WHITMAN — The town’s Override Evaluation Committee met for the first time on July 22 to evaluate the town’s financial needs and assess recommendations it would seek to make regarding an operational override in the fall.
Serving on the committee are: residents John Galvin and Christopher George as citizens at-large; Finance Committee members David Codero and Scott Lambiase; Fire Chief Timothy Grenno; Public Works Superintendent Bruce Martin; Superintendent of Schools Jeffrey Szymaniak; School Committee member Dawn Byers; Selectmen Justin Evans and Randy LaMattina, Town Administrator Frank Lynam and Assistant Town Administrator Lisa Green.
The meeting, held in the Selectmen’s Meeting Room in Town Hall, is being rebroadcast on Whitman-Hanson Community Access TV. The next meeting is scheduled for 5 p.m., Monday, Aug. 12.
The committee organized officers July 22, electing LaMattina, who had expressed interest in the post as chairman. LaMattina was not able to attend the meeting. Lambiase was elected vice chairman and Lynam as clerk.
“Obviously, I think I know what our community needs are overall, but I think the focus of the committee, most important here … is how we’re going to get from here to Town Meeting and get the information out,” Lambiase said.
While a Town Meeting is currently planned for October, Lynam said he would prefer to push it back to November if it means the town’s financial need would be more clearly understood in the process. The committee’s meetings are public and the issue will also be discussed frequently by Selectmen.
Lynam said the short-term task is to take the information already available and information on five-year expenditure estimates that he has requested on capital needs.
“Because no one has responded, I’ve compromised and asked for three-years’ estimates,” he said.
A proposed draft of a capital planning document Collins Center at UMass, Boston had composed — following an earlier version Lynam had sent back to address errors — were to be discussed with the center by Lynam and Selectmen Carl Kowalski and Dan Salvucci this week.
If the draft is acceptable, a public meeting will be scheduled to review it, Lynam said.
The replacement of a primary sewer main between Whitman and the wastewater treatment plant, which has come to town officials’ attention since the capital plan update was requested, will be significant in the upcoming budget. That work is estimated at more than $8 million within the “cheapest alternative” plan, he said.
“We are looking at whether there are impact funds, or anything else, that can help us with it but year-to-year you’re just going to get things that are going to skew the numbers,” Lynam said. “We need a long-term budget [of] at least three years … because the longer you go in an expenditure budget, the less accurate it’s going to be.”
Current budgets and projected expenditures for the following year, based on needs, are calculated for separate town government and capital needs budgets from each department.
“I’m actually confident that, if we just get these things together in a formal way and we look at them as part of a total picture, we should be able to put together a plan that works and can be given to the public in a way that makes sense,” Lynam said.
Grenno said his department has just completed its five-year plan “based on where we are today,” a cumbersome and time-consuming process.
He asked if the override is intended to make departments whole.
“The budget has to reflect what you believe is necessary to operate your department appropriately,” Lynam said. “Some of us can really accurately predict what our budget numbers are going to be because there’s very little room for variance. Others can’t.”
George said the committee should be looking at what the town is missing compared with towns around Whitman, adding that he is aware of where the schools fall short as a parent, but is not as well informed about other departments.
“What does that mean for you?” he asked. “That’s hard for me to see from a Fire perspective or a DPW perspective, or even a police perspective, so I think that will be helpful as you give us that five-year projection.”
Lambiase said the committee must also discuss what cuts would need to be made if an override question fails. He argued an Economic Development Committee, if not hiring at least a part-time town planner, make sense.
“The challenges are immense,” Lynam said. “Small towns can grow on small businesses and do well. As it sits today, we have a fairly productive downtown business center and we have a stretch of business on Route 27 and on Route 18, but trying to grow that business, we have to come up with things that attract people and when you are in our position TIFs are not an option.”
Tax Increment Financing, which provides tax-breaks to attract businesses, would not help Whitman’s need for revenue.
“People think they are over-burdened with taxes here and it couldn’t be further from the truth,” Lynam said.
They also discussed the format of a question — single question or menu approach — scope of work and timeline.
“I’m absolutely opposed to a menu,” Szymaniak said. “If we’re going to be sustainable as a community … it has to be all together.”
A tier of financial options, with every department having a piece of the override was preferred if a menu option were to be offered.
They also discussed going to a regular special town meeting in the fall, as Hanson does, for capital needs.