim is to accomplish that over the next few months and “really start in August” to begin meeting with people. “I’m going to ask in July that all these proposals come in so that they can be footed into the matrix so that we can then look at them and start setting priorities.”
Lynam said that, given the town’s financial condition, which as of March 29 has Whitman $1.3 million short of balanced, if all warrant items are funded — with a number of articles still to be reviewed and vetted.
“I should have better prepared this group for the changing assignment of capital expenditures,” Lynam said. “It’s something we can’t do right now because we simply don’t have a revenue plan. … Our process for capital spending has been a reactionary one.”
Finance Committee member Vice Chairman David Codero, who also serves on the Buildings Committee, said the FinCom has similar concerns and questions about goals.
While Lynam credits Kain with being relentless, “one size doesn’t fit all,” he said, noting any capital committee and plan must fit Whitman’s specific needs.
A separate capital investment account, for example, would require long-term planning.
“It’s a great idea, but the money isn’t there [right now],” Lynam said. “It may even take a little pain on the part of the town to find where those funds are going to come from.”
Since the pie can’t be increased in size, it would have to be redistributed, according to Lynam. Codero suggested it could mean asking department heads to take a step toward presenting a plan before the “end goal” of specific warrant articles.
Lynam said that would mean, should the Buildings Committee take on that charge, to start the planning process as early as July for a next fiscal year to review plans with department heads and develop a matrix of long-term needs.
That would entail creating a database of the town’s capital assets, the condition they are in and short-term vs. long-term needs, coupling that with purchases the town makes, including large-scale purchases such as vehicles.
“These expenses can add up quickly and, periodically, you have to upgrade them and that’s when it becomes a capital expense,” Lynam said.
The DPW, for example, has withdrawn requests to buy two of three vehicles sought in warrant articles for the May 7 Town Meetings after discussions about the town’s financial outlook. The one item they are now putting through is a plow truck with dump body.
As a capital planning entity, the Buildings Committee would meet with department heads in that way, confirm early requests already made, identify new requests and analyze those needs in light of other departments.
“I do credit the schools with an analysis process that they use for the town buildings and the regional buildings,” Lynam said. “They have a matrix. It goes on the matrix and stays on the matrix until it either gets done or the building goes away.”
Another concern for the town is the change in the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) coming in February 2019 that will make towns subject to OSHA regulations. That would require changes — especially at the DPW — that are not now required.
Buildings Committee member Donald Esson, who is an electrical enginer, asked if the town has a risk manager, which Lynam said yes — through the Mass. Interlocal Insurance Association (MIIA), a self-insured group that constantly runs risk-management scenarios for member towns. MIIA also helps with grants, training, inspections and recommendations for improvements.
“As a group we need to prioritize, but we need to go back to the requestors and get their feedback on why [certain requests are made], Lynam said.
“I think that is step one — we need to understand the budget, understand the funding of what we have,” Esson said. “We have to be realistic, we can only spend what we have and get them on board [about] how do we do it?”
Lynam said the Buildings Committee can go a long way toward outlining needs, what is being done and why because it could identify and get into the details involved in requested projects.