WHITMAN — The Buildings, Facilities and Capital Expenditures Committee has begun the process of whittling away at the town’s fiscal $757,000 budget gap, in its capacity as a capital advisory committee to review capital projects the panel wants to recommend at Town Meeting Monday, May 1.
No vote was taken at the Thursday, March 30 meeting, at which Town Administrator Frank Lynam said he was seeking out whether any committee members had strong feelings about particular articles.
“From year-to-year, we are allowed to increase our spending by what we can raise in tax and local receipts (excise tax, permit fees and charges),” Lynam said during the meeting. The town also depends on ambulance receipts and local aid from the state minus the state’s MBTA assessment to the town.
There is $31,197,460.78 now available for appropriation with Article 2 budget requests at $30,011,588. Other raise and appropriate articles not considered capital spending come to another $502,000 along with capital requests totaling $1,296,000 for a total of $31,809,791 not including a $145,000 deficit for snow removal costs.
“Not all of that money is going to happen,” Lynam said. “Some of those requests are going to be trimmed, but it’s a working number right now.”
Citizen’s petitions seeking a $1,500 donation to a Brockton organization that counsels victims of violence and sexual abuse, and to pave Paul Street — an unaccepted road — have already been cut. The former was cut only because the town does not have the funds to spare, according to Lynam. Where Paul Street is concerned, he said the town is not legally permitted to use municipal funds to pave or maintain private ways.
Lynam said he is also removing an article seeking $10,000 to secure and maintain tax foreclosure properties “not because I don’t think we need it … but I’m going to have to look for other funds.”
On the capital requests side of the warrants, items up for review March 30 included $13,000 toward lease agreements for three 2017 police cruisers, $11,050 for new Tasers and $63,557 for 26 Motorola radios. Lyman said Police Chief Scott Benton has indicated he may forego the radios until next year. The radios, Lynam noted, are a public safety concern when Whitman Police respond to multi-town incidents since Whitman’s older analog radios do not permit communication with East Bridgewater Police dispatch, among other problems. Newer radio systems other towns are using are digital.
A Fire Department request for a new vehicle is a question mark, as the money may be needed to cover all services and reduce the load inside the levy, Lynam said. Four other Whitman Fire capital requests are seeking funding through an ambulance revenue transfer, including $40,000 to participate in a regional grant for safety equipment. Lynam is recommending support of all four articles.
The DPW’s request for $119,675 for a 2017 plow truck, to begin replacing a fleet of five 20-year-old DPW trucks, initially bought with amassed Chapter 90 funds the town would have otherwise lost, will not be recommended by Lynam, despite the need, because of the budget gap.
“They’ve taken a lot of element abuse,” Lynam said. A new pickup truck at $48,500 should also be put off for another year, he recommended, and $166,698 for a new second sidewalk plow is doubtful, as well.
Highway Superintendent Bruce Martin said the older sidewalk plow he wants to replace breaks down after a couple of hours of plowing.
“We towed it at least twice off the side of the road this past winter,” Martin said. “The biggest calls I get after a storm is from parents asking when the sidewalks are going to get plowed.”
One machine is being depended on to plow the 21 miles of sidewalks, which can put the DPW behind three or four days after a big storm.
The article seeking $80,000 from free cash to complete accessibility modifications to Whitman Park is needed, however, to prevent costing the town $1,000-a-day fines from the state’s Architectural Access Board as of Aug. 1, Lynam reminded the committee. The original deadline was June 2016, but has been extended to July 31, 2017.
“As it turned out, what we thought was adequate for the playground wasn’t, we have to do additional work there,” said Lynam, noting the park walkways must also be completed. “I look at free cash as a capital source.”
Other priority articles include $28,000 to install card access to Town Hall, the Senior Center and DPW administration building.
“We have an issue within the town where we can actually identify who [it is], if somebody goes into these buildings after hours,” said IT Director Joshua MacNeil. “I’m trying to get this into the state IT grant, and if we do, then I can take it off the list.”
Lynam said a card system would remove the need to change locks every time there is a security concern; persons no longer accorded building access can have that access removed via computer.
The school district’s $216,000 in capital requests for Whitman school buildings and $452,578 for the town’s share of capital requests for the regional high school have already been reduced, as Lynam has removed five articles from the list.
“I would be in favor of safety issues,” said committee member and Selectman Dan Salvucci. “Repair the sidewalks, the [sidewalk] cracks at the middle school.”
“They should be up to the most current security requirements,” said Building Inspector Bob Curran.
Fire panel replacements, rooftop units and univents, WMS gym floor, WMS loop driveway, funding for a survey prior to placing traffic lights — which could be done by Old Colony Planning Council — and a high school water heater are being cut or questioned. Lynam said he is also placing a question mark on the roadway repair at the high school because of the cost.
Hanson has already voted to support the high school articles.