HANSON – The Select Board approved a policy recommendation to add employee accrued time off information to pay stubs.
“We have an opportunity to better keep track of attendance and also to help the employees keep track,” Town Administrator Lisa Green said.
The payroll company can track how much vacation, sick time, floating holidays and personal days on pay stubs.
“As they use time, it will show up on pay stubs,” she said.
Select Board Chair Laura FitzGerald-Kemmett asked if the count begins at the start of the fiscal year and who will be inputting that data.
Green said the countdown would begin on the anniversary date of their hiring.
The payroll company would be supplied with contract start date and allotted vacation/personal time information and will calculate it from there.
The town’s assistant treasurer, who puts in payroll data, would be relied on to catch errors, that could give employees too many vacation days, Green said.
“Hopefully, the employee would come forward and say there’s an error,” she said.
Vice Chair Joe Weeks said he would hope there are policies in place that would address such an eventuality.
“I think Mr. Weeks is picking up what I was putting down,” FitzGerald-Kemmett said. “I think we need to have a very clear policy that states in no event would something that appears on a pay stub supersede what is actually in the contract about what you would otherwise be due.”
Select Board member Ed Heal asked about the process involved.
“If I take a sick day, how does it get on my pay stub?” he asked.
Green said department heads submit time sheets to accounting and then to the payroll firm, who will key in the data.
She said she has already discussed it with the interim accountant and treasurer about the process, and stressed there is no cost to the town for the change.
In order to give the assistant treasurer the ability to learn the process, departments will be entered on a staggered basis, suggesting the Highway Department and Administrative Professionals union would be the first to be included.
“Then if fire and police want to join in, we would start them afterward because they have a little more of a complex system,” she said.
Weeks said he liked the idea, because tracking days owed information is often tricky.
“To me it’s an easy way of looking at it, trying to plan for the future,” he said. “This makes complete logical sense.”
He did question how the discussion was listed on the agenda as including attendance on the stubs.
“I don’t want to give people the wrong impression that we’re keeping track of when they’re clocking in and clocking out, before we roll this out,” he said. “I think before you roll this out, people need to have the policy in front of them.”
Green stressed the change refers only to accrued time off.
FitzGerald-Kemmett said there needs to be ownership of the policy, advocating that employees be asked to initial it as an indication that they have read it. Town officials overseeing the process should also be required to provide the information to department heads to verify the information entered on the payroll forms.
“If you’re concerned there might be a learning curve to it … a training on the process, would also be a smart way to avoid errors,” Weeks said.
Whitman posts Asst. TA position
WHITMAN – The Select Board on Tuesday, March 7 approved the revision of a job description and salary range for a new Town Administration, as well of an assistant town administrator.
Town Administrator Mary Beth Carter said the salary range now being offered is $90,000 to $100,000 for the job.
Committee member Justin Evans asked where the job opening would be posted, as it had been posted on the Mass. Municipal Association site as well as some industry organizations in the past, but the town received a “flurry of resumes” when positions were posted on Indeed.
Carter said it would definitely be posted on the MMA site and she could certainly post it on Indeed as well, and in local newspapers.
“It will definitely be put out there on several sites,” she said.
Selectman Dr. Carl Kowalski advised holding off on using Indeed until the board could gauge what interest they see from local newspapers and the MMA.
Fire chief Timothy Clancy, in his regular COVID report, said there had been only 16 positive cases of the virus in town over the previous week, out of 244 tests performed for a 6.5 percent positivity rating.
“Let’s have it be noted that’s a 50-percent decrease from the previous week and we can only hope that this trend will continue as people move back outside as we approach spring,” he said. “Also, the wastewater report has shown a gradual decrease.”
SST moves along MSBA process
HANOVER –An update on the school’s renovation and expansion program, being funded in part by the Massachusetts School Building Association (MSBA), as well as ongoing regional agreement revision, by the South Shore Tech School Committee on Wednesday Feb. 15, also expanded – into a discussion about the future of vocational education and how the school should prepare for that.
The district was admitted to the MSBA program about a year ago.
Superintendent-Director Dr. Thomas J. Hickey had reported that the Building Committee has submitted a draft request for services document to the MSBA so that panel can hire a design firm for the project, expecting a month or so to pass before the MSBA takes action on it.
“The trajectory for 2023 is that we will probably spend from now through June going through the process of bringing the design team on board,” Hickey said. “By June … we’ll have formed our project team and the second half of 2023 will be focused on the design. We should be at the tail-end of this calendar year with first instances of models [and cost estimates for a new and/or renovated school].”
Visioning sessions with members of the school community are being eyed as a source for discovering what the district’s needs are. The models will give an idea of what this final project cost might be. An opening is eyed for 2028.
SST is anticipating that 55.16 percent of the total cost will be reimbursed by MSBA although the construction reimbursement amount has not been determined as of now.
