WHITMAN — Whitman Selectmen voted 5-0 on Tuesday, April 5 to place a $1,726,588 ballot question for its share of the assessment increase in the $49,714,344 WHRSD operating budget for fiscal 2017.
With a successful override, Whitman’s assessment would be $12,719,345. The increase would be and additional $1.24 per $1,000 valuation of $357 on a house valued at $288,000 in Whitman.
The 20.15-percent local assessment increase includes an overall 3.5-percent hike inside the levy limit with the balance contingent on a Proposition 2 ½ override in both communities. The total increase outside the levy is $3 million, apportioned based on student population.
Whitman’s override article is separate — Article 55 — from the operating budget in Article 2, “to keep the process clean so people can see what is being asked for,” Town Administrator Frank Lynam said. Article 2 represents the increase inside the levy limit to provide level services to the schools.
“What the School Committee did was split what they needed,” said Selectmen Chairman Carl Kowalski.
Hanson Selectmen voted 3-2 on the same night to place a $1,241,141 article and ballot question for its share of the assessment, which would increase the town’s assessment to $8,956,207.
“Last year, when we did the capital exclusion [for school computer upgrades], it hit everybody in the third and fourth quarter because the first two quarters were estimated bills Lynam told his Board of Selectmen April 5 in a meeting broadcast over Whitman-Hanson Community Access TV. “I found that the town is allowed, if the vote is taken prior to July 1 — and sufficiently early enough to allow the assessor to plan it — if the assessment passes Town Meeting and passes at the election the assessor can vote to add that money to the assessments beginning with the first quarterly bill, so people don’t get two small bills and then suddenly get hit with the value of the override over two bills rather than four.”
Like some of his Hanson counterparts, Whitman Selectman Brian Bezanson asked if there were options to a single up or down vote on the issue at Town Meeting.
“I’m all for putting this on the ballot to let the people decide, because 150 people at Town Meeting … 1,000 or more people voting at the ballot box [gives] a better picture, I think, but it would be nice to give them a choice,” Bezanson said.
Lynam said that was not an option, as Selectmen had to certify the ballot question no less than 35 days before the election.
“This is our opportunity to vote to put it on the ballot,” Lynam said. “Only the selectmen can place an override on the ballot. What Town Meeting can do is condition that money. As I understand Chapter 71, when a region submits a budget you have only two options — yes or no.”
He said he views a menu approach impedes the district’s ability to set their numbers.
“We get to say yes or no, not ‘Here’s how we want you to spend your money,’” Lynam said. “You can have those conversations during the budget process.”
Once an override is voted, it’s good until the tax rate is set, according to Lynam. If a ballot question succeeds where a Town Meeting article fails, the sponsor (WHRSD in this case) has until September or October to seek another Town Meeting in an effort to obtain a successful vote in that arena.
“We have elected officials that run our schools, that we put in office to do the best thing for our kids, and if this is what they’ve decided then this is what they’ve decided,” said Selectmen Vice Chairman Dan Salvucci in favoring an up or down ballot question to let voters decide the issue.
In other business, selectmen amended its updated Alcohol Enforcement Compliance Check Policy.
“In discussions with investigators from ABCC, they provided us with a pretty clear outline of how they approach and how they would view our approach to compliance,” Lynam said. “There’s no point in us having a policy that doesn’t meet all of their points, because if we do, we’d be at risk of not being able to support the decisions.”
The policy, with it’s minor changes, will be delivered to license holders by Police Chief Scott Benton.
Kowalski noted the state’s Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission had conducted a compliance check in Whitman the week of March 28 and found four businesses in violation for sales to minors — the Whitman Convenience Store, Temple Liquors, Jamie’s Pub and O’Toole’s Pub.
Bernie Lynch of Colonial Power, the largest aggregation consultant in the state, representing 42 of about 80 communities participating in electric power aggregation, which is the municipal procurement of power for residents on and independent basis billed through utility companies, discussed the program with selectmen.
Whitman is working on an aggregation program through Old Colony Planning Council. The program is offered on an opt-out basis.
Aggregation is being put before Town Meeting as a warrant article.
Lynch said the benefits of aggregation include choice, pricing stability, savings through competitive bid process, flexibility and the expertise of Colonial Power.
Towns can also choose the level of green product they select. Billing and outage management remain the same as current practice through aggregation with Colonial Power, Lynch said.
“We kind of improve on that — you can’t get any worse,” he said of outage management.