WHITMAN — In a joint meeting with the Board of Health regarding the fiscal 2021 budget on Tuesday, Feb. 25, the Board of Selectmen, discussed developing a five-year budget with a 2-percent increase, depending on contract negotiations.
Health Board Chairman Eric Jaubert spoke for the board, arguing for the need of a full-time health inspector who would be able to operate independently of the board. Under that scenario the Board of Health would serve in an advisory capacity so that issues can be dealt with in a more timely fashion. He said the Health Department budget represents .3 percent of the entire town budget.
“This action is not about the person, but about the position,” Jaubert said. “Whoever’s in that role, they need to be able to attend conferences. We just hit with the Coronavirus [and] there’s all kinds of meetings and stuff going on that and we want to make sure the health inspector stays current and is in the loop on those type of projects and programs.”
Board member Barbara White, who was unable to attend the meeting, sent a letter to be read into the record expressing her support for a full-time health agent even before the animal control services had been added to the department’s responsibilities.
“The Health Department has not been able to keep up with the demands placed on it by the residents, businesses and state Department of Public Health,” she wrote. “The role of the health inspector needs to be expanded so that the needs and expectations of the town can be addressed without the delay of board members being contacted or waiting for a board meeting. Issues need to be addressed in a timely manner.”
As the town has grown, the Health Department’s needs and responsibilities have also grown even as it no longer oversees animal control, which requires the support of a 24/7 staff, he said.
Norwell Visiting Nurse is no longer serving Whitman as of July 1, 2020, and the agency changes its focus from town services outside of Norwell.
“One of the telling things is that there is no other town around that doesn’t have a full-time health inspector,” Selectmen Chairman Dr. Carl Kowalski said.
It’s quite a skill set to be a health inspector,” said Jaubert, noting the part-time position made it difficult to fill. “There’s a lot to the job … regulations have increased, so you have to stay current.”
Both said the town was lucky to find such a skilled health inspector as Alexis Andrews.
Jaubert said they have not yet brought a revised budget before the Finance Committee.
Assistan Town Administrator Lisa Green presented a proposal to the board for Whitman’s participation in the Community Preservation Act.
Enacted in 2000, Whitman Town Meeting approved it in 2002 but the measure failed at the ballot box. Selectmen approved placement of the Community Preservation Act on the Town Meeting warrant for placement on the Nov. 3 ballot.
“I’m here to talk a little bit about it to get the town to reconsider this program,” Green said.
The act allows communities to earmark funds for specific programs and projects such as parks and recreation, historic preservation of municipal buildings, athletic field upgrades, restoration, open space preservation and community housing projects. So far, 176 Massachusetts communities have adopted the Community Preservation Act and participation could help Whitman raise $182,000 to $190,000. State contributions of between 13.9 percent to 23.9 percent, which could mean as annual budget of between $207,000 to $235,000 for those specific projects.
Hanson is one of the state communities that adopted the Community Preservation Act.
It does not raise taxes, but represents a 1-percent surcharge on property taxes off the assessed value. The average Whitman property value of $331,251 would mean $53 annually off the average property tax of $52.50 per $1,000. Some towns go as high as 3 percent.
Registry fees are also a source for CPA funds, including from Whitman properties which are distributed to towns that have passed the Community Preservation Act.
“Unfortunately, Whitman has lost out on this money,” Green said.
It would appear on a presidential election ballot, when turnout is higher, if Town Meeting passes it again.
Selectman Justin Evans said Hanover has used the funds for senior housing and Hanson has used the money for work at the high school fields among other projects.
“We’ve got plenty of projects in the Collin capital improvement plan that could benefit from this dedicated pool of money,” he said.
In other business, Town Administrator Frank Lynam reported work is still being done, with the Finance Committee, on a budget that reflects current circumstances and delivers services without an override this year.
“I emphasize it will take a little effort and cooperation to get to that point,” he said noting the Capital Committee will be meeting soon to finalize a list of warrant articles. He said that, so far, he has not yet seen some of the articles that were expected this year, with the filing window closing on Friday, Feb. 28.