WHITMAN — Town officials are preparing worst-case budget scenarios to help prioritize needs.
Town Administrator Frank Lynam and Selectman Scott Lambiase reported to the Board of Selectmen Tuesday, Nov. 20 on progress with the fiscal 2020 budget. Lynam said he has begun receiving budget proposals including 3-percent and 6-percent budget cuts, to help forecast the effects if such cuts are needed as the town addressed the current levy limit and town financial obligations.
The problem Lynam said he has seen so far is that the budget proposals have included expense lines, such as debt payment and utilities, where cuts can’t be made.
“I would be remiss not to point out that, while we’re working on this, there is still an elephant in the room and I think we need to step up the pace,” Lynam said.
He also said net metering and the change to LED streetlights will help save some money, but there are other obligations such as health insurance and contractual obligations that must be paid.
“The purpose of asking for the 3-percent and 6-percent budget from everybody was to get that exercise going and to get them to realize that its going to be deep and meaningful cuts if we have to make them, and we have to get everybody’s head wrapped around what that is going to look like if we want people to understand that we may be — or most likely will be — looking for some sort of operational override,” Lambiase said.
Benton said he has already begun talking to his officers about the “very real possibility of layoffs.”
“The quickest that we can get to a number that we, as department heads, can figure on it’s going to help us,” Benton said. “I don’t want to wait.”
Lynam said the schools had projected a 5-percent increase due to rising operating costs — a $1.4 million increase — with no anticipated increase in Chapter 70 aid.
“We’re not talking increases this year — we’re talking reductions,” he said, noting there have been recommendations from some town officials against using the $1.2 million in free cash for levy expenditures, including on the $836,000 debt service for the police station.
Combined growth is $900,000.
Police Chief Scott Benton said that, since town administrators’ salaries are voted on at Town Meeting, that information concerning school administration salaries are, in the interest of greater transparency.
“Ultimately, the schools are responsible to the town, just as the selectmen are and the other departments are,” Lynam said. “It doesn’t make sense not to give people what they’re looking for, because if you want someone’s support, they need to understand why you’re asking for it.”
Lambiase said he has the impression from budget discussions that the school district intends to do that and wants to do so.
“They know the predicament that we’re in,” he said.
Selectman Brian Bezanson said the district has to remember that Whitman was “very kind” to the school budget last year, and that there could be “a lot of ill-will in this town, going forward, if these town departments get ruined and they are just going merrily on their way.”
Lynam cautioned against pitting the schools against the town.
“Remember, they are part of us,” Lynam said. “It can’t be an ‘us and them’ but there has to be an understanding among us, too. If we’re able to present a sound, well thought-out, well-justified budget, then it’s up to Town Meeting to say yes or no. If they say yes, we all benefit from it — if they say no, we all lose.”
Police chief report
Benton reported to Selectmen that there has been some good news in town concerning the opioid crisis.
While there have been 29 overdoses, with two fatalities, so far this year — compared with 40 overdoses with five fatalities at the same time in 2017. But he cautioned that it might not be a complete picture of the situation.
“To bring it into focus, the more Narcan that’s present, and people are also able to get Narcan from the pharmacy, sometimes you won’t even have anybody call on an overdose situation,” Benton said.
He added that education and enforcement have made a significant improvement. Plymouth County Outreach has won a national community policing award as well as a $500,000 grant to allow hiring a full-time administrator and records keeper, pay for recovery coaches, host officer and team member training and to fund a data base.
Whitman, Bridgewater, Middleborough, Bridgewater State and East Bridgewater are also jointly applying for a Jail Arrest Aversion Grant to address mental health issues relating to calls for police services.
“Obviously in an emergency [if] a person is in distress, threatening to harm themselves of something, they’re going to be transported right away, but the follow-up will be when this clinician comes in, similar to what we do with the Plymouth County Outreach,” he said. “I think we can all agree that mental health is at the forefront of a lot of issues we deal with.”
A grant was also secured for radio infrastructure, to clear up the town’s communication dead spots, through the efforts of IT Director Josh MacNeil.
“What makes this grant amazing is we had so little time,” Lynam said. “We found out literally days before it had to be submitted.”
Benton also reviewed recent high-profile arrests, including the arrest of a Rockland murder suspect and several drug and weapons arrests.
He also said enforcement regarding parking on sidewalks had not been done much in the past, but in light of a complaint on an ADA basis from a resident who uses a wheelchair, the department has begun issuing warning cards as they plan to begin enforcement.
“I will tell you this,” Benton said. “If the officers realize this is the third time they’ve put a warning on your car, you may wind up getting a civil fine anyway.”
Winter parking ban
Lynam announced that the annual winter overnight parking ban — 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. — goes into effect on Saturday, Dec. 1 through April 1, 2019 to enable snow removal. Tickets will be issued to violators and, if a vehicle impedes snow removal, it will be towed. That includes the town parking lot next to the former First Baptist Church on Washington Street.
Solid waste fee
The board voted that trash fees are going up $36 to $285 for fiscal 2019. A $25 discount for seniors who own their homes was approved for trash fees for the 596 residents receiving water discounts to begin in fiscal 2020.
Nov. 6 Election
Lynam also shared some observations about the recent state election.
“It was really an incredible turnout — over 4,000 people came out and that’s in addition to the 2,000 people who voted early,” Lynam said. While he said the day went rather smoothly, the one observation he would make it was that parking was “an absolute disaster.”
“Part of that can attributed to the fact that employees — both town employees and election workers or part-time employees — parked in the town parking lot,” he said. “That should not happen.”
Lynam recommended that in any future years in which a state or national election is held, parking in the Town Hall lot and in front of town hall be reserved for citizens trying to vote. Parking would be provided near the police station, with transportation to Town Hall provided by COA vans.
Veterans’ agent Thomas McCarthy reported that Whitman was well represented at the annual Tri-Town Veterans Day Parade with the Fire Department Honor Guard winning first place and Police Department Honor Guard taking third. The WHRHS band won first place for the band performances and the W-H majorettes took third.
McCarthy said a Veterans Day Parade committee is being formed to improve planning. Selectman Dan Salvucci noted that both Abington and Rockland have longer routes that Whitman and that the town should organize a longer route when it hosts the parade next year.