HANSON — The Board of Selectmen, on Tuesday, April 6, voted to place a $1.85 million Proposition 2 ½ override on the May 3 Town Meeting warrant and scheduled an interview with former Whitman Assistant Town Administrator Lisa Green for the position of interim Town Administrator.
Town Administrator John Stanbrook has been selected to serve as business and finance director for the W-H School District [see story this page]. Green has served as interim town administrator in Whitman following the retirement of Frank Lynam and had applied for the Hanson post two years ago after the departure of Michael McCue.
The override decision came at the conclusion of s fiscal 2022 budget discussion with Town Accountant Todd Hassett and the Finance Committee.
Hanson faces a $2,181,208 million budget shortfall.
Selectmen Chairman Kenny Mitchell said he asked the financial team for recommendations of cuts in services required to make up the shortfall.
“What you’re about to hear tonight would result in significant number of layoffs if the shortfall is not made up,” Mitchell said.
Town departments had been asked to level fund their budgets and limit expenses.
“Unfortunately, that’s just not enough to overcome a deficit this large,” Sullivan said. “Last year I think a lot of people looked at this as being a school problem [centering on the shift in assessment formula]… but this year, this is a town-wide fiscal crisis.”
Among the recommendations from Finance Committee Chairman Kevin Sullivan and Hassett include immediate steps such as using free cash to fund the transfer station budget, using all the retained earnings in the transfer station budget, requiring recreation to run a self-funded operation.
That brought the deficit down to a $1.85 million deficit.
“Unfortunately, it’s not something that can just be spread across all the town departments because — some town departments — that would wipe out their entire budget and they would cease to exist as we know it,” Sullivan said. “The largest way to cut that deficit, unfortunately, is personnel cuts.”
General government costs must be cut by $211,000; Public safety would see $1.115 million cut; a reduction of about $300,000 would come from the operating assessment for schools; public works would be cut by $157,000; another $36,000 would be cut from human services and another $30,000 from culture and recreation [library, parks and fields and patriotic observance].
Translated into human terms, the reductions could cut 12 full-time and several individual part-time positions:
• six full-time police officers and one non-replacement of a retirement;
• four full-time firefighters;
• one or two full-time positions in the Highway Department;
• one full-time employee at the Council on Aging;
• several part-time employees either let go or given significant reduction in hours at the Public Library, bringing the town “dangerously low” in the minimum amount of funding as required by the state;
• a part-time employee from Treasurer/Collector;
• a full-time town buildings custodian; and
• a part-time assistant to the Planning Board.
“Departments are preparing impact statements that go into greater detail about what [cuts] mean for their individual departments,” Sullivan said. “In my time here, I don’t think we’ve ever seen a deficit this large. … This will affect town services across the board.”
Sullivan noted that Police Chief Michael Miksch told him that the budget cuts under consideration would mean there will be hours “that the station will go dark, now.”
The Finance Committee has not yet voted on a specific budget number, according to Sullivan.
“It’s going to hurt everyone,” Hassett agreed. “This is where we believe we need to be to sustain current level of service — at $1.85 million — otherwise this structural revenue problem is just going to recur next year.”
Mitchell suggested there are other areas in town hall that could be cut to reduce cuts to public safety. He also questioned the use of free cash to subsidize the transfer station, especially since Camp Kiwanee — the other enterprise fund facility — would not be subsidized.
“We shouldn’t sacrifice public safety if at all possible,” he said.
Hassett agreed that closures at the transfer station could be part of the budget-trimming efforts.
“This is the [Select] board’s budget,” Hassett said, noting that residents have expressed that they value the transfer station, but that retained earnings will not cover costs. “We’re setting a framework for you.”
Since the transfer station is funded outside the budget, under a separate article, efforts to cut costs have been thwarted at Town Meeting in the past, Sullivan noted.
