WHITMAN — The Board of Selectmen on Tuesday, March 9 were briefed on an $18.9 million capital article — of which, Whitman’s share would be 24.75 percent — being presented to the eight member towns of the South Shore Tech school district this spring.
W-H Superintendent Jeffrey Szymaniak plans to attend the Selectmen’s next meeting to discuss that school district’s budget.
Town Administrator Lincoln Heieneman is planning to have the annul Town Meeting on Saturday, May 3, possibly either outside at Memorial Field or at the high school, but also reported that Town Hall custodian Todd Decouto has volunteered to figure out, with six feet of social distancing, how many people could be accommodated inside Town Hall.
Acting Chairman Dan Salvucci returned the gavel to Chairman Dr. Carl Kowalski to start the meeting. Kowalski had taken a leave from the post due to health concerns.
Salvucci returned to his role as vice chairman.
“Dan, I want to thank you a lot for taking care of me for that time when I felt like I couldn’t fulfill all the duties of chair because of COVID and it’s relationship to my health,” Kowalski said.
“Well, welcome back,” Salvucci said.
A full slate of articles is expected to be voted on later this month.
“We’ve been talking for several years about the need to maintain the building that we have, and I know that starts with the support of our eight communities through the annual budgeting process,” said SST Superintendent-Director Dr. Thomas J. Hickey and along with District Treasurer James Coughlin, who presented an overview of the debt authorization article sought at Town Meeting.
Coughlin said Hickey has applied for grants whenever they become available, bringing the district more than $3 million in vocational equipment over the past half-dozen years.
“We’ve got to continue to listen to our communities and see what the state of the union is, in terms of the local economy,” Hickey said. “If we’re not going to get a budget passed going into fiscal ’28, despite our great idea of having a five-year phase and because of an economic issue, we have to be mindful of that.”
Enrollment from Whitman is unchanged at SST from fiscal 2021, Hickey noted, and the budget presented this year has no debt in it.
“Nothing that I speak about tonight has any impact on the fiscal ’22 budget,” he said. “We’re looking at an assessment increase of about 1.7 percent — or a little over $27,000.”
Of that assessment of $1.65 million, $221,550 is set aside for capital projects, with some ESSER II [COVID relief grant] money available for some of that, according to Hickey. He said he thinks some of the assessment increase could be absorbed by ESSER II funds.
“We’ve been a very patient and annual applicant to the Mass. School Building Authority since 2015, telling a story about an aging building — a well-maintained, aging building — and the need for more space,” Hickey said.
The SST School Committee, meanwhile will delay a vote on the article until late March or early April, because their vote would “start the 60-day clock ticking” to take into consideration Scituate’s April Town Meeting through to early May when most district towns hold their meetings.
South Shore is awaiting to hear word, following the MSBA’s April board meeting about whether they would be invited to participate this go-round. In the meantime, he said, there are capital projects the district cannot justify or afford to bring to member towns in one budget cycle.
A window project of about $700,000 for fiscal 2022 is expected to be the last big capital project that could be absorbed within one annual budget cycle, according to Hickey.
Borrowing for bigger projects would be phased in over a six-year period using a combination of interest-only bond anticipation notes and bonding.
Recent capital requests have been largely about infrastructure, and while this proposal won’t be entirely that way, Hickey foresees that a good portion of future capital lines will be transferred over to debt service under this proposal.
“We have the responsibility of bringing a single number that includes capital and operating expenses [to town meetings],” Hickey said of the plan, which stemmed from a master facilities plan created by an engineering plan.
There will also be annual capital costs for materials supporting the vocational programs at the school.
“Unlike debt, capital is a rolling three-year average, so that 24.75 percent could certainly change,” Hickey said.
“I think Tom has presented a budget that is outstanding as far as a capital budget,” Salvucci said. “We’re looking at an entire building that is almost 60 years old, and now we’re looking to do the part that was built in 1992 that’s going on 30 years.”
Salvucci said the district may have maintained the buildings too well, as MSBA’s criteria is concerned.
Selectman Randy LaMattina asked about the scope of the SST application to MSBA.
“The scope of what has been submitted to MSBA is broader than what you’re seeing here,” Hickey said, noting expansion for future enrollment increases will be focused in trades with the strongest industry and student demand.
“Money’s going to be tight for sure, and to have such a good plan in place, the Whitman citizens are going to have their ability to make judgments based on this presentation,” Selectman Brian Bezanson said.
Whitman has improved to the yellow, rather than the red zone for rate of positive cases, according to Heieneman.
The town has received some doses, with 21 people vaccinated at their homes who are elderly and/or homebound, and another 81 were vaccinated during a clinic at the K of C.
The town is also working with the Housing Authority to obtain vaccinations for elderly residents.