WHITMAN — As Fire Chief Timothy Grenno began his campaign last week in support of a $310,000 Prop 21/2 override question on the Saturday, May 20 ballot [see related story, page 8], town officials have begun calculating the cost to taxpayers.
According to Town Administrator Frank Lynam on Tuesday, May 9, that preliminary unofficial numbers could put the tax impact of the override and additional budget expenditures voted at the May 1 Town Meeting at $390 — based on a $300,000 home value — over the four quarterly tax bills. This represents an extra $1.09 per $1,000 valuation for the Article 2 adjustments from Town Meeting floor and 20.4 cents per $1,000 for the Fire Department override. The two add up to an additional $1.30 per $1,000 according to the preliminary figures.
Assessor Kathy Keefe must still verify the numbers. Much also depends on how much property values have increased in town, Lynam noted.
Grenno appeared at a candidates’ forum Thursday, May 4 to explain the need for an extra three firefighters at Whitman Fire-Rescue. It is a task he has vowed to repeat at as many opportunities as possible over the next nine days.
With a call volume of 496 emergency runs in 1965, a full-time fire department was implemented with five people per shift — where it has remained since. Last year’s call volume of 2,664 runs were still being answered by five-person crews — a 177-percent increase in calls.
“It is very, very difficult — if not, at times, impossible — to maintain the public safety that you, the taxpayers, you the residents, deserve and expect from your Fire Department,” he said. “I do not take overrides lightly, I do not take finances lightly.”
Grenno stressed that the extra firefighter per shift will give the department “a fighting chance” on fire and medical emergency calls.
“It will give you that comfort, knowing that when you call 911 we should have a response time of less than four minutes coming to your front door because we have the proper staffing,” he said. “That cannot be guaranteed at this time.”
Lynam said the Town Meeting votes pushed the town budget closer to the levy limit.
The tax rate — used to determines how efficiently a government operates and the kind of value one gets out of property — is the result of dividing how much money the town spends over all of the town’s taxable valued property, Lynam explained.
Town Meeting voted to raise and appropriate a total of $30,916,844.85 between Article 2, debt and other expenses as well as capital funding for purchases — $1,660,531 more than last year. Free cash and other available funds are not included in that figure.