“Towns want to come here if they don’t have vocational schools to go to, but yet there are kids who want to come to a vocational school to get an education,” Whitman representative Dan Salvucci said, pointing to Marshfield, in particular that has expressed interest in, and is negotiating to, join the SST region. “That’s the trend nowadays.”
He suggested the impact of that be considered.
“We may build a school that’s bigger … with a lot more space than we need for the students we have, but future needs…
That point was echoed by Scituate representative Jack Manning.
“I don’t know if you’ve been watching the news, but, of late, vocational ed has been getting support,” he said, holding his thumb up.
The comment came during another ancillary discussion of bills now before the state legislature on bills concerning access opportunity and capacity in vocational education. Hickey has recently sent a letter to area legislators concerning bills HD485 and SD1697.
“This bill seeks a lot of things,” he said. “But I do believe the timing is right to at least raise the issue.”
He recalled that committee members often speak of the days when regional vocational schools were opened in the 1960s and 1970s began with substantial state investment and not as much burden on the local towns.
“This bill attempts to do a few things,” Hickey said. “The most notable … is that it seeks to set up a program that puts at least $3 billion aside for brick and mortar improvements to regional vocational schools, county agricultural schools and high schools that have Chapter 74 programs.”
The funding source would be the recently passed Fair Share Amendment.
“In order for our schools to be modernized and expanded to meet state demand, capacity must be improved, and we should take an ‘all of the above’ strategy,” Hickey said, offering programs at night, programs to students who do not attend the school full time, and the school should get state funding for equipment.
The missing link is direct state funding to help taxpayers in the district offset the cost of a substantial capital project, according to Hickey.
“That’s what this bill would do,” he said. “The state’s economy benefits when it invests in its regionals and its county agriculturals, and if the state’s willing to do that, local municipalities don’t have to make that tough choice [in deciding whether to construct a new building].”
Hickey said that is why the district has to build the most modern building it can afford, while projecting honestly to themselves what the increased operating costs could be.
MSBA has agreed to subsidize a new or renovated SST with enrollments between 645-805 students with the current 8 member district, or as many as 975 students with Marshfield becoming a member. The school’s enrollment is approximately 650 students currently with a waiting list.
“Very few building projects are taking an existing school population and projecting that it’s going to increase by a third,” Hickey said, noting several such projects are being built to serve a smaller population. “We are bucking that trend and we’ll know so much more by the end of this calendar year [about feasible options].”
Hanson petition seeks road acceptance
HANSON – The Select Board voted at its Tuesday, Feb. 21 meeting, to accept a citizen’s petition to lay out three private ways as town roads and to refer to it the Planning Board as part of the process of obtaining a Town Meeting vote.
The petition involves Alden Way, Gray Lane and Stringer Lane.
“Those three roads right now in the neighborhood are private roads,” Town Administrator Lisa Green said. “We have received a citizen’s petition for the town to accept these as public ways.”
Citizens petitions go before Town Meeting for a vote, but there is a legal process that must be followed, including that the Select Board vote its intention to lay out the roadways as public.
“Regardless of what you vote here tonight, because it’s a citizen’s petition, it still goes on the [Town Meeting] warrant,” she said. “Depending on your vote here tonight … during Town Meeting, when the citizen’s petition comes up, town counsel will speak regarding the status of the petition.”
Environmental Partners has conducted a study of the roadway conditions including drainage, and what it would cost the town to make improvements to drainage.
Town Highway Director Jamison Shave has also provided a letter outlining costs should the town accept some of the town’s private ways as public, based on a visual assessment. There will also be legal costs involved because of deed work required.
Once the Select Board votes to accept, the petition goes to the Planning Board to begin their process.
“Once that process takes place, the next process would be Town Meeting,” Green said, followed by counsel establishing easements and deeds, if necessary.
“Obviously cost is a factor,” Select Board Chair Laura FitzGerald-Kemmett said.
“It’s hard to estimate those costs because it’s going to be based on easements, possibly acquired land, things like that,” Green said. “If necessary, we may have to have surveyors go out there just to make sure the property lines are correct, to establish the frontage on each of the roads.”
Green summarized that the three roads could represent “considerable costs,” noting that the recent taking of the Sleeper property cost the town more than $13,000 in legal fees.
“I do want to remind you that the Sleeper property is not the ‘poster child’ for costs,” FitzGerald-Kemmett said. “We had people who had died [and] we had to research their heirs.”
Green said that would represent a “worst-case scenario” to provide an idea of what the town could face.
“We don’t know what we’ll face when we look at titles,” she said.
She asked Green to seek out an estimate from town counsel.
The entire process must be completed 45 days before Town Meeting
Vice Chair Joe Weeks asked why all of that must be completed before Town Meeting.
FitzGerald-Kemmett said town counsel would argue the town had not legally followed the process for road acceptance, regardless of whether or not it is spurred by a citizen’s petition.
