HANSON — Selectmen voted unanimously in a special meeting, Friday, May 22 to place an $800,000 override question on the Saturday, June 27 Town Election ballot.
The board took no position on the question, only placing it on the ballot for residents to vote on the issue.
The board had voted to postpone the Town Meeting until July 20 at its Tuesday, May 19 meeting.
The questions ask voters to decide on an $800,000 override — about $199 per household based on a $354,000 valuation — to pay the town’s assessed share of the fiscal 2021 W-H operating budget, and represents a one-year fix.
“We settled on that number based on where we sit right now, based on [negotiations between] Whitman, Hanson and the School Committee,” said Finance Chairman Kevin Sullivan. “It gets us through this year, it gears us up for next year to see how it changes,
Hanson’s deficit sits at $865,000, he said, meaning $65,000 would have to be trimmed from the town’s budget.”
“We looked at this number because of the implications for next year,” Sullivan said. Both lower and higher amounts were considered. “Our fear was, if we did not do this this year, it would force us to make significant cuts in the departments and the departments that would bear the brunt are the departments with the most personnel,” he added.
Whitman and the School Committee are fairly lock-step with the budget number, Sullivan explained.
The dollar amount for an override question, voted May 19 had to be voted on before Saturday, May 23 to comply with a 35-day notice requirement to place an override question on a town election ballot. Town Election will be held Saturday, June 27.
Regardless of the outcome of the Town Election, the School District and town will be on a 1/12 budget because the new fiscal year begins July 1.
Town Counsel Kate Feodoroff and Sullivan sat in on the meeting conducted virtually via the GoToMeeting platform.
Sullivan had been meeting with Town Administrator John Stanbrook and Town Accountant Todd Hassett about numbers and options surrounding the override issue since May 19.
Stanbrook said a tax calculator is being placed on the town website hanson-ma.gov.
“We know about peoples’ appetites for an override,” said Selectmen Chairman Laura FitzGerald-Kemmett. “I don’t even like to mention the O-word.”
She asked if the override could lead to cuts next year, and what could happen if an override fails.
“If it doesn’t pass, you don’t have the same ability to raise taxes to cover the costs so you have to either cut, try to reject the budget and go through that whole process,” which could lead to a super town meeting, Feodoroff said.
Sullivan said it could lead to a better spot if it passes, while it could lead to cuts, it is the Band-Aid the town needs to get there at all, a conclusion Hassett supported. Next year there is more potential to influence the school budget.
Feodoroff reminded Selectmen that, in framing an override question, the purpose — whether general operating expenses a specific use — must be stated. Because the Town Election comes first, due to COVID-19 related postponements of the Town Meeting, the election results can be used in framing the warrant article to provide more flexibility.
In response to a question from Selectman Kenny Mitchell, Feodoroff said failure at the ballot box could limit the town on the amount of revenue it is able to raise from residents.
Selectman Matt Dyer asked if the $800,000 figure took into consideration anticipated cuts to local aid from the stat, and what cuts might look like with an override.
Sullivan said personnel cuts would not be needed to find the remaining $65,000
“Where we get into difficult times is if the override isn’t approved,” he said. Because there isn’t enough built into the budget to cushion the entire $865,000.
“I would like to see some sort of cushion built into this number,” he said. Hassett said, while the concern is valid, Hanson is not as dependent on state aid as some other communities.
Sullivan also said some other capital projects in the warrant might be examined.
He asked why the entire $865,000 was not being sought, and Sullivan said the $800,000 — while a significant number — is a round figure that leaves room to maneuver.