HANSON — Voters at special Town Meeting Monday, Oct. 7, approved funding to support salaries for added police officers — to prevent the need for dark station hours — as the town moves toward a regional dispatch center, as well as to keep the transfer station open five days a week.
“This may be bigger [turnout] than some May Town Meetings,” Moderator Sean Kealy said of the 165 voters signed in by the 7:30 p.m. start of the meeting. “It’s a terrific number for an October Town Meeting.”
The funds available for town business were: $1,664,097 in free cash; $1,256,343 in the stabilization fund; $135,992 in the school stabilization fund; $885,493 in Water Surplus; $65,205 in Recreation Retained Earnings; and $74,323 in Solid Waste Retained Earnings.
During discussion of a requested adjustment of $60,000 in Police Department salaries under Article 2 — an appropriation to supplement various town departments — Kathleen Marini of Union Street and Richard Edgehille of South Street, both asked why the Finance Committee voted not to recommend the expense.
Both questioned item as well as Article 2 as a whole were approved.
“The Finance Committee voted not to recommend, based on the article as a whole,” Chairman Kevin Sullivan said, noting the vote was due to the police salaries and a $7,000 adjustment for paying off a septic system at Camp Kiwanee.
“This is a little vague,” Edgehille said. “You don’t recommend it, how about an explanation for this audience?”
Selectman Kenny Mitchell said the reason was that, with the move to a regional dispatch center, the town is going to be supplementing the dispatchers with police officers.
“We’re not adding Saturday salaries, we’re just exchanging positions,” Mitchell said. “We’ve been talking about this internally over the past year and a half with the new regional dispatch coming up and we challenged the police chief — he came to us and said he needed this.”
A portion of the salaries will be funded by a state 911 grant.
“When we looked at this and considered the savings that we were going to [see] over the regionalization process, we looked at the potential budge cycle for next year,” Sullivan said. “Over the past few years, we looked as a committee to only add positions when we believed there was a long-term success. We were hesitant to add positions going into what could be one of the most difficult budget cycles that Hanson is going to face next fiscal year and have to cut money out of that salary.”
He stressed that, once that money is approved they don’t want to face the need of removing a police officer if budget cuts are needed.
Police Chief Michael Miksch said the department would be moving toward regional dispatch in July 2020, he was faced with going to a dark station when local dispatchers are no longer needed or staff the station with police officers. He is looking to add four officers between now and the next fiscal year.
“If I don’t have people to staff the station July 1, 2020, I have to fill it either with overtime or take officers off the road, neither of which is acceptable,” he said, noting the time it takes to train officers. Overtime alone would run $32,000 a month if he fills every shift that way.
“That’s all I wanted was an explanation,” Edgehill said. “Public safety first.”
Sullivan said the Kiwanee septic payment had not been recommended because Camp Kiwanee is intended to operate independently.
Recreation Commission member Joan Fruzzetii countered that taxation can, and has, been used to fill the gap if the Enterprise Fund fails to do so, and that funds had been put aside twice for the septic system.
“What happened in the past, happened in the past,” Sullivan said. “I can only deal with what we’re dealt with right now. I’m not going to debate it, I’m just giving you what our decision was.”
The Town Meeting amended an article seeking to increase funds for salaries and expenses the Transfer Station Enterprise Fund at the May 2019 annual Town Meeting by $55,000 – to $100,000 for salaries and $208,000 for expenses. The amendment was unanimously recommended by both the Board of Selectmen and the Finance Committee, but the change was sought from the floor by Indian Head Street resident Bruce Young, to increase the Salary line in the Article by $21,473, that amount coming from Free Cash.
Young’s amendment brought the salaries back to their original Requested amount, originally proposed by the Board of Health in May of 2019, which was $121,473 and was approved by an overwhelming voice vote of the Town Meeting
Board of Health Chairman Arlene Dias had described Article 4 on the Monday, Oct. 7 warrant as a housekeeping measure.
Young noted that the May Town Meeting was provided a Health Board proposal to fund salaries at the transfer station for $121,473, but voters had to accept this Finance Committee recommendation of $60,000 because the town had insufficient funds to permit the Town Meeting to amend it to fund salaries for the whole fiscal year.
“If we should support the article …what would happen is, and [the Board of Health] has already voted on this … we would be, for the first time in the history of the transfer station, closing it Monday and Tuesday and [it] would only be open Friday, Saturday and Sunday,” Young said. “I want to remind everybody that we had new permits to get in the transfer station this year [that cost] $30 per vehicle and everybody went down and bought them on the assumption that the transfer station would be open five days a week.”
He equated the article to a bait and switch.
Sullivan said the article as originally written was supported by the Finance Committee on the Board of Health’s determination of what was needed to run the transfer station for the remainder of the year.
Resident Joe Peligra said that, while he understands transfer stations are not required by the state, Hanson’s facility is operated as a service to the town and there is a growing number or people using the transfer station.
“We were told that the transfer station should be self-sustaining,” Dias said. “The only way for us to do that was to cut the budget and the only way to do that was to cut two days a week.”
Edgehille said that the wording of the article did not make the closing on those two days clear.
“Your not being honest with the public,” he said.
Sullivan said the reduction of service was intended to keep the service, which was losing money, as a resource to the town.
“The number of people who jumped off when private hauling was offered — I don’t have the exact figure, but I believe it’s around 40 percent of the town uses the transfer station — the number needs to be higher for it to be a self-sustaining enterprise,” Sullivan said.
There are two employees at the transfer station and the facility has to be closed at lunch hours because one person cannot work alone for safety reasons, Dias said.