“You can’t circumvent what the regulations are for going from private to public [roads],” she said. “Town Meeting is going to ultimately decide, that’s how it should be. We just offer up what we think is in the best interests of the town.”
Planner Tony DeFrias said the process, is required by law and is strictly outlined.
“These aren’t formalities, but they must be followed strictly, and there’s even a court case regarding it,” he said.
Selectmen, in deciding to support the citizen’s petition must submit it to the Planning Board, which has 45 days to review it and any documents pertaining to it. They must make some kind of recommendation back to the Select Board, who would then have another meeting to move it on to Town Meeting. Within 120 days of closing the meeting, the town has to work toward getting easements, any road or easements required.
“Where I can get expensive long-term easements or second mortgages,” DeFrias said it could mean extra steps at the bank, but that must go through attorneys, but once it is accepted as a private way it gets priority for maintenance over other unaccepted roads and attains town funding for maintenance need, becoming eligible for state Chapter 90 funds.
Shave has determined the road is in “pretty good shape.”
Public records request on district salaries raises debate
The building timers were shutting down the lights as the Whitman-Hanson Regional School Committee wound down a four-hour meeting Wednesday, Feb. 15 by voting to reject, by a 4-5 vote, a public documents request by School Committee member Dawn Byers.
Voting in favor were: Byers, David Forth, Fred Small and Steve Bois, Voting against were: Christopher Howard, Christopher Scriven, Hillary Kniffen, Glen DiGravio and Michelle Bourgelas. Member Beth Stafford had to leave the meeting early and did not cast a vote.
Byers had sought a salary line breakdown by position – not including names – building location and funding source for all staff in the district and supporting documentation in the FY24 budget.
“Everything that [Business Director John Stanbrook] gives you is uploaded the next day to the website,” Superintendent of Schools Jeff Szymaniak. “It will be attached to the budget.”
On Thursday, Feb. 16, Byers said she had received an acknowledgement “in the affirmative” of a previous public records request, which she made Feb. 8.
“No citizen needs to give reason why they’re submitting a public records request,” she said a few times during the meeting as well as after.
During the meeting, Byers read from a prepared statement that she had not asked for her name to be put on the agenda.
“The administration has the salary totals, and should provide the context behind how they arrived at those totals,” she said. “The budget policy itself gives a directive to provide a budget that is clear and understandable; Information retrieval in order to accomplish this is not a directive to the superintendent.
“My question is simply where the money is being spent in our budget,” Byers said, noting she had filed a FOIA request on Feb. 4. “The administration has the salary totals and should provide the context behind how they arrived at those totals.”
She explained that, in her accounting background, this is standard procedure, to reconcile totals with the detailed data. Byers said she has spoken with Jim Hardy at the Mass. Association of School Committees (MASC) about her request.
“Ironically, a member of this committee just unilaterally obstructed access to public record to ascertain my question was simply where the money was […] in our budget,” she said and sent another FOIA to the state.
Hardy, in fact described the action of putting Byers’ name on the agenda as “a bit harsh,” she said. “‘The information is public, it exists, and the district has to provide it,’” he informed her.
She said, as some committee members were observed rolling their eyes, that she was far from humiliated and would not stop advocating for educational equity and proper school finance. Byers said a similar request last year was complied with without question or hesitation and asked why things were different this year.
“We’ll go through the long version, then, if that’s what we want to do,” Howard said, adding that the budget subcommittee did not see the need, but was not entirely clear about the request and clarification was sought.
“We were really trying to understand how [the Hanover budget example] would help us,” he said, adding that Szymaniak explained Business Manager John Stanbrook was “very tight on time” and that it might be necessary to have a working group look at equity.
Howard, also reading from a prepared statement, said his understanding was that Byers had called Szymaniak to ask for the same information, after the budget subcommittee had discussed it for a second time, suggesting that if he did not provide it, she would make a FOIA request.
They decided it made sense to bring the matter to the full committee and not to do anything at the time.
Howard had consulted school counsel about the manner in which the email alleging obstruction made a public records request and was told that was not the proper way to do it.
“I encouraged her, as any other citizen, to make a public records request,” he said, adding counsel had advised that the will of the committee should direct the administration’s efforts.
Budget Subcommittee Chair Forth offered his perspective, saying that Byers’ January request was mentioned by the superintendent without specifying a name, as they discussed the line items and how they might be broken apart and presented as well as how it would work for transparency, optics and use of Stanbrook’s available time.
“I wanted to get more information and try to understand that committee member’s perspective more,” Forth said. “I did not ask the superintendent or Howard who that School Committee member was, because in February 2021, Ms. Byers had made a similar recommendation when the former chairman was in charge and wanted more transparency between line items.”
He asked Byers after the recent joint budget meeting with selectmen and finance committees if she was the one making the request and requesting her to email the example so the subcommittee could review and discuss it.
Forth said he didn’t think the subcommittee could make the decision to provide the information, based in part on the time constraints facing Stanbrook and recommended it be discussed at the School Committee level and decide whether it is something that could be implemented this year, or would have to wait until next year.
