WHITMAN — The Board of Selectmen on Tuesday, Dec. 4 approved an increase in the cost of the inter-municipal agreement for fire dispatch services. The Selectmen declined, however, to support a process by which the town could seek home rule legislation to increase the number of All Alcohol Package Goods Store Liquor licenses permitted in town.
Town Administrator Frank Lynam said the current fire dispatch agreement with Holbrook provides 911 primary answering service as well as Fire Department answering and dispatch. Holbrook is moving toward a major upgrade of their facility and systems, resulting in a request for more financial support from member towns.
“I was a little taken aback by the first proposal,” he said of an initial request for a 25-percent increase. “[Fire Chief Timothy Grenno] did go back to Holbrook to have a discussion on it.”
That led to a gradual increase of 10 percent in fiscal 2020, 16 percent in fiscal 2021 and 14 percent in fiscal 2022. That would increase the current assessment of $54,000 to $80,000 at the end of the three years, subject to funding at Town Meeting.
A civilian dispatch system for 911 services would be “the wrong side” of $250,000, Lynam said they were told at a conference on dispatch services several years ago.
“The need to have coverage for fire is really essential, because once two calls are out there’s nobody left in the station,” Lynam said. Holbrook takes the calls, analyzes them and dispatches servies.
Grenno said the new facility in Holbrook is largely funded by a $4 million grant from state 911, but increased operational costs were also expected.
“They are planning ahead,” Grenno said. A return to town dispatch would take a firefighter off the floor each shift and onto the dispatch desk and cost the town more than $300,000 per year in firefighter salaries.
The decision came with an eye to the town’s bottom line as officials grapple with costs of the budget in general.
“We’re going to develop a budget that’s sound for the town and the schools, and we’re going to present the arguments for why that budget is needed — and it will be tied to an override, because there’s no way the levy can support it,” Lynam said. “We also have to be prepared at that point, if the answer is no, to work with a small budget.”
The Selectmen were invited to the Wednesday, Dec. 12 School Committee meeting to discuss that issue. The School Committee has asked for guidance from the towns as they develop that spending plan.
Selectmen Chairman Dr. Carl Kowalski said he had recently spoken with a School Committee member who stressed the schools are only seeking a level-service budget, which Kowalski said is reasonable.
“But then, if you think of every other department … they would like to have a level-service budget this year, too, but they’re all being told to anticipate maybe a 3-percent or 6-percent cut in their budget,” Kowalski said. “So it’s not a enjoyable year to have.”
Selectman Brian Bezanson said the work being done doesn’t mean much until the citizens have the final say.
Kowalski said a pre-Town Meeting should be held, to which the voters would be invited and officials could explain their budget needs and options the town has.
“We are purveyors of information,” Bezanson said. “They decide what dollars get spent and where they get spent and sometimes we forget that.”
Kowalski said the community assessment survey being conducted with Bridgewater State University will give the town a clue about how voters are thinking.
Lynam indicated that the project has resulted in 576 online responses and 150 or more paper surveys waiting to be reviewed as of Dec. 4.
“I suspect we’re going to see more because I got my survey in the mail on Monday [Dec. 3],” Lynam said, forecasting that a total of between 1,000 and 1,500 surveys could be completed. “They were apparently divided up over time.”
He said he has seen posts on Facebook to the effect that the town is looking for validation for the need to increase revenue, and said he does not think that is the case.
“I think it was a very objective, structured survey that really asks what people think,” Lynam said. “It’s going to help us with [planning for] the long term.”
Selectmen voted 3 to 2 not to consider the request of Dinesh Kumar Patel, of DJ’s Country Store at 535 Plymouth St., for an additional All Alcohol Package Goods Store Liquor license in town.
Previous DJ’s co-owner Joel Richmond spoke for Patel at the meeting, noting that Patel has 30 years’ experience in the package store business, owning stores in Quincy and Canton.
“It’s a matter of competing and staying effective in the marketplace as small businesses,” he said of Patel’s request, noting DJ’s would be the only package store on that side of town.
Current licensees are located on Temple Street and on South Avenue.
“This is a license we don’t currently have the authority to issue yet,” Lynam said of Patel’s request. “Each community is limited by population as to how many licenses they can offer.”
Whitman is permitted 15 Section 12 licenses (on-premise consumption), three off-premise licenses and five package store licenses. Additional licenses must be approved by Selectmen as in the interest of the town and how many more the town would ask for, Town Meeting and Town Election approval, and home rule legislation in the General Court.
“The other question we have to ask is where that leaves us as a community,” Lynam said. There are three requests, including Patel’s, for package store licenses, he noted.
“The question out there is, ‘Is there a need for an additional package store?’” said Selectman Scott Lambiase. He and selectmen Randy LaMattina and Kowalski did not think there was such a need. Selectmen Dan Salvucci and Bezanson were willing to leave a decision on that to Town Meeting.