Selectmen in both communities approved 1/12 budgets to continue operations until July Town Meetings can vote on fiscal 2021 municipal budgets.
The effect of the fiscal situation faced by towns, partly as a result of the economic impact of coronavirus, has proven one consideration in Hanson Selectmen’s Tuesday, June 23 decision to keep Cranberry Cove closed for the summer.
Whitman Town Administrator Frank Lynam presented a July budget request of $8,495,517 to the town’s Board of Selectmen on Tuesday. That differed from an earlier request after Plymouth County Retirement increased the town’s assessment by $2,762. Selectmen approved it unanimously.
The entire budget for this year, he noted, is $39,252,492 which will be presented to voters on July 27.
“That money is all paid on the front end in July,” Lynam said. “It will be coming from money we eventually raise, the whole process involves the collection of local receipts and levy. It may well be that we will have to take revenue anticipation notes if we don’t have sufficient cash to cover that before we receive our first tax payments, which will be in July.”
In Hanson, Town Administrator John Stanbrook said Town Accountant Todd Hassett has calculated a 1/12 budget for July of $3,663,407. Hanson Selectmen also voted unanimously on the July budget.
The July budgets must be submitted to the Department of Revenue for approval from its director of accounts.
On the COVID-19 front, Lynam said his biggest concern is the ability to return to normal operations as the town awaits delivery on a temperature sensor system ordered by Fire Chief Timothy Grenno. The temperatures of all people will be assessed as they entered Town Hall.
“We have not had any issues yet,” Lynam said. “I would like to return to full staff in the Town Hall, and once we have the ability to do that, I’ll ask the board to authorize returning to full staff.”
The Treasurer/Collector’s office is already fully staffed as Whitman approaches month and year-end financial deadlines. Staff is properly physically separated in the office.
Assistant Town Administrator Lisa Green reported that she has spoken to all the Washington Street restaurant owners about Selectman Randy LaMattina’s suggestion to close the town center for outdoor dining on Saturday evenings. However, Napoli Pizza was the only business expressing any interest in the idea.
“The other business owners, although they appreciate the gesture, said at this point in time, with the resources that they would have to spend to make that happen, it really just is not feasible for them at this point,” she said.
Most eateries were focusing on bringing back staff for reopening for indoor dining.
“But they all thought it was a good idea,” she said.
LaMattina said he anticipated that reaction and urged the public to have patience with businesses as they start to reopen.
In Hanson, meanwhile Selectmen voted to reopen town fields and parks, subject to social distancing regulations, but voted 4-1 against reopening Camp Kiwanee or Cranberry Cove for swimming this summer. Selectman Matt Dyer voted to open the Cove.
Health Board Chairman Arlene Dias said Health Agent Gil Amado had issued a letter June 2 with his recommendations after meeting with Recreation Director William Boyle.
New recommendations for coastal and inland beaches were not available until June 4.
“There’s been some talk about the Cove being an enclosed space, which it is not,” Dias said. “It safely could open with distancing following the orders that were appropriate for it.”
But three of the Selectmen were concerned about the financial impact as well as public safety concerns over opening the popular beach this summer.
“My understanding as that a lot of the discussion at the Recreation Commission meeting was really — regardless of that interpretation, which I’m not saying is not important — a fundamental question of do we feel … we are able to safely open down at the Cranberry Cove?” said Selectmen Chairman Laura FitzGerald-Kemmett. Her concern was over teenage staffers being confronted by angry patrons for trying to enforce coronavirus safety regulations at the beach.
There are 10-15 people — from the same household — permitted per spot.
“Right off the bat, you’re going to have people saying they’re from the same household, where they’re actually not from the same household,” said Recreation Commission member John Zucco “And then you’ll have situations where people will be in the water … drooling in the water, spitting in the water, it’s not an ocean where the water’s coming in and out all the time, cleansing itself.”
He also foresees problems with teen lifeguards being challenged on distancing enforcement.
“This is going to go on all day,” Zucco said.
Recreation Commission Chairman Diane Cohen, meanwhile said she doubted that behavior at the Cove would be any different than it has ever been.
“Every person will be handed a copy of the regulations that are going into effect regarding social distancing,” she said. “I don’t anticipate a problem in the parking lot as well … I think the people of Hanson are mature enough and can handle it.”
She also said the pond, a spring-fed and frequently tested body of water, is not the “germ fest” Zucco’s concerns indicated.
Zucco said he restrooms will also require sign-in logs to permit contact tracing if there is an exposure from a guest at the Cove.
The bathroom would also have to be cleaned with electrostatic spraying if an exposure happened.
“You have to have proper spacing … you’ve got to eliminate touch points,” he said noting that refitting restrooms with touchless toilet flushing, sinks and hand sanitizer dispensers is expensive.
“We can open the Cove without opening the bathrooms,” Cohen countered.
Amado, however, said he has concerns about social distancing at the Cove that would argue against opening.
“I think we’re in a weird place here, where we’ve got a commission divided, we’ve got a health agent who feels it’s not in the best safety and public health concerns,” FitzGerald-Kemmett said.
Cohen also questioned the town’s liability for an accident if people trespass at the Cove.
Town Counsel Kate Feodoroff said that Hanson, to be cohesive, should also monitor its Cove parking lot and echoed Amado’s concerns about the bathrooms and who would monitor the proper cleaning of the facilities.
“There are always loopholes for everything,” she said of Cohen’s concern about liability. “This is a nationwide problem and some people are saying do it at your own risk … We’re the managers of our town and we have a responsibility to ensure that the system and the areas that we allow people to go to that are under our governance are sufficiently secure to protect them.”
Amado also pointed out that the nearby Rainbow Camp — which has operated for about 40 to 50 years — has closed for this summer for the first time.
“I will note Whitman made the very tough decision not to open up their town pool,” FitzGerald-Kemmett said. “That’s like an institution in Whitman.”
Other beach areas in Pembroke are open, Cohen argued.
Hanson Selectmen were also divided on the issue of opening the Cove.
“My personal thought is, I think we can open it,” said Selectman Matt Dyer, who has spoken with Recreation Commission members about it. “They have a plan in place. Last time that they were here, they didn’t have a plan.”
He argued that, since the board’s mantra for the past four months has been to follow the governor.
“The governor has opened up DCR parks, ponds, and swimming areas,” he said. “Camp Kiwanee is a cooling center, it’s a public health thing where heat waves kill more people than any other natural disaster, so I think we need to make sure we open this up so we have a relief area.”
Selectman Kenny Mitchell said he was fine with opening the Cove so long as social distancing was observed, but he is worried about the financial impact.
Selectman Jim Hickey opposed opening.
“In no scenario does the Cove make money,” he said. “My real concern is that COVID-19 could spread from Cranberry Cove being open.”
Selectman Wes Blauss agreed on the fiscal concerns, but also expressed dismay that a Recreation Commission member told a friend of his that the Board of Selectmen is “out to get” the Recreation Commission.
“That is so not true,” he said. “We’re trying to look out for the best interests of the town and whether we split our vote, like the Recreation Commission just has … the parking lot is as big a problem as the beach … you’re going to need the lifeguards, then we’re going to need someone whose basically washing down the bathroom after every use. It just goes on and on.”
Cohen said she understood the challenges facing the town and applauded Selectmen’s diligence in trying to make the right decision.
“I thank you for listening,” she said.