Kniffen, while saying she did not believe the request was “malintended at all,” said it could place teacher salaries in public view where tenured teacher salaries are higher and expressed concern about why the information was sought and how it might be used.
Howard said there have been other requests for information left to the will of the committee.
The information Byers is seeking is aimed at determining which teacher salaries might be shifted to ESSER funds in the budget.
While Hanson prints teacher salaries in its annual report, Whitman does not.
DiGravio said he understands the idea of having the line items available to provide data for a better decision.
“I don’t see any benefit in having [teachers’] names,” he said. “Is there any way that their names helps us make a better decision?”
Byers thanked him for the point and noted the Hanover example from her first request does not provide a single staff name.
Bourgelas asked how Byers was able to obtain the same information so easily last year, including names and asked why there was a procedural change. Howard said he wasn’t certain and wondered why it went before the Budget Subcommittee twice.
He said he felt very confident that if the same people were on the Budget Subcommittee last year, they would have handled it the exact same way.
Forth also said any questions about a disparity in salaries between tenured and newer teachers could be explained by the recent cuts in positions to balance the budget.
“It’s not a matter of teachers being overpaid, but they’ve been here for X-amount of years and the teachers who aren’t get pink-slipped, so I think that’s context, too, when you’re looking at the grand scheme of things,” he said.
Szymaniak’s said he did not recall what was different this year from Byers’ request last year.
“I get a lot of requests for a lot of information,” he said. “I do the best that I can to accommodate all 10 folks on the committee. I don’t remember that last year.”
Byers said it was not Szymaniak she dealt with last year, it had been Stanbrook.
He is also concerned about the culture surrounding the budget process.
“My staff is fragile right now, and folks are talking about salaries,” Szymaniak said, noting every document that goes out is placed on the web site. “I’m a little protective of my people.”
He said the Budget Subcommittee is also new this year and he wants all information requests to funnel through there.
Whitman Finance Committee liaison Kathleen Ottina said she was one of the sources of Szymaniak’s frequent requests and thanked him for his response to her questions.
“It’s not to be snoopy, it’s to be able to answer the questions that people have,” she said. “You have a lot of major line item shifts that you’ve never had before – ESSER I, II, III, a lot of grants – a lot of moves taking place.”
She said she would advocate for the school budget, but needs information.
Kevin Kafka questioned the intent of the request.
“If you go in a data direction … then it becomes analytical, it becomes evaluative,” he said. “I just think we need to stay away from that.”
Kniffen said some teachers – such as gym teachers – are the only ones at a school.
“You don’t have to put out their names, people are going to find out,” she said. “Being a teacher right now is pretty miserable. We talked about morale last week, The public is always looking for something negative. … When we’re trying to get support for a budget, that’s not going to help at all.”
Byers had also objected to being listed on the agenda by name (simply as “Requests by Ms. Byers” with no other explanation).
“We’re at a little bit of an impasse on this one, so I didn’t want it to get in the way of the committee,” Chair Christopher Howard said, explaining that Byers had brought a concept of providing a line-item detail of every district employee’s salary to the Budget Committee a couple of times.
“I’m now putting this at, ‘What is the purview of the committee because I think we need to make clear if we’e going to create something or do something that’s going to take some time and effort.”
He did, however, defended Byers’ reaction to being specifically named on the agenda.
“I can recall two years ago where I felt unfairly targeted and harassed at times by the former chairman, who would put me on agenda items and executive sessions,” he said. “I feel like also today, in particular … more animosity in the room and I’ve seen a couple remarks I consider condescending to Ms. Byers. I don’t think that’s appropriate and anything we should be doing. We should be respectful as committee members.”
He said Byers had made a valid request.
Hanson reviews regional pact talks
HANSON – The Select Board discussed progress of the Regional Agreement revision, expressing support for a two-thirds vote for all measures before the School Committee.
Select Board member Jim Hickey reported on the Regional Agreement Subcommittee meetings he and Town Administrator Lisa Green attend, during the board’s meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 7.
“Last night, we just finished going over the “Big Seven, I would call them,” Hickey said of the main issues being discussed, at the meeting they attended on Feb. 6.
Those included, bus schedules, leasing and statutory assessment method, among others.
“Right now, it seems like a good round table of discussion,” he said, noting that what School Committee Chairman Christopher Howard is looking to do, is put together the language so he and Green could bring it back for the board to review.
“One of the major concerns is the number of School Committee members, where they have six and we have four,” Hickey said. “It’s been talked about to make all votes two-thirds [to pass].”
He said that he had stated at an earlier meeting that one problem is votes cast by way of how members thought their individual towns would want, instead of what is best for the district.
“I thought that was wrong,” he said.
Votes should be cast with an eye to what is best for the district and its students and faculty.
“That was my concept of the two-thirds vote,” Hickey said.
