HANSON — Selectmen have delayed voting to approve and sign a new contract agreement with the Whitman-Hanson Community Access Corp., pending the answers to remaining questions from the board and some residents. An incomplete state financial review of WHCA also concerns town officials.
During their Tuesday, April 4 meeting, the board also revisited warrant articles they had placed, but had not yet voted to recommend to voters at the May 1 Town Meeting.
Selectman Bruce Young asked where Whitman stands with its WHCA contract.
“They’re waiting to see what Hanson does, because in the past the contracts were the same,” said WHCA Board Director Arlene Dias of Hanson.
“We haven’t signed it up until now, so I think what this would mean, if we waited until that time, is that we would continue to conduct business as we do,” said Selectman Chairman James McGahan. “I don’t think anything’s in jeopardy by not signing it tonight.”
Town Administrator Michael McCue said he believed most of Selectmen’s questions about the contract had been satisfied in the revised version after a matrix for reporting requirements was inserted. Among the items on the matrix are a copy of the 501(C) 3 nonprofit designation to be filed with the towns each February, financial and annual reports each May, inventory equipment lists and insurance policies in February, and meeting minutes.
Selectmen would also like an in-person quarterly report on WHCA projects.
Dias said the nonprofit status is designed to protect the towns from liability. There are supposed to be four representatives on the board from each town, but there are currently three from Hanson and one from Whitman with another Whitman resident joining at the next meeting.
“One of the items we’ve talked about, too, is possibly getting more programs recorded for more meetings,” McGahan said. “What we’re having is a problem getting volunteers.”
He and former volunteer videographer Richard Edgehille noted board chairmen could be trained to set up stationary video cameras to record their meetings.
“Each chairman from the appointed positions would basically run the camera on a tripod and record the meeting,” McGahan said.
“I’ve done this for probably 15 years,” Edgehille said. “It’s not rocket science.”
Edgehille said the analog console used to record Selectmen’s meetings is a “dinosaur” that WHCA’s contract requires them to update and maintain it.
“This is the most important meeting in town,” he said.
Dias agreed, but noted that Comcast has put a few equipment updates on hold — and WHCA is one of them.
“They had other projects that got bumped, so we got bumped,” she said. “At this point, it doesn’t make sense to put money into equipment that we’re then going to have to change in two years. We will maintain the equipment that’s here.”
Young said WHCA should protest that violation of the agreement by Comcast.
“There isn’t anything you can do,” Dias replied.
McCue said the town would be responsible for complaints directly to Comcast.
WHCA Executive Director Eric Dresser, who also serves on a state wide professional trade organization, said that group is fighting for high-definition broadcast technology.
“Everybody at home is probably watching what they watch on high-definition, and we are still at a state level — in fact, at a national level — stuck in standard definition,” he said. “Even when we get that digital workflow, traveling over fiber optics, we’re inside of that [standard definition] restriction.”
“Hanson always gets pushed aside, no matter what it is,” Selectman Don Howard said.
Edgehille also asked about the ongoing audit, which Dias said was more of a state review, noting one financial report has already been completed and provided to the town. Young said the contract stipulates that an audit is to be done every three years.
“If you’re going to take a vote on the new contract tonight, just be aware that the [review] … is not cleared up yet,” Edgehille said. “I just want it on the record.”
He also wanted a clarification on the identity of the reporting authority for the board of directors.
“Because they are a 501(C) 3, my understanding is that they are their own entity,” McGahan said. “They are still obligated to report to the people of Hanson and Whitman to maintain our service. There is no repercussions, there’s no outside election of that entity.”
Dresser said WHCA’s nonprofit reporting status is equivalent to churches or civic groups such as Kiwanis, which also have their own boards.
“If they, the corporation, don’t meet the obligations set in this contract, we can dissolve the contract,” McGahan said.
McCue said another recourse for expressing dissatisfaction if there were a contract violation by WHCA would be to withhold the quarterly cable access funds received from Comcast. The money is paid directly to the town, which then pays WHCA — at the moment those funds are paid direct to cable access for convenience, but the town can change that at any time.
Edgehille said he wanted to sit down with the WHCA board to ask his questions, and was assured the meetings are open to the public. The board’s next meeting is Thursday, April 20.
During discussion of revisited Town Meeting articles, Selectmen voted to approve revisions to wage and personnel articles on the special Town Meeting warrant.
On the annual warrant, they voted 3-1-1, with selectmen Bill Scott abstaining and Young against, to withdraw an article transferring a parcel of the Plymouth County Hospital site to the Conservation Commission’s care and custody.
Conservation Chairman Phil Clemons advocated the transfer of a narrow strip of land, known as parcel 3, as it is largely wetlands with a steep topography. Selectmen expressed concern that it would tie the town’s hands to make such a transfer this early in the planning for future use of the PCH property. The article was said to be more timely at the October special Town Meeting.
The board also voted 5-0 to support an article capping the revolving forestry fund at $15,000 because there is little possibility or obtaining more from available timber. They also voted to place and recommend a zoning by-law regarding standards for solar power installations that might be proposed in town — which combines two previous articles — and to recommend articles regarding town revolving accounts and a marijuana moratorium.
A citizen’s petition brought by Edgehille and 21 others to borrow $500,000 from the state Department of Environmental Protection under the Clean Water Act for the Septic Loan program was also recommended 5-0. The Board of Health has traditionally put forth the article, but has not funded it this year. Edgehille suggested maybe the board did not understand the program.
“I do not plan to run for office again — this is not a platform,” Edgehille said. “I’m here for the people.”
The town borrows from the DEP at 2-percent interest and charges another 2 percent from borrowers to fund the local revolving account. The program has to go back to Town Meeting every time it depletes.
“Not everybody can go to the bank,” Edgehille said. “There’s some single-parent families whose only option is this loan. Think about retired people … how would they pay for a septic loan?”
He stressed that the borrower is the only town resident impacted by the loan as a betterment added to their taxes.
“If their system fails, by Board of Health laws and regulations, they’re out the door,” he said.
The interest rate brings about $40,000 back into the account for a single loan and there are seven people now on a waiting list.
McCue said the money is coming in, but not at a significant rate to replenish the account to past levels.