WHITMAN — Fire Chief Timothy Grenno has submitted a letter to the Board of Selectmen signaling his intention to retire, effective July 9. Selectmen voted to accept the resignation with “utmost regret” during their Tuesday, April 13 meeting. The board also met with the Finance Committee during the session which unveiled the town’s fiscal 2022 budget.
Selectmen also began the process for finding Grenno’s replacement by seeking a fire chief’s list from Civil Service.
Grenno has been with the department since joining as a call firefighter in 1984, full-time since 1992 and promoted to lieutenant in 1999. He became fire chief Sept. 12, 2008.
“I had but two primary goals in being your fire chief — to assure all of my members go home at the end of their tours and to leave the fire service a little better than when I entered,” Grenno wrote in his letter, read during the meeting by Selectmen Chairman Dr. Carl Kowalski. “I have fulfilled both those goals … now it is time to turn the reins over.”
Kowalski thanked Grenno for his 37 years of service on behalf of the board. Grenno thanked the board for its support, counseling, mentoring and discussions.
“You couldn’t ask for a better board than the one we have right now and I thank you very much,” Grenno said. “I walk away happy.”
Selectman Dan Salvucci, whose son had been a Whitman call firefighter, thanked Grenno and his predecessor for guiding him.
Kowalski quipped that it was, “Really a pleasure to have a chief who knew how to use punctuation when he was writing.”
Selectman Brian Bezanson thanked Grenno, not only for his career in service to the town, but for the last year and a half in dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The town is grateful to have you and your department for the pandemic, and everything that we’ve gone through as a town,” Bezanson said. “We couldn’t have asked for better service and dedication while this tragedy has taken place.”
Selectman Randy LaMattina echoed that sentiment.
“The last year and a half probably was one of the most trying of your career and, without a doubt, you had this town ready to do the right thing by our citizens,” LaMattina said. “I don’t think there’s a doubt in anyone’s mind that we were ready if we were called on and that’s primarily because of you.”
Selectman Justin Evans, as the most recent member of the board, said his work as Fire Department liaison during COVID was eye-opening.
“Seeing all the work you’ve been putting in — and the whole fire department has been putting in — this last year-plus, it’s been trying for all of us, but I’m glad to have [had] you running the department and the Whitman Emergency Management Service,” Evans said.
Getting down to budget business, Town Administrator Lincoln Heineman said Whitman, like many area towns has “reentered the red with respect to COVID-19” mainly due to clusters among school children, but that it would have an effect on reopening Town Hall and potentially on scheduling Town Meeting.
The budget includes $1,564,075 in requested expenditure increases over the $41.4 million fiscal 2021 budget, and actions taken to close the budget gap, including $603,300 in reductions to department requests.
The major budget cost-drivers are the $1.2 million school assessment increase, a $197,000 hike from Plymouth County Retirement and a $91,000 increase from increased enrollment at Norfolk Aggie.
New revenue is foreseen as $108,000 in excess overlay revenue and $50,000 in new real estate and personal property tax growth “based on conservative analysis.”
Projected state aid is a bit over $3 million at this point, minus $206,000 in expenses.
“There are funds in here for nominal raises for both union and nonunion staff,” Heineman said, including a slight increase in the salary offered for an assistant town administrator to increase the applicant pool by bringing the salary more in line with the market.
The town’s free cash balance is at 1,058,634, of which $594,000 is being asked to help fund the budget.
“We do not have sufficient free cash available to fund what we want to do in terms of capital [$956,000],” he said.
More of that work could be undertaken if the school district succeeds in using federal ESSER III funds to reduce it’s budget and, thereby, assessments to the towns.
Costs for the three high schools — W-H, South Shore Tech and Norfolk Aggie — as well as pension costs have continued to rise.
He said he was recommending a “semi-consolidated budget,” in which departments present requests by salaries in one line and expenses in another.
FinCom Chairman Richard Anderson said he appreciated the joint meeting with Selectmen, noting they have met with all town departments since last summer.
He said the biggest hurdle was the fact that there was not yet a solid number from the school district, but said that while he has concerns about the consolidated budget approach, his committee has not yet had time to review the budget, which they had just received.
“We’re putting the onus on managers to manage properly,” LaMattina said. Kowalski said Selectmen also need time to digest the budget, stressing no vote would be taken that night on warrant articles.
Members of the two boards noted the budget document needs to be put before residents, and Heineman pledged to post it on the town website.
“It’s a little bit of sticker shock, absolutely,” LaMattina said. “We are providing more information than the townspeople have ever seen. …It’s going to be a matter of getting that information out, making sure people can see it.”
The meeting with the Finance Committee started with Kowalski reading a letter into the record at the request of FinCom member Kathleen Ottina, in which she expressed outrage that he had not ruled LaMattina out of order for remarks at the March 23 budget meeting with the School Department and School Committee.
Kowalski said he regretted that Ottina felt the need to write the letter but said he understood what she was talking about. He also felt the need to permit LaMattina to respond, since the complaint was about him.
LaMattina apologized for putting Kowalski “in the position where you have to feel the brunt of Ms. Ottina’s outrage over parliamentary procedure.”
He also affirmed for the board that “if the time should arise again that I should feel the need to call out a department head for unfactual statements or speak upon untruthful statements by an elected official” he would make every effort to be properly recognized before speaking and would try to make his point in a “less abrasive manner.”
Kowalski said he noted when watching the recording it was apparent LaMattina had raised his hand, but that it was not evident during the meeting.
Kowalski read another letter from the DPW Commissioners about their unanimous vote to proceed with the sewer force main project at an estimated cost of $14,471,950, including all construction costs, restoration of easement and replacement of manhole covers and other ancillary work.