Select Board Chair Laura FitzGerald-Kemmett said she agreed with the two-thirds vote, asking what the downside could be for Whitman.
“It sounds like there’s some disagreement, but everybody’s being cordial,” she said.
“Oh, absolutely,” Hickey said. “It’s very cordial.”
“It’s very good dialog and conversation,” Green said. “Also, pointing out the areas that could lead to confusion, especially capital costs – what’s an emergency cost and making sure language in the agreement corresponds and is in agreement with language in leases.”
Select Board member Joe Weeks, who agreed with the two-thirds vote, asked if there had been any push-back, and Hickey replied that there had been.
“I’m hoping the Whitman Selectmen will kind of look at it again,” he said.
“I think if anybody put themselves in the place of the Hanson taxpayers, they could see that it was a difficult pill to swallow,” FitzGerald-Kemmett said asking what the downside would be for Whitman. “And we have swallowed it, but we’re just looking for an acknowledgment, … and a feeling as though the playing field is level.”
She said she strongly doubts School Committee members vote solely for the interest of their town, but added the two-thirds removes any doubt“I’m not going to be diplomatic about it, but mistakes have been made in the past … but we’re trying to fix [it], for people that take our places in the future” Hickey said, adding that includes frequent review of the agreement – perhaps as often as every three years.
Burst pipes at senior center
HANSON — The Hanson Multi-Service Senior Center sustained “extensive water damage” due to a burst pipe during last weekend’s sub-freezing cold snap, according to Select Board Chair Laura FitzGerald-Kemmett, who has arranged an alternative site for senior programs while repairs are being made.
Senior Center Director Mary Collins, however, told FitzGerald-Kemmett they can “make do” during the month or so it might take to repair the damage.
FitzGerald-Kemmett said security cameras indicated the pipes burst at about 6:30 a.m., Sunday night
She contacted Camp Kiwanee Commission Chair Frank Milisi to obtain permission to offer use of Needles Lodge for the Senior Center. Melisi agreed, she said, noting the Kiwanee staff is there from 8 a.m. To 2 p.m., anyway, and the building is handicapped-accessible. Hanson Middle School also sustained some flooding from burst pipes, she said. There has been no damage to the Hanson Library.
Health Agent Gil Amado and Local Inspector Kerry Glass inspected the damage Monday and determined, since there are still bathrooms available in the connected library building, some programming can still be offered.
“Frank’s telling me don’t worry, he’d love them to use the [Camp Kiwanee] building,” she said she told Collins. “I left it with Mary and Frank are going to connect and talk about whether she’d be better off there, or whether she could hold some programs there and have some at the senior center.”
South Shore Tech Superintendent Dr. Thomas J. Hickey, whose carpentry and electrical shop students had just recently completed a project creating an office space where Senior Center staff can offer confidential health insurance consultations, said the school would be willing to help with repairs if they can.
“I’ll ask my off-campus projects [director] to look into it,” Hickey said. “The only thing that could possibly get in the way would be if the town has an issue with insurance, but it’s worth an ask. If we can help them out, we certainly will.”
Hickey explained an insurance company might require other measures under their coverage, that would take precedence. He confirmed on Tuesday afternoon, that insurance requirements would, indeed, prohibit his students from offering assistance.
Hanson board grounds wandering dog
HANSON – Jet will have to come in for a landing.
The Select Board on Tuesday, Jan. 24 conducted a nuisance or dangerous dog hearing on a following complaint by Charles Williams of 115 Leon Court against a dog named Jet owned by David Leighton of 73 Leon Court. Jet has allegedly been out of its yard on two occasions – Jan. 9 and 11.
Town Administrator Lisa Green said she had received two videos purporting to be of the same dog being out of its yard.
Select Board Chair Laura FitzGerald Kemmett said Leighton’s other dog Scout, had been the subject of a previous dog hearing, stressing this complaint was on a different animal named Jet.
“We have not had a discussion or met about this particular dog,” she said. Leighton was asked to work with the animal control officer on ways to control Jet, including walking the animal on a leash while the other dog is on a tether, and he will shore up his fence.
“I mean this in the nicest way possible,” FitzGerald-Kemmett said. “We don’t want to see you again. We want harmony to reign on Leon Court and you can do your part.”
Leighton said he has been having a problem getting his mail, or he would have acknowledged receiving a first notice about the situation.
Green emphasized that the town has received no information about the dog in this case being threatening or dangerous.
One video shows Williams following the dog to record the situation when it barked at him, but Green said that, under state law, a dog cannot be considered a nuisance just because it is barking or growling, reacting to another animal or a person in a manner “grossly out of proportion” to the circumstances. A dog’s breed cannot be used as a reason to declare it a danger or nuisance.
The board is empowered to determine whether the dog is a danger or a nuisance. There has been no evidence or complaint that the dog is dangerous.
Watching the videos, Select Board members said they did not perceive the dog behaving in an aggressive manner.
