WHITMAN — Selectmen voted to authorize the town to contract for wireless remotely controlled LED streetlights as part of the town’s conversion program on Tuesday, Aug. 28 and is also reviewing a report on liaison assignments.
Both projects were spear headed by Assistant Town Administrator Lisa Green, who reported on them to the board.
Consultant George Woodbury of LightSmart Energy Consulting, LLC is working with the town on the conversion project and has reviewed various LED programs and companies, including the one Selectmen opted for, which permits remote adjustment of the brightness of the lights in specific areas. With the board’s vote, Woodbury is prepared to move toward finding the best, most cost-efficient supplier for the town.
The town’s streetlights have already been mapped via GPS.
“He can look at each particular area and recommend the best wattage design for the streetlight that will meet the needs of that area,” Green said. He also provided preliminary cost figures, and recommended the remote control option.
“In the future it allows the town to do other things as well with the lights, as far as any type of surveillance or policing, so it gives us a lot of opportunities to plan in the future,” she said.
With the grant money the town has received through the Metropolitan Area Planning Council (MRPC), National Grid’s incentive programs and Green Communities grants, the system is very affordable for the town, according to Green. The only cost incurred would be a net cost of $14,500 for one-time software costs above the conversion costs covered by the grants.
The town is expected to realize $72,658 annual savings with the new LED streetlights once the project is complete. Maintenance costs are estimated at $11,000 per year. Right now, the town pays National Grid close to $69,000 per year for maintenance.
“One of the major reasons to make the initial investment in the controls, is we would have the ability to set schedules for when the lights go on, when they go off, and to adjust the intensity as needed,” said Town Administrator Frank Lynam. “It gives us the ability to address the needs of neighborhoods as well as providing the general light controls that exist now, where they’re either on or off.”
Lynam also noted police often prefer darker conditions in which to perform their duties.
“Right now, to perform the controls, you’d have to physically climb the pole to make the adjustments,” Lynam said.
Selectmen have asked Green to draw up a handbook specific for the board, by Christmas if possible, in order to settle questions first raised in July by Selectman Randy LaMattina.
She said she has a working draft fashioned toward how the Whitman board already works.
Green, with the assistance of the board’s Administrative Assistant Laurie O’Brien, researched the current practices of 24 towns across the state, asking if they had a handbook focused toward the Board of Selectmen and if any members of that board were appointed as liaisons to town departments.
They also asked how those liaisons were designated.
“There isn’t one practice that each board of selectmen follows,” Green said. “There were a lot of different variations.”
In some towns, selectmen are only appointed as liaisons to other boards or committees. Other communities only name liaisons as needed.
“There were a few towns that had Board of Selectmen choose departments based on interest and other factors,” Green said. “In some towns the [selectmen] chair did assign the liaisons, in some towns they talked collaboratively on assignments, they would volunteer … based on interest and other factors.”
Selectman Scott Lambiase asked if boards with liaisons tended to be those with town administrators instead of town managers.
Green said that didn’t tend to be a factor.
“The nice part of any of these [MMA-based] handbooks is they are not etched in stone,” Lambiase said.
Only two of the towns — Hamilton and Acton — had their own selectmen’s handbook, which provided for liaisons. Duxbury also has liaisons, but to boards and committees.
Most towns use the Mass. Municipal Association’s manual for selectmen, according to Green. The MMA does not cover liaisons in its manual.
“It gives us some choices here,” Selectmen Chairman Dr. Carl Kowalski said. “It’s up to us to decide what we want to do.”
Lynam said the liaison practice in Whitman dates back to before the town administrator provision as a way to keep selectmen informed about what other departments were doing to “avoid chaos.”
The current practice of having selectmen ask for assignments based on interest is a carryover from that time, Lynam suggested.
“I’m not aware of any town with a town administrator that has liaisons,” he said.
In other business, Lynam reported that the town will consider joining in a class action lawsuit vs. opioid drug manufacturers, following a recent conversation on the matter with Police Chief Scott Benton.
“It is similar, in some respects, to litigation that occurred with the smoking producers and tobacco companies,” Lynam said. He sought advice from town counsel on the issue when it first came up about a year and a half ago, but it was not then known if the state was going to join the effort as it did with tobacco.
He spoke to the associate house counsel last week, asking for current materials on the lawsuit in an effort to determine if it now makes sense to step in on the project. If the town joins a suit — and if it is successful — attorneys will receive 25 percent of proceeds with the rest divided proportionately with the plaintiffs signed on, with the possibility that the state could step in and supervise such a distribution.
Lynam said he will make a recommendation at the board’s next meeting.
In last week’s Express, Lynam noted that part of his very preliminary research on the fiscal 2020 budget indicated the school budget could increase by 5 percent, or $1.5 million.
Lynam stressed on Thursday, Aug. 30, that the figure is not necessarily the operating assessment to be voted by the School Committee in March.
“The 5 percent in and of itself is not necessarily a back-breaker until you consider that the $23 million we get from the state for Chapter 70 money, last year increased by $120,000,” Lynam told Selectmen. “It’s minimal, which means virtually all the increase will be on the burden of the two towns.”
The total fiscal 2019 school budget was $50,406,029 with Whitman’s assessment at $13,270,185 of the $22,183,526 assessed to the towns. Lynam’s estimated calculations so far put the total fiscal 2020 school budget at $52,926,330 — up $2,520,301 — with Whitman’s assessment possibly as much as $14,750,296 of the $24,583,827 that could be assessed to the towns.