WHITMAN — The Board of Selectmen on Thursday, Oct. 29 voted to ask Fire Chief Timothy Grenno to get quotes for cleaning town buildings with it’s Plymouth County CARES Act funding.
Going forward they are looking to fund expenditures to prevent the virus in the short-term, with vaccine distribution costs to be calculated when a vaccine is available.
Treasurer Mary Beth Carter said the deep cleaning of common areas in Town Hall would likely have little difficulty gaining reimbursement from CARES Act funds.
Purchasing priorities discussed, to be revisited for discussion Tuesday, Nov. 10 include supplies for vaccine distribution logistics, IT equipment, first responders overtime, electronic signage and permitting costs. The funding deadline is Dec. 30.
“It’s our duty [however] to look at what other items we could use the CARES Act funds for,” Carter said, noting a couple of things to consider are submissions for which the town has not yet been reimbursed. “I’m concerned about spending too much money and not seeing the money come in. … I just want to keep that in mind. I’m always looking at cash flow.”
Without reimbursement, COVID-related expenses would have to come out of the municipal budget.
Town Accountant Ken Lytle said Whitman was allotted $2,322,000 in the funding after five phases, with the first submission received last week. The second and third are currently in the review stage and a fourth was ready to go out Oct. 29.
Selectman Justin Evans said he wanted to ensure that all the expenditures already made would be covered. Lytle said the current submission should make the town current.
WHRSD has send in a first submission and Lytle is waiting for the documents on the second. He has also received a second submission from South Shore Tech as of Oct. 2.
WHRSD Business Manager John Tuffy said PPE and computers to bolster remote learning were priorities for the district right now.
Whitman still has $1,109,000 left after those submissions are processed.
Fire Chief and Emergency Management Director Timothy Grenno said former Town Administrator Frank Lynam oversaw the CARES process.
Selectman Randy LaMattina said he was under the impression the meeting was intended, in part to put a team back in place to “give a more global position over what is submitted” for CARES Act reimbursement. Selectman Dr. Carl Kowalski said that committee still exists.
Grenno said he is processing a “large PPE order to get us through next summer.”
“Our biggest concern was our town buildings, our employees and making sure they had everything they needed to keep themselves safe,” Grenno said. “We have no town employees that are positive that I know of.”
The PPE he is ordering includes fogging machines, hand sanitizers, gloves, masks and face shields.
Grenno has been discussing with Carter and Lytle as to what the town needs to get through the next phase of COVID as well as capital items the town needs to “navigate those waters,” as they look to use the remaining $1.1 million.
The town has been advised in the meantime, that the CARES funds cannot be used for anything that is budgeted or part of any capital plan.
Grenno has also consulted fire chiefs from several communities in the region as to how they plan to use funding and was told they planned to do what Whitman had already begun to discuss — a drive-through vaccination program once a vaccine becomes available. Regular flu vaccines, however, are not covered under the CARES Act.
“Logistically, it’s a nightmare, but it’s nothing that we can’t deal with and put together,” Grenno said of a COVID vaccine program.
“A deep cleaning for Town Hall, when you’ve had probably more the 65 percent of the town roaming in and about Town Hall, it is one of those things that is going to be a no-brainer,” LaMattina said. He said that, if other town buildings are getting a deep cleaning against COVID, there is no reason why Town Hall should be excluded.
Kowalski agreed, noting some residents taking part in early voting have not paid heed to limitations on where in Town Hall they were permitted to go.
Selectman Brian Bezanson also backed the proposal for a deep cleaning of Town Hall.
“The Town Hall will probably be the busiest place in the town during this election and the pandemic and for us not to do our due diligence and completely scrubbing down and disinfecting that would be a dereliction of duty, I think,”’ he said arguing it should be done “first and foremost” within the next week or so.
Grenno said he is certain there is money available for that kind of cleaning and, if the whole building needs to be cleaned, it should be done.
They will be leaving $750,000 on the table for now, with the CARES funds lasting through March 2021, giving the town the ability to keep public safety operational if it is needed later this winter.
LaMattina said he is also concerned that a second spike in COVID could lead to the firefighters union to ask for renegotiation of contract language concerning working conditions and the effect that could have on COVID response.
Lytle said COVID-related overtime is already tracked on payroll forms.
Grenno said he does not disagree with LaMattina’s concerns, but his direct concern is getting the town ready for vaccine dispersal when a vaccine is available. The union agreed to do so, but a local pharmacy has agreed to do it, with the fire department providing logistical support.
Both the state and federal approach is to have the National Guard do it.
“That’s not going to work,” Grenno said.
He fully expects the Guard to depend on first responders and private ambulance companies.
“There are several towns that have spent all their money and it’s gone,” Grenno said. “I’m totally against that, because if we have … one shift exposed [to COVID come January] and I lose six guys, we need CARES money to keep public safety operational.”
He said they are trying to be frugal knowing that the funding could also end in December.
Josh MacNeill suggested talking to other communities about concerns regarding reimbursement for what the town spends under CARES, noting the Bridgewater Library used the funding to purchase a 3-D printer that could be used to make PPE, if needed.
“No IT requests have been rejected to this point,” he said. “We’re not going to see this opportunity come by again, so if there are needs we can identify as in response to COVID, let’s just do it.”
LaMattina also said technology is needed as part of the new normal that makes the town run effectively during COVID.
Acting Selectmen Chairman Dan Salvucci argued that, when vaccinations are available it is a commendable goal to organize an approach, but he prioritized preventive issues such as cleaning buildings right now.