Animal Control Officer Joseph Kenney said the dog has not been aggressive or threatening to him, nor has he received reports of it behaving in such a manner to anyone else.
“I get both sides,” he said, noting how he could see someone nervous around dogs being fearful.
Kenney said there had been construction going on at the Leighton property on Jan. 9, which could explain the dog getting out.
“I’m going to blame my kids on this one,” Leighton said adding that when he puts Scout outside on a tether, as he had been directed to do at a previous hearing, bringing Jet with him and taking them both in the house at once. He said he will discuss the seriousness of the situation with his kids, who are in their 20s.
“The kids don’t do that,” he said, so the dog wanders around to the front door, and that may be why Jet ended up in the William’s yard.
FitzGerald-Kemmett said William may be concerned about the safety and fears of his children.
“I’m going to bring him out,” Leighton said about controlling his dog. “I told the kids, ‘Don’t even bother bringing the dogs out, I’ll take care of it.’ This is the last thing in the world I need or want.”
He suggested the complaint was personal.
“I think it’s vindictive and it’s petty,” he said.
“To me, it seems like a powder keg ready to go off,” FitzGerald said, asking Kenney for his recommendation.
He recommended requiring Leighton use a lead to walk the dogs and a six-foot tall fence to keep the dogs in the yard as well as tethering.
Leighton said he doesn’t have the room to put both dogs on a tether, but will continue walking Jet on a lead while Scout is tethered.
“It’ll never happen,” Leighton said, noting he only has one tree. He later apologized for stating it that way when some Select Board members said the phrase could be taken as dismissive.
Select Board Vice Chair Joe Weeks asked how the board could ensure that the dogs are not the subject of complaints, requiring them to call Leighton or his adult children before the board again.
Kenney said the only way anything could come of the case outside regular leash laws would be to deem the animal dangerous or a nuicance, at which time different standards kick in.
“We could be gerbils on this wheel forever,” FitzGerald Kemmett. Member Ann Rein said she didn’t mind holding more hearing if they became necessary so long as the dogs and people involved are safe.
“But, us as gerbils, each time it happens, we’re not spending so much time on it, because we know,” Select Board member Jim Hickey said. “It’s your dog, you’re responsible for it. …Don’t blame your kids.”
Weeks said he was concerned with containing the issue before the board, recognizing the stress on both sides of the situation.
SST holds budget hearing
HANOVER – The South Shore Tech School Committee held its public hearing on the fiscal 2024 budget, Wednesday, Jab. 18. No members of the public attended to speak at the hearing.“This is a proposed budget, with a 2.25-percent increase,” said Superintendent-Director Dr. Thomas J. Hickey. “As you know, with a new governor coming in, we don’t have the ability to project with greater accuracy, town assessment numbers at this time.” Hickey said he would encourage the member towns to consider enrollment trends at the school, but the district truly does not know, based on inflation factor, whether the state will honor the 9.1-percent inflation factor from the third quarter of 2022, or whether they will cap it at 4.5 percent as state law permits. “If you cap funding based on a lower inflation number, there are more costs that are to the local level,” he said. “For now, this is the next step in our process and an opportunity for the public to talk about the budget.” Hickey said the conversation will continue until Feb. 15 when he will ask the committee to certify the budget, which again may have no firm numbers from the state. “It’s very likely that we will have a certified budget, [but] we will get Chapter 70 numbers by March 3, then we will re-evaluate, we will take stock of what numbers we have,” he said. After which the committee members from each town will receive that information. District Treasurer James Coughlin will run the numbers within a day of receiving them on March 1, Hickey said. The School Committee has the right to readdress a certified budget, especially if the numbers are lower that where they are now. “We’re going to be able to project revenues,” he said. Whitman Committee member Dan Salvucci asked what the latest date would be to certify the budget. Hickey said the spending plan must be certified 45 days before the earlies town meeting among member communities – which would be Scituate on April 3. That is why Feb. 15 was chosen as a convenience would be ideal because it is the date of the next scheduled meeting and would meet the district’s budgeting obligation. But March 3 would be too late. “If numbers from the state come in lower than what we are looking at, how will we meet the budget, take it out of the [excess and deficiency] account?” Salvucci asked. Hickey said his recommendation would be to take it out of the capital line included for the bus fleet. “That’s where we would start,” he said. “We would look at where the revenue gap is, and we’ll look at our ESSER 3 funds to help close that gap. But if the assessments to the towns was still significant, then that’s [the bus funds] the first place I would go.” It would likely only force the school district to wait a year to replace its bus fleet, Hickey estimated, and there is some additional transportation funding to use as backfill. “I know the process,” Salvucci said. “I want that understood, that we, as a school board, do not take one-time money to offset the budget.” “One-time money to fund operating expenses is generally not a good practice,” Hickey agreed. Hickey also reported to the committee that the district has forwarded the selection of the firm Left Field to the Massachusetts School Building Authority as owner’s project manager for the expansion/renovation project. The paperwork was