WHITMAN — Disagreement over what constituted adherence to a bylaw requirement for a capital plan sparked discussion between Selectmen and a resident at the board’s meeting Tuesday, Jan. 22.
Shawn Kain, a former member of the Finance Committee and proponent of a five-year capital improvement plan, asked the Board of Selectmen during a Public Forum who he should approach regarding an appeal of what he saw as the board’s failure to meet a January bylaw deadline for such a plan.
Selectmen Chairman Dr. Carl Kowalski said that, while a capital plan was not being presented that night, a meeting has already been held between town officials, including some department heads and representatives of the Collins Center of UMass, Boston toward developing an ongoing five-year plan.
“You have to have capital to satisfy a capital plan,” Kowalski said. “It’s been asked and answered every time you come.”
“I will meet with the Finance Committee and we will do some prioritization for capital needs this year, but a formal plan will not be [completed],” Town Administrator Frank Lynam said.
“Who do I speak to about this matter if the bylaws aren’t being upheld by the Board of Selectmen?” Kain asked, saying the issue had not yet been made public, an assertion with which Lynam took issue, asserting the situation has been very public. But, aside from the attorney general’s office, officials had no appeals options to offer.
“You can file with the District Court an injunction and order us to get it done,” Lambiase said, noting that planning work is already underway.
“I’m not aware of any court of appeal above a board of Selectmen,” Lynam said.
“I don’t think there is a board of appeals that’s set up to hear the appeal of anybody [that would have] authority over this board,” Selectman Scott Lambiase agreed, noting he understood Kain’s frustration. “I totally get what you’re asking and what you want here and I think what Frank and the Finance Committee are going to put together is going to be what we’re going to get for a capital plan.”
Both Kowalski and Lambiase agreed that the plan drawn up will meet the requirement for a capital plan while a more formal process is being drawn up with the help of the Collins Center, but Kain was not satisfied with that explanation.
“Will it be a long-term plan, will it be everything we want? No,” Lambiase said. “Do we have money to actually finance this capital plan? That remains to be seen, but there will be a plan forthcoming.”
Lynam said he plans to present a report to the board outlining the town’s capital conditions.
“But it won’t be what you’re looking for,” he said, noting he felt it was clear from Kain’s previous discussions with the board that the Collins Center was being engaged to create a long-term plan, although it wouldn’t meet the timeline he was looking for.
“I think what I’m looking for is specifically what’s in the bylaws,” Kain said. “The bylaw says there will be a capital plan and it will be presented by January. That’s very specific. I was here in June asking about it. I was here in July, I was here in August, I was here in October.”
He said that he was told about the grants for the Collins Center project in October, but saw that as a long-term effort.
“Right now, my major concern is fiscal year 2020,” he said.
Lynam countered that he had five pages of capital requests on 11-by-17-inch paper. Not counting the DPW, there are already “well in excess of $3 million” being asked for this year.
“Will we have a plan put together?” Lynam asked. “We’ll develop one. Will it address all those needs? No it won’t, because it can’t. The revenue isn’t there.”
Lambiase asked Kain what he would do in their position.
“You’re asking us to do something, what would you do?” he asked.
Kain referred to an offer made by Selectmen to have him chair a capital planning committee, which he declined because he felt it would not be in the best interests of those people already working on a capital plan, including Lynam, Selectman Daniel Salvucci — who did not attend the meeting as he was meeting with the Finance Committee about the South Shore Tech budget in his role as liaison to SSVT — and others “used to working together.”
The Building Needs and Capital Projects Committee last met in August, Lynam said, noting it failed to get a quorum to meet in December.
“You’ve been asking about this for a long time and you knew the answer before you got up to the podium,” Kowalski said. “You’ve been told that we did not have the resources to develop a sensible five-year plan in the time frame that you wanted. We know that we’ve missed the deadline for the bylaw, we knew that we were going to miss the deadline for the bylaw and I’m pretty sure we were clear to you that that was what was going to happen.”
He said the next-best thing the board could do was to apply for the grant that is funding the Collins Center’s work.
He suggested Kain’s motivation was to embarrass the board.
Lynam said he was meeting with the Finance Committee Jan. 22 to review budget scenarios he distributed to them last week, but no action was planned at that meeting.
“We’re going to be reviewing the results of the meetings in our … the budgets that are under the Board of Selectmen,” he said. “I’m also going to be presenting what we best know, as of this point, for capital requests.”
He said there have been “tremendous amount of capital requests” with limited funds to work with them. A joint meeting on the budget will be scheduled with the Finance Committee next month.
Lynam also noted the Budget Review Committee is progressing in its work to formalize the steps to be taken in beginning, preparing and submitting budgets.
Community assessment survey results are now being analysed for presentation to the board.
Lambiase reminded citizens to return their Town Census forms as soon as possible.
“A quick note on that is, if you don’t return them, they remove you from the voting rolls,” Selectman Brian Bezanson said. Lynam said that process involves the expense to the town for repeated mailings involved in that process.