“If I have a choice of whether to have a police officer show up to my home if my house gets broken into, or having an ambulance come to my home and transport me if I’m sick, I think the police and fire would take precedence over the transfer station,” Mitchell said, as he acknowledged that the transfer station is a beneficial service.
“Or even the [police] station going dark vs the transfer station,” said Selectman Laura FitzGerald-Kemmett. “I mean, come on, let’s get real.”
Sullivan said other town departments are not the source of funds sufficient to solve the problem. The town accountant budget is $224,000 and town clerk is $136,000 of expenses, he said by way of example.
“They just don’t have the budget to cut,” he said.
“It’s chewing gum and baling wire right now for a lot of these departments,” FitzGerald-Kemmett agreed.
“It’s up to the people of Hanson to decide what kind of public safety do they want,” Selectman Jim Hickey said during the budget update discussion. “It’s that simple.”
He noted the override question on the agenda and said he already was ready to vote yes to place it on the warrant.
A forum about the override will be held at the W-H Performing Arts Center at 6 p.m., Tuesday, April 20. Up to 100 people may attend. Department heads will be available to answer questions and outline how cuts will affect their departments.
Facebook livestream of the event will be offered to residents unable to attend in person,
“For me, it’s pretty clear what I need to do is support this override so the town can maintain the services it provides for residents,” Mitchell agreed.
The override is just to maintain current services, however, he cautioned.
“We’ve got a few areas where we need to increase services,” Mitchell said. “This is going to take everyone in town to understand and realize. … Are you willing to risk losing any town services, because I’m not.”
Selectman Matt Dyer said he understands that some are still hurting financially due to the pandemic economy, but that the average homeowner would see less than $10 a week more on their tax bills “to make sure that we have the firefighters, the police officers, the teachers in the schools and all the support in our town.”
FitzGerald-Kemmett supported the override question as “the right thing to do.”
“I don’t want to live in a town where the employees and all the departments are on a continual starvation diet,” she said. “This board has not been bullish about overrides [in the past]. We don’t do this willy-nilly.”
She said there was no doubt in her mind that the town’s financial team left no stone unturned in seeking an alternative.
“I support the override 100 percent,” Selectman Wes Blass said. “I’m not going to pontificate. That’s where I stand.”
“I made my statement earlier,” Hickey said. “I support it whole-heartedly.”
Selectmen were told that MRI, the firm that conducted the last Town Administrator search, has indicated their current fee to conduct a search is $9,800, reduced by $1,000 because the town had used their services to hire Stanbrook less than two years ago.
“They seem to think there’s some real good talent out there for a replacement for the town administrator,” Mitchell said.
MRI said their process would take about 12 weeks.
He and Hickey sat down with Green recently to discuss her interest and ability to take on an interim position in Hanson.
“Her answers to both those questions was yes,” Mitchell said. “Either way, we’re going to need an interim.”
He said Green could interim either for the 12 weeks of a search or the board could interview her toward possibly offering her a position of interim town administrator with a one-year contract, which could be reviewed at its conclusion.
“I actually thought about bringing Lisa Green in,” Hickey said. “I’d like to put that $8,800 on hold with MRI.”
He said he would never speak behind Stanbrook’s back, “But, for me, honestly, I didn’t get my money’s worth,” he said. “You were excellent while you were here, but if you’re leaving, the $10,000 for 14 or 16 months — however long — for me, it doesn’t break down to be even.”
Having Green work with Stanbrook to bring her up to speed until he left, would be a win-win situation for Hanson, Hickey argued.
Dyer agreed with Hickey.
“We know Lisa,” he said. “Lisa knows us, which is kind of a nice feeling.”
FitzGerald-Kemmett said she had spoken with Green three weeks ago about whether she would entertain coming to Hanson.
“If we had interviewed four people last time, Lisa would have been the fourth person we would have interviewed.”
She said she was comfortable offering Green a one-year contract right away.
Blauss agreed with FitzGerald-Kemmett, but Hickey preferred to at least go through a formal interview with the full board.