being completed to the MSBA review panel can address it at its Feb. 6 meeting. Once MSBA approves a selection, the district could start working with it the next day so the OPM and building committee can begin the process of selecting a design team. The regional agreement review has been approved by the Department of Education’s legal department, said Hickey who said the legal team had no additional concerns. He will soon be seeking a vote from the Committee on proposed changes to the regional agreement. “Although there are several changes – some of which are nice, but not necessary – and we definitely deployed grammar police throughout the whole document, there isn’t a bad comma anywhere to be found,” Hickey said. “The reason we’re doing this is the potential addition of Marshfield.” In other business, Vocational director Keith Boyle was saluted as the school’s staff member of the month. Assistant Principal Sandra Baldner for his skill set, his relationship with students in the program and his deep relationship with the teachers across the building. Boyle began his career in the horticulture program at Upper Cape Cod Regional Technical High School and joined SST as vocational coordinator in 2018. “He’s credited with managing South Shore Tech with the best cooperative education program we’ve ever seen,” Baldner said. “He’s changed that culture and students are now expected to go out on coop, they don’t just choose to do it – it’s part of the culture of our school.” Boyle is also a successful grant writer. According to Boyle, 96 seniors are participating in the coop program this year – or about 60 percent of the senior class, who have collectively earned more than $374,000 so far on more than 22,000 hours of job training. Juniors become eligible to start coop assignments as of Feb. 6. He also provided the committee with a breakdown of the more than $4 million in grants which he obtained for the school. The most substantial of those was a $2.5 million Skills Capital Lab Modernization Grant. “That grant is specifically earmarked to expand and update equipment in our Culinary Arts department and our carpentry program,” Boyle said. He met with both departments over the summer to create an extensive list of potential equipment and lab renovation ideas. “Once we were awarded the grant, we hit the ground running,” he said. He said meetings have already been held with an architect to plan a new modernized kitchen with a “strong footprint.” The grant’s requirements call for improvements that increase enrollment. Architectural plans for culinary allow for assets like the walk-in freezer to be moved, providing more room in food preparation areas, and allowing more students to participate in the program. [ The percentage of the budget increase was misreported in the Jan. 5 Whitman-Hanson Express. The Express apologizes for the error.]
Water main a bump in road
HANSON — A 139-year-old water main running through Hanson may end up causing the town a headache of potentially more than $100,000 the Select Board learned at its Tuesday, Jan. 10 meeting.
The main, which travels through Hanson, supplies water to Rockland and Abington, may need to be moved during a long-planned road improvement project, which could damage the pipe.
The Board voted to seek assistance in setting up a meeting between the stakeholders and/or filing legislation to address the legal questions involved.
“You’re looking at an additional cost well over $100,000 for this project that the town of Hanson would have to take on,” Town Planner Antonio DeFrias said. He asked if grants could be used to defray that impact.
“I’m getting ‘no,’ this was part of the deal,” he said.
Select Board Chair Laura FitzGerald-Kemmett asked if Environmental Partners should have been expected to identify that it was a potential issue.
“They’re the ones that did this design,” she said. “Those pipes didn’t just suddenly pop up in that road.”
While she said she thinks highly of Environmental Partners, the water main issue was a known entity and she was disappointed it wasn’t found to be a potential limitation on the project. The project is currently at a standstill.
“This issue puts a $13 million project into jeopardy, that goes on the shelf,” DeFrias said. “And the money you’ve spent are [he threw his hands in the air in a gesture of hopelessness].”
Any funds spent so far has been for engineering.
The deadline for project completion is 2026.
Negotiations between Hanson and Abington, centering on Abington’s ownership of a water main, created through special legislation in 1885, that is the center of concern during work on a state DOT project to lower the road and change an intersection on Route 14/Maquan Street.
The state was concerned that roadwork could undermine the water main.
“The question for me was not the engineering piece, but what was the liability?” said Town Counsel Kate Feodoroff. “How do we handle that if we have to relocate the main. Who pays for it?”
The main serves the Rockland/Abington area, not Hanson.
According to Feodoroff, default easement rules state that whoever disturbs is the one who pays. Hanson, as the town disturbed by the easement, is the town seeking to make the change that could impact Abington’s delicate old water main, according to Feodoroff.
“That becomes a question for experts to answer,” she said. “The reality is there is no real clean way of doing this.”
Abington has reported that they do not have the funds to do such a large project right now. Feodoroff said., noting they were unwilling to come to the table to volunteer to replace the pipe while the roadway was dug. DOT offered to again redesign the intersection, by some modification but was rejected and they are requiring a Level 2 survey – a subsurface utility engineering – of the project to determine the impact on the main, which could bring the town up to Teir 1.
“They’re doing this with all their projects,” DeFrias said. “There have been some utilities in the ground where utility companies haven’t maintained them and had accidents.”
