WHITMAN — Finance Committee members made the argument for greater fiscal restraint during a meeting with the Board of Selectmen Tuesday, March 6.
Chairman Rick Anderson and Vice Chairman David Codero both made statements to the Selectmen before reviewing some of the capital improvement requests.
“We do appreciate the opportunity to come before Selectmen and update the progress of the Finance Committee,” Anderson said, noting that the addition of new member Rosemary Connelly, the committee is back up to full membership. “I think the most pressing concern that we have as a committee is that we believe we have a spending problem here in the town of Whitman.”
He said there are a number of departments that continue to appear at budget meetings “with extraordinary expectations.”
“I think we have to work together to change the mentality of, ‘OK, here’s what I want, I need — find a way to pay for it,” he said. Instead, Anderson said that, as a community with a very limited business tax base and taxpayers that are really stretched thin, one message has to get out.
“Here’s what we have, try to make it work for your budget,” needs to be the operative thought, he said. “I don’t want to say that the sky is falling but we need to take a look at some of the major capital projects that are coming up within the next five to 10 years.”
Projects Anderson said are needed include a new DPW facility, which is “long overdue,” as workers are now subjected to unsafe working conditions and there are two dams in town at the end of their useful life. He noted that the school district has 48 capital projects in the matrix for elementary and middle schools with a total price tag of $2.3 million. Capital projects on the high school’s matrix total almost $2 million.
In two years, Anderson noted the town will be looking to submit a statement of interest to the MSBA for a new middle school as well.
“These are some of the things that are above ground,” he said. “Some of the things that are below ground are just as concerning.”
Anderson stressed that the occurrence of two main breaks in the past two years, which cost more than $800,000 to repair. A long-tem plan is needed to address repairs to the sewer system installed 33 years ago, he concluded.
Codero reviewed capital warrant articles coming before the May 7 Town Meeting out of numerical order as a way of grouping them by type of request for consideration. The Finance Committee has not yet made its recommendations on the articles.
“At this time we are reserving any judgment,” Codero said. “The department heads have brought forth a lot of articles.”
In December 2017, a special Town Meeting already approved $173,000 in salary additions along with $4.3 million in capital spending, which impacts the fiscal 2019 budget. On March 12, another special Town Meeting will vote on $277,000 for improvements to the high school for the preschool program.
As of last week, there are 48 warrant articles proposed for the Monday, May 7 warrants.
Town Administrator Frank Lynam has said not all the proposed articles will appear on the final warrant.
“This warrant, as you look at it today, is chaotic because it’s simply a draft of every article,” Lynam said. “This will not be the final product.”
Lynam and Finance Committee members agreed there are more meetings to come before the warrant is completed.
“This doesn’t take into consideration the $500,000 in warrant articles for the school district, nor the school district’s assessment to the town or deficit spending for snow plowing,” Codero said. When all warrant articles are added up, he said the Finance Committee estimates they represent more than $2.6 million in excess of the town’s budget.
“If all these articles were approved … we’re looking at raising taxes in this town anywhere from $500 to over $1,000 a year per household,” said Selectmen Dan Salvucci. “That’s not going to happen.”
Public safety requests include new protective gear for firefighters, more rifles, shotguns and ammunition for the Police Department and an increase in the police cruiser fleet. Codero said the weapons and ammunition requests have not yet been adequately explained.
DPW requests include new vehicles as well. The Board of Health is looking to upgrade its sharps collection kiosk.
Licensing, website upgrades and other technology equipment requests are also included in the warrant so far. Facilities requests for town buildings other than the schools include roof repairs for the library, masonry repairs at Town Hall, asbestos remediation at the old police station, seal coating the Senior Center parking lot and the proposed changeover to LED streetlights.