WHITMAN — Animal Control services will be taken over, as the initial responsibility for oversight by the Board of Selectmen and Town Administrator in the new year.
The change will be in force until a “more suitable plan” can be developed, Town Administrator Frank Lynam informed Selectmen at the Tuesday, Dec. 17 meeting.
“The Board of Health has notified us that they wish to — can I use the word reneg? — on their acceptance of managing the Animal Control Department, as of Jan. 1,” Lynam said.
Animal control has traditionally been managed by the Police Department.
“We obviously have to do something fairly immediately,” Lynam said, noting there was not much of an option available for reassigning it.
“When we did this, there was a considerable increase, monetarily, to that department for this specific purpose,” Selectman Randy LaMattina noted about the Health Board’s oversight. “I would just like us to be aware of that and figure out a direction.”
Lynam said he would discuss the financial ramifications of the change with the Finance Committee.
“Since [the Board of Health] is an elected board, we really can’t direct them to do anything, but we’re recognizing their decision to — I’m looking for a word — to relieve themselves of the animal control process and that has some impacts,” Lynam said.
Selectman Brian Bezanson asked if the financial aspect was not something that was more properly up to the Health Board Chairman and Finance Committee to decide.
“There has to be some decision made somewhere,” Lynam said. “The Board of Health is the appointing authority for the health agent, the budget is voted annually at Town Meeting and there are certain responsibilities that we all have when we vote and adopt annual budgets, so that’s a discussion that has to happen.”
Lynam said the Board of Health maintains it needs a full-time health agent, animal control notwithstanding.
“Like any department, a case has to be made for supporting the budget that you request,” he said.
As Hanson Selectmen have approved $30,000 for its share of the $60,000 cost for a joint town hiring of an independent auditor for the School District’s operating costs, Whitman Selectmen authorized planning for an expenditure not to exceed $30,000 for the town’s share.
“It’s a lot of money, but there’s a lot of questions,” Lynam said. “As we speak [Dec. 17], I don’t know where the money’s coming from.”
He has asked the town accountant to “look at all of our numbers” to figure out from where the $30,000 could be drawn.
The type of firm selected may hinge on what they are looking for — whether the numbers add up or where the money is spent, according to Lynam.
“Those are two different types of audit,” Lynam said. “We’re trying to understand what the basics for spending are and how we’re affected going forward.”
Lynam said the town has identified its costs and what its trends have been over the last five years, with the result being they are saying there is a structural deficit for fiscal 2021of at least $1.7 million.
“That’s without the numbers that were thrown out by the school [district Dec. 11],” he said. “We have to start somewhere.”
Bezanson said the audit could be viewed positively, especially if it verifies what the school district has been saying.