For that reason, the SUE survey is being done on all projects MassDOT is involved in, he said.
DeFrias noted there are three possible tiers for addressing the problem:
• Teir 3 uses existing plans to determine a utility’s exact location;
• Teir 2 uses lidar to locate vertically and horizontally where the water line is; and
• Teir 1 uses tests borings at intervals – done by a state-certified company — to find where a pipe is and may be able to determine its condition.
A Teir 2 survey costs $80,000 to $90,000, DeFrias estimated. Teir 1 ususally costs about $1,000 per boring.
Environmental Partners has to keep filing reports to the state.
“It’s a killer,” DeFrias said. “There’s no compromise.” To the other towns, replacement of the line is not a need.
FitzGerald-Kemmett said her concern was the surveys could bring advice that the town doesn’t want to touch the problem, but DeFrias said a 200-foot change on a curve along the crest of a dirt road and Cresent Street for safety has already been in the works, which effects that length along the water line.
He’s spoken to Environmental Partners about foregoing the lowering of the road at that place.
“They’re not keen on it, but it’s one of those things that, if this becomes such a hindrance, we may have to ask MassDOT to either put someone else’s feet to the fire or turn the burners down on us because this isn’t going to work,” DeFrias said.
Select Board member Jim Hickey said the commonwealth has to have encountered the pipe responsibility before since 1889.
“It can’t just be us,” he said.
He and member Ed Heal asked if any other solutions were considered beyond lowering the road.
“Is anybody getting together?” FitzGerald-Kemmett asked. “Is there any ability to have a conversation with all of the concerned parties and say, ‘We’re just trying to improve this road?’”
“That’s why we’re here tonight,” DeFrias said. “What we’re trying to do, here at Town Hall and Environmental Partners, is get all the parties together in one room and try to hash something out or figure out that it’s not going to happen.”
If it’s not going to happen, some hard decisions may have to be made, he said.
Weeks suggested asking the town’s legislators work on a bill before the Jan. 20 filing deadline to help resolve the situation, make phone calls and/or find funding sources to help resolve the deadlock.
Feodoroff said Rockland/Abington Water is not being adversarial, the main as a stumbling block to roadwork, is simply not their priority.
In other business, CPA Erick Kinscherf met with the board to discuss questions members have raised about his application for appointment as interim town accountant. After the discussion, the board voted to appoint Kinscherf as the interim accountant until a new permanent accountant is identified and hired.
A graduate of W-H regional schools, Kinscherf said he has more than 25 years’ experience in municipal accounting, having served- as assistant treasurer of Brockton, treasurer/collector of Dennis, finance director in another community for four years and has audited municipalities for three years. He opened his own municipal finance and consulting firm in 2008.
“I started out with just me, but we’ve probably dealt with a little over 100 municipalities with engagements over the years doing interim town accountant, interim treasurer [work],” he said. “As an interim town accountant, basically, you provide a town with a bridge between their old town accountant who left … and a permanent town accountant and some guidance to keep it going.”
His most recent interim accountant work has been with Middleboro.
For Hanson, Kinscherf said he would be the main person doing the interim accountant work because he finds it fun.
Hanson’s books are in “excellent shape” and he has met Hanson’s former part-time accountant on several occasions, and had already spent a couple of hours getting to know the people and procedures of Hanson Town Hall.
Select Board member Ed Heal asked how many days per week Kinscherf planned to devote to Hanson’s accounting needs. Kinscherf said he planned to be on-site between four and eight hours one day each week as well as working remotely.
As a long-term solution, Green said a salary of about $95,000 for a full-time accountant has been worked into the budget and former accountant Todd Hassett recommended the town hire its own accountant and that is the direction in which the town will proceed.
“I really appreciate that you’ve hit the ground running, espcially since you don’t know of we’re going to vote for you or not,” FitzGerald-Kemmett told Kinscherf. She also asked that he be open to letting Green know anything the town should look for in a new accountant, as well as providing he feedback, which he readily agreed to do.
“It’s a good experience anyway,” he said. “It wouldn’t be for naught.”
Weeks noted that the town is fast approaching Town Meeting and asked what Kinscherf’s experience has been in “hitting the ground running” in that circumstance as the town tries to avoid a tax increase.
“I absolutely do not see you not using that 2 ½ percent increase, realistically,” Kinscherf said. “As far as keeping taxes the same or lower, I don’t think that’s realistic in the district, because the schools will eat that right up.”
Weeks said he is interested in working with people who are willing to say the opposite of what the board wants to hear, and asked how willing Kinscherf was in doing that.
Kinscherf said he likes to outline the effect on a budget of any given course of action.
“I don’t say whether I would do it or wouldn’t do it, but would say if you this, be prepared next year that you’re going to have to find the funding to do X,” he said. “If I see you going off a cliff, I’ll let you know.”
Weeks said that is exactly the approach he is looking for.
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