WHITMAN — The Board of Selectmen during its Tuesday, April 19 meeting discussed the future of passport services at Town Hall — a program that could end up doomed by its popularity.
Several years ago, Whitman joined several other communities in the “labor-intensive” task of aiding residents through the passport application process, according to Town Administrator Frank Lynam.
“We accept the applications, we scrutinize the information, we witness their signing and then we send it into the State Department for investigation and issuance,” Lynam said. “It involves a bit of time with the people applying, particularly when you have a family and, most particularly, when you have a large family.”
Passport work was done out of the Town Clerk’s office until the State Department determined in 2011 that it was an inherent conflict to have the office issuing birth certificates to help in issuing passports, at which time the job was handed off to the Treasurer-Collector’s office with that office’s “enthusiasm and support,” Lynam noted.
“It seems, since that time, to have grown a bit,” he said. Two employees plus the manager in both offices serve the public at the collector’s window, causing crowded conditions during passport hours. Lynam and Treasurer Mary Beth Carter have, therefore, been discussing if another department could pick up the service.
“My recommendation, unless we have another place to send this, is to discontinue the service,” Lynam said.
Carter said more than 600 passports were processed last year over 7.5 hours a week on Tuesday evenings and Wednesday and Thursday mornings, taking 15-20 minutes to complete each application. On one Tuesday evening, 24 applications were processed. The State Department estimates applications will increase over the next two years.
So far this year the town has taken in $13,025 for applications and $4,160 for photos — a total of $17,185. Last fiscal year, the total revenue from passports was $19,270. Postage costs came in at $6.45 per application package.
“A large amount of the passport applications we process are for non-Whitman residents,” she said. “Due to the volume of traffic at the collector’s office … it had become burdensome to also continue the passport function.”
Citing the collector’s office main function as dealing with inquiries and receiving payment from Whitman residents.
“My plan is for the Treasurer-Collector’s office to remain as a passport facility through the end of the calendar year,” Carter said. “I was hoping we’d be able to find another department willing to take over this function, as we did back in 2011.”
If that is possible, she would like to begin the transition in July, with the present five passport agents serving as assistants and backup through the end of the calendar year, when the Treasurer-Collector’s office certifications expire.
Qualifications are basic — scanning applications, asking questions, witnessing signatures and administering an oath — the issue, Lynam said, is the time involved.
In Brockton, the post office conducts the application process, while in East Bridgewater it is done by the veterans’ services office by appointment only, Carter said. Whitman post office does not offer the service, which can only be conducted by a government office.
Selectman Scott Lambiase suggested a member of the clerk’s staff might be separated out to handle passports.
In other business, Police Chief Scott Benton urged residents to heed the messages imparted in the April 11 “If I Only Knew,” program sponsored by Whitman-Hanson WILL to help curb the overdose problem.
“It’s choices,” he said, during his monthly report to selectmen. “There are people who don’t want to say anything because they don’t want to be ‘ratting out’ your kid. Well, you know what? Rat them out.”
“Save a life,” agreed Selectmen Vice-chairman Dan Salvucci, conducting the meeting in Chairman Carl Kowalski’s absence.
“There are a lot of great kids out there, but this is something that we’re dealing with and something to be aware of,” Benton said.
Benton reported that his department has received 3,753 calls for service between Jan. 1 and April 10 — compared to 2,895 during the same period last year.
There have been 118 arrests, criminal complaints and protective custodies during that same period and 11 drug overdoses, two fatal. There were 12 overdoses during that period last year.
“We were doing pretty good in January,” Benton said. “We had our Whitman-Hanson WILL presentation last week [April 11] and, right after the presentation, we had three overdoses that evening — one fatal.”
Another of the overdoses that night, overdosed again Wednesday, April 13.
“It’s sad, but it illustrates, certainly, that this is a problem that we’re facing and that we’re going to continue to tackle,” Benton said. “You have to show compassion. … When you come off of heroin, you get sick and people don’t want to get sick, so they’re on the heroin, too, in addition to the addiction itself.”
He said the epidemic is a situation where the adage, “There, but for the grace of God go I,” applies.
“I don’t know anybody that isn’t touched in one way or another by this,” Benton said, noting some people ask him why so many resources are invested in repeat overdose cases. “What would you give to hug your child again? That’s as simple as I can put it. If you look at it that way, with that empathy, you understand that you’ll do anything — so if we save them 100 times, we save them 100 times, that’s the way it goes.”
Through the WEB Task Force, Benton said there is a county-wide effort to establish and maintain a database of available beds in treatment facilities to which officers can connect through their cruisers.
“This will lead to us being able to give that information and be able to offer help and followup,” he said.
Whitman and Hanson police and fire officials have been working with WHRHS officials on crisis planning.