WHITMAN – The lack of qualified candidates within a reasonable geographic area has motivated town officials to seek a higher salary ceiling when the special Town Meeting convenes next month.
The Select Board voted at its Tuesday, Oct. 25 meeting to add an article setting the salary range for the post to $160,000 on the Monday, Nov. 14 special Town Meeting warrant. Select Board member Shawn Kain abstained.
“What we’re doing is setting a ceiling,” Chair Randy LaMattina said. “We’re not actually negotiating or actually setting a salary … but I’ve yet to see someone come in and think they’re just qualified for the base level. But hearing that we’re not pulling candidates is kind of disheartening because it is something we have to move on.”
Interim Town Administrator Frank Lynam said he has issued a draft of the special Town Meeting warrant, with the current articles under consideration, but said he wanted to place an article about the administrator’s salary.
“There is an article that addresses shortfalls in budgets for fiscal year 2023,” he said, but earlier that day the Town Administrator Search Committee met and found responses led them to the conclusion that the salary now being offered is hampering its work.
“If we’re going to attract a qualified administrator, we’re going to have to consider increasing the amount of money that we have budgeted,” Lynam reported.
The town is currently quoting a salary of “$150,000 and change.” The search committee is recommending that the Select Board consider increasing the salary ceiling figure to $160,000. That would require an additional $10,000 transfer at the Nov. 14 Town Meeting.
“I don’t make this recommendation lightly,” he said. “It’s certainly a far cry from what we’ve seen in the past, but the reality is the market has gone crazy.”
There have been a “huge number” of retirements and people who have left public administration and Whitman is struggling to attract qualified candidates, in part because the town is competing with communities willing to pay more.
“It is what it is,” Vice Chair Dan Salvucci said.
“The special Town Meeting is the appropriate time to ask for more money for this position,” agreed Select Board member Justin Evans. “I think the timing is right, it is what it is.”
Kain said he had definite reservations about it.
“I feel like it’s not an easy recommendation to seek,” he said, noting he respects the search committee’s recommendation. “We have to think carefully about this, because for obvious reasons, we’re going to see multiple effects throughout the budget.”
He said, while hiring the right person for that role, he felt he would like more time to process it.
“We can increase it to a higher level,” Salvucci said. “We can bargain, but at least the money is there in case any person we decide to go with chooses to go the full $160,000.”
LaMattina asked how many applicants the committee has seen.
The town received 14 applications.
“We very easily went through and disqualified nine of them today,” Lynam said. “It was a clear decision that there was no merit to considering those persons to recommend for the position due to lack of experience, ability, education – you name it.
“It’s been disappointing,” he continued. “And it isn’t for lack of reaching out.”
Lynam said that, in addition to advertising in municipal management publications, he has personally reached out to both Bridgewater State and Suffolk University alumni associations because they are turning out the most people with MPA degrees right now. But only one applicant has resulted so far.
Search Committee member John Galvin said the flexibility in negotiations that Salvucci mentioned was one reason for seeking the increase. Parting a bit from Lynam, he said there are really only two applicants so far that are worth considering.
“There are a couple from Arizona and Kansas and it’s like, ‘really?’” Galvin said. Although, while not comparable posititons, the school district recently hired someone from Alabama as its new facilities director.
They also did research into what town administrators are getting paid and the average is around $200,000.
Superintendent of Schools Jeff Szymaniak also met with the board briefly to discuss how the School Committee will be conducting joint budget meetings with the towns.
Such a joint meeting was held last year, at which time the select boards said they wanted to get more information and have more dialog prior to the budget season, Szymaniak said.
He has already presented his budget roll-out plan for fiscal 2024 to the School Committee.
“I’m going to present a tentative budget, without hard numbers – which I won’t get until February – to the School Committee on Dec. 21,” he said. He said he would like to present either in a joint forum to the committee and both boards, or to each board with its Finance Committee in attendance, during the week of Jan. 9, 2023.
He also plans to meet with Hanson’s Select Board on Tuesday, Nov. 15 to hear what they want to say, and was seeking feedback from Whitman Select Board members this week.
“What I really don’t want to do is six individual meetings,” he said. “I’d like to do it collaboratively.”
The annual public forum focusing on the formal presentation of the school budget will be on Feb.1.
“Then we’ll get into the nitty gritty of questions that people have, but I wanted to give you an overview of what I’m thinking … and I wanted to hear from you what you were thinking and if that works with you in your timeline,” Szymaniak said.
Kain said he thinks that Szymaniak and the budget subcommittee are doing excellent work, and should continue to help the process.
“I think it’s giving us a baseline of how we move forward,” Szymaniak said.
Salvucci asked whether one presentation to a joint meeting of both select boards and town finance committees would be more productive, and would ensure both towns received the same information in the same way.
“That’s my preference,” Szymaniak said, noting he would try to arrange it during the same week in January as the individual meetings were being considered. “I want feedback.”
In other business, the board also discussed the potential for electric and/or hybrid municipal vehicles after declaring five municipal vehicles – a 2004 Crown Victoria, a 2003 F250 pickup truck, a 2004 F250 utility body, a 2006 F250 pickup truck and a 1999 International 4900 – as surplus.
National Grid is fostering a MassFLEET Advisory Services Program, according to Evans, who has recused himself from being the contact person because funding is coming from National Grid, one of the companies he works to regulate as a state Department of Public Utilities employee.
Evans said Abington Town Manager Scott Lambiase, a former member of the Whitman Select Board, contacted hime about the program, as Abington is considering participation and Lambiase thought it might be a good fit for Whitman, as well.
A third-party company, working with National Grid funding, is offering to do fleet advisory services for public entities such as towns, school districts and community colleges, among others.
“They will look at our current vehicle list, do an analysis – including our vehicle replacement timeline – of the cost and benefits of switching to battery electric vehicles, hybrid electric vehicles, plug-in hybrid electric vehicles and present it back to the town at no cost,” Evans said.
The town’s only financial commitment would be about 10 hours of staff time.
“If I’m reading this correctly, it also addresses infrastructure needs to set up for electric vehicles and further things down the line,” LaMattina said, noting that 2035 is when Massachusetts will be going full EV. “You’re starting to see [the change] – the first electric fire truck just rolled out in California and you are starting to see more and more larger trucks and things go this way.”
LaMattina said he thinks it sets up the town for issues officials have to begin considering, especially with the new DPW building and a new middle school being planned – what infrastructure will need to be in place when the new policies start coming online.
“It’s definitely something to think about,” he said.