WHITMAN — Candidates for the Board of Selectman and W-H Regional School Committee fielded questions during forums produced and broadcast by Whitman Hanson Community Access TV (WHCA-TV) on Friday, May 7.
The two candidates’ forums are being rebroadcast on the station and are available for streaming on WHCA’s YouTube site.
First up were candidates for the one seat up for grabs this year Board of Selectmen — incumbent Daniel Salvucci and challenger Rosemary Connolly.
WHCA Studio Production Specialist Kevin Tocci served as moderator while Executive Director Eric Dresser was timekeeper. The Whitman-Hanson Express assisted in development of questions for the event.
Connolly, who drew the opportunity to open, said she has served two terms on the Whitman Finance Committee, using skills she has had in the workforce as a staff auditor in that role.
“These are strengths that I can bring to the Selectmen position as we plan forward,” she said. “We would commonly use strategic planning in staff auditing.”
She also stressed her experience can help her govern effectively, identifying where the town can better use state aid where weaknesses such as a good human resources department can leave the town at risk of lawsuits.
Salvucci, has been a member of the Board of Selectmen for 18 years so far, noting he started out on the Finance Committee himself, in the mid ’90s.
“I wanted to increase what I could do for the town,” he said. “I know the budget of this town very well, and have done everything I can — and will continue to do everything I can — to improve this town for our citizens.”
He is a representative and vice chairman of the Old Colony Planning Council and the Metropolitain Planning Organization.
Questions ranged from what makes an ideal selectman; the community survey; the fiscal 2022 town budget; the prospect of de-regionalization; capital projects and personnel decisions.
Salvucci pointed to his work as a manager for Star Market, from which he is retired after 43 years, as lending him the experience in working with people and budgets, looking at projects with an eye to getting things done. Connolly said the ability to serve and listen to constituents and to deliver services is key. She also pointed to her volunteer work in town and the fact that she would be the only female member of the board, and one with children in the school district — the town’s largest budget area and employer.
She said the town has overlooked the process in the effort to implement the findings of a community survey taken a few years ago.
“We have the finances to implement that, but we did not handle our Chapter 70 issues,” she said of the Madden Report survey of town finances. “We diverted $4.5 million into paying for another community’s bills as we ignored what our community was saying in that survey.”
Salvucci countered that Whitman was doing the best it can with what the town has, granting that there was a mistake made in the assessment formula used for the school budget.
“But that is water over the dam,” he said. “We need to go forward. Once we get through this budget season and we continue to bring in businesses … and promote businesses in our town — bring in revenues — we can get things that need to be accomplished, accomplished.”
Salvucci said the town’s budget for the moment, meets the town’s needs, but a lot depends on the coming year before it can be determined whether an override might be necessary in fiscal ’23.
“I don’t want to say we’re going to go for an override in next year’s fiscal budget,” he said. “We don’t know. You don’t know until you see the numbers.”
For her part, Connolly said there is data that can indicate if an override is necessary.
“It is not something you willy-nilly decide,” she said. “And one piece of data they would use is ‘are you funding your primary budget with non-sustainable resources?’”
She charged that the town is making a lot of financially risky moves if it wants to stave off overrides.
“We have to be careful not to be penny-wise and pound foolish,” she said. “The longer you push off an override, the more expensive things get, the larger the override grows.”
About a week after she was first appointed to the Finance Committee, she advocated doing everything at 2 ½ percent as they reviewed town spending, only to spend a lot of money later to have someone else tell the town the same thing. She said she still believes the town needs to review its spending practices to determine what isn’t working.
Salvucci said his “water over the dam” comment was a way to describe Whitman’s effort to help its partner in the W-H Regional School District so as not to “totally cripple them” in the fiscal ’21 budget process.
“Town Meeting said yes, and I always live by, being a selectman, Town Meeting says, I do,” he said.
Salvucci said he doesn’t know the kind of school system being thought of in Hanson’s discussion of de-regionalization, but that he doesn’t think it is something that town can afford. He pointed to Pembroke’s effort to leave the Silver Lake region and, noted that, despite being the larger town, it took them five years to do it.
Connolly agreed, saying Suzanne Bump’s office did an analysis on the subject, and recommended that both towns read it, because they would likely find neither town would be allowed to de-regionalize by the state since it would jeopardize how children could be educated.
That discussion led to a question of the scope and price of a new Whitman Middle School.
“Sometimes these things come down to what we can’t afford,” Connolly said. “We really can’t afford not having a safe building for children.”
The MSBA selected Whitman’s project because it met standards of need, “pretty much above any other town in Massachusetts because this building needs to be rebuilt,” she said.
Salvucci said the state will decide the scope of the project, but “eventually something needs to be done with that middle school.”
In addition to any amount of MSBA reimbursement, both candidates noted that debt for current school loans end and debt service for a new school would begin.
A new DPW building, also on the top of Salvucci’s agenda as a project needed by the town, was also discussed. It had frequently been overtaken as a goal, by other projects including the new police station. Connolly said it is one area on which she and Salvucci see eye to eye, but that the matrix formula, which includes state aid, often leaves the building behind.
They were also asked about the kind of candidate they would like to see hired after Fire Chief Timothy Grenno retires in July. Connolly said the résumé bullet points of working effectively with staff, grant writing and community outreach were important. Salvucci noted that the Civil Service list, peopled with officials who possess qualities to which Connolly referred, would have to dictate the process.
Other questions focused on skills a potential assistant town administrator and salary that should be offered; economic development; the priority for a strategic plan for financial planning; the process for reopening town facilities; and what other issue they find is important.
Visit the WHCA site at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SwBGkMC5K4w.