WHITMAN — It was almost 8 p.m., Monday, June 17 before Whitman’s continuation of its Town Meeting — slated for 7:30 p.m. — could begin the work of completing the work started on Monday, May 6. A quorum of 150 voters was required for the tree special Town Meeting articles on the warrant.
By 8 p.m., 172 voters had signed in to complete work on the warrant.
The Town Meeting was adjourned to this week to allow residents to vote on a debt exclusion on Saturday, May 18 to remove the new police station and Town Hall/fire station renovations from the levy limit, freeing up funds for the articles voted on this week. The measure freed up free cash for other town needs.
That ballot question was narrowly approved.
Town Administrator Frank Lynam said there were $668,799 in appropriations sought.
Some residents, however, questioned the wisdom of voting on the remaining articles at all.
“I’d like people take a moment to think about the process that we’ve evolved over time and the process that the policies suggest that we follow,” said Forest Street resident Shawn Kain. “Right now, we don’t have a capital plan. The policy in place says that there should be a capital plan.”
He said the town is not currently following the policy.
“I think, for us to go forward with a number of these articles is just — it undermines the process,” Kain said. “If we sacrifice in a small way in the short term — the next couple months — and hold off on funding these articles, with the exception of safety … I really think we should hold off on funding these articles until we have a five-year capital plan in place.”
Kain argued that such a plan would enable the town to forecast it’s finances to give definitive indication of whether the town should spend or save.
Lynam countered that he had said repeatedly in meetings before the Board of Selectmen that the Collins Center at UMass, Boston had been contracted last fall to work on just such a capital plan.
“The process for doing that involved analyzing our capital spending for the last 10 years, our current requests and the capital requests that have been submitted over the last year,” he said. “They total about 70 items and, not counting the DPW, around $15 million.”
Lynam said the capital plan the town is developing won’t be available for another couple of months, when the process is expected to be completed. He said the policy to which Kain referred, allows Town Meeting to act and that all the requests before Town Meeting Monday, “have been capital requests for a number of years and we are, to some degree, clearing the board with some of them.”
He also stressed that a number of articles were also being passed over in an effort to “put them in the queue for prioritization.”
“I don’t know what failing to act on these requests would accomplish,” Lynam said.
Retired educator Mary Fox of 565 Washington St., questioned several school-related articles, including one for a motorized physical education curtain for the Whitman Middle School gym.
She said that, when she taught on Long Island, N.Y., a neighboring district was sued when a child was fatally injured by such a device.
“It would allow us to run two classes concurrently in the gymnasium so we’d be able to separate them,” said School Committee member Fred Small, noting the mechanical curtain is the type now recommended. “If it wasn’t safe, we would not do it.”
Fox pressed for information on who would control the curtain and where the switch is located.
“Everything’s safe until it’s not,” she said.
Small said a switch like the one being sought would likely be key-operated and under the control of school personnel.
“I have the utmost confidence,” he said. “No one wants to see a child get hurt. We would be sure that it was safe.”
The article was approved.
Another question raised over school-related articles centered on why the Finance Committee recommended not to pass an article to repair the access road at WHRHS, when Hanson Town Meeting approved it.
“Speaking for the majority of the Finance Committee, the discussion centered on the condition of Whitman’s roads and although, this is a project that needs to be done, the Finance Committee feels this is something that can be re-addressed at a later date,” said FinCom Chairman Richard Anderson.
Toward the conclusion of the meeting, the remote voting devices did not all function properly and a standing count was taken on an article regarding the resurfacing of the track at WHRHS. The article was approved when 142 yes votes — with a two-thirds margin needed — were counted.