HANSON — Voters at special Town Meeting Monday, Oct. 3 voted to hire a Recreation Director — at least through June 30, 2017 — and to spend an estimated $1.8 million to tear down the former Plymouth County Hospital, but neither issue was the focus of much debate.
That distinction went largely to the ratification of a collective bargaining agreement between the Water Department, Board of Water Commissioners and members of the AFSCME Local 1700 Water Union.
The Board of Selectmen, which had previously voted to place a hold on the article, voted 4-0 against recommending its passage in a session before Town Meeting. Selectman Don Howard, who is also a Water Commissioner, abstained. The Finance Committee had voted to recommend it.
Selectmen’s concerns centered on the amount of the pay raise in the new contract, which the Town Meeting passed a counted vote of 54-31. The contract grants a 4-percent raise for the first year — 2 percent in salary and 2 percent in cost of living — and 3 percent cost of living increase in the second and third years.
“It was a strategic decision,” said Selectmen Chairman James McGahan, noting other unions negotiated 2-percent raises. “It was a fairness issue, also, for myself and most of the board.”
“It’s not in line with the other union [contracts] we just negotiated back in May,” said Selectman Kenny Mitchell. “In my opinion, the increases should be similar.”
“This article is a bargaining agreement between the Hanson Water Department and its union,” said Commissioner Gil Amado, who said the agreement does not bring the union members above any other town. “The Hanson Water Department negotiated in good faith with its union. … It’s not like were trying to give money away.”
Former Finance Committee member Pepper Santalucia said the issue comes town to Hanson’s organizational structure.
“There’s boards and commissions for everything, and, frankly, if the Board of Selectmen want to be more involved in how the Water Department and commission negotiates with its union, it should look at consolidating functions — perhaps a department of public works,” he said. “They negotiated with their union and we’re just here to formalize that.”
In consideration of another article seeking $50,000 to update the Water Department Master Plan, High Street resident Mark Vess asked if officials would commit to include designation of a second well site in that plan.
“I support the Water Department 100 percent,” Vess said, citing water problems going on across the country. “Right now, I’m concerned that you don’t have enough tools to do the job, with this drought that’s been with us for over a year. … We’ve run at 100-percent capacity of our well field this summer.”
He said the answer is not so much a new water tower as a new water supply.
“We need to make sure that Brockton Water never flows through our pipes again,” Vess said.
“I’m going to make sure on that,” Howard said.
The PCH demolition is overdue and likely to cost more the longer the facility is allowed to further deteriorate, voters were told. The annex building was partially razed into its foundation and encapsulated in plastic last week as an emergency measure after it collapsed.
“Each day, each month, each week, each year we let this go on it just costs more,” said abutter David Soper of 176 High St., a former selectman who had also served on the last PCH Reuse Committee. “Times have changed. There are developers out there who aren’t willing to take chances like they used to. It is time that we take this building down and move on and let Hanson close this chapter.”
The $1.8 million cost of the project, which will go out to bid, would include removal of the foundation and hazardous material — including asbestos, and PCBs contained in caulking — are also factored into the cost.
Selectman Bruce Young noted the sale of some tax title properties as well as the Streeter house on the PCH property would go toward reducing the cost to the town.
Young also explained that, in regard to the recreation director, a salary of $50,000 per year was approved at the May 2016 Town Meeting. The $35,000 sought in the article Monday reflected a six-month salary of $25,000 plus benefits. The ultimate salary would depend on the hours and pay grade negotiated between the town and the person hired.
Before getting underway the 118 voters convened in Town Meeting observed a moment of silence in honor of former Town Moderator Charles Mann.
“This is our first Town Meeting in a very long time without [him],” Moderator Sean Kealy said. “He started his public service back in 1963 when he got elected to the school board.”
Mann was Hanson’s state representative and moderator for many years.
“He was a great friend to me, one of the very first people I got to know when I moved to town,” Kealy said.
Kealy also offered public thanks to, and led a round of applause for, the public safety and school officials who ensured school children’s safe transportation home during a search for suspects in the Sept. 29 home invasion incident.