HANSON — Voters will see a proposed $1.8 million proposition 2 ½ override vote on the annual Town Election ballot on Saturday, May 15.
After an often-contentious Town Meeting held at the WHRHS gym on Monday, May 3, which drew more than 200 Hanson residents, budgets that can go into effect with or without the override were approved.
“We need the override to pull us out of a deficit that will not go away,” Finance Committee Chairman Kevin Sullvan said.
The crowd described by Town Moderator Sean Kealy as “larger than usual” observed a moment of silence for all residents lost during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Barbara Arena was designated as deputy moderator, who with her assistants, helped ensure no one who wished to speak was missed as Kealy was not on a raised dais did not want to miss any resident who wished to speak.
The Town Meeting voted to approve two versions of the fiscal 2022 budget, one totaling $29,508,290 as recommended by the Finance Committee, to take effect if the Proposition 2 ½ override fails and one totaling $31,363,245 to go by should the override be passed at the ballot box.
“We’re voting on two budgets,” Kealy explained. “One budget if the article does not pass and Article 5 if the override does pass.”
Former Selectman Bruce Young advocated an amendment to the budget under discussion of Article 4, based on the argument that the override is necessary because of the schools, not public safety or other departments. He urged moving the budget requests to department request level and take the difference from the school department, where it belongs.
“I can’t sit here in good conscience and support a budget like this, knowing that the reason for the financial crisis … is basically because of the passage last year of the amendment to the regional school agreement that took us from the percentage of pupils method to this year to the statutory, or wealth-based method of assessment,” Young said. “The override belongs in the department where the reason lies. That’s the only reason my amendment is being made.”
Finance Committee Chair Kevin Sullivan suggested people take caution before voting yes on Young’s amendment. He explained that the town had voted for the statutory method last year, despite its not being recommended.
“I don’t like the thought of people losing their jobs. It’s not a pleasant thing,” he said. “We had to make some tough decisions. We went through this budget, given the guidance that the overwhelming population of the town presented us with. We made these cuts, not lightly … I think if we have to cut these public servants, it means trouble for our town.”
But, Sullivan also warned that, if they start changing line items, it opens up a quagmire where it would have to go back to the School Committee and would lead to a 1/12 budget and a super town meeting.
“We carved this budget with care,” he said.
The School Committee can return items that had been reduced if the budget is returned to them.
John Zucco of Glenwood Place, said Sullivan’s statement means the School Committee runs the town.
“The School Committee doesn’t control us, it’s just the facts of belonging to a regional school district,” Sullivan said.
Whitman has agreed to the number, he added.
“We didn’t do this lightly,” he said of the Finance Committee’s recommendation. “Unfortunately, this is where we are. We need this override to pull us out of a deficit that will not go away. It will only get exponentially worse year after year.”
Frank Milisi of Brook Street argued that the regional school district brings “massive amounts of aid from the state,” but agreed that the two towns should have equal representation on the School Committee.
But he also noted that Whitman has to “pay a piece of this bill.”
“To say that this whole situation is because of the school budget is not an accurate representation,” Milisi said. “Did the school budget do something to make this happen? Yes, but it’s definitely not the only reason for this to be happening.”
School Committee Chairman Bob Hayes concurred with the Finance Committee and the Board of Selectmen. He said it is easy to say the situation is the School Department’s fault or to blame another town, referring to Whitman.
“These two towns have the lowest tax rates on the South Shore,” Hayes said. “I’m not in favor of huge tax rates, either, but if you want to continue services, there’s something of a misnomer that there’s something in this — it’s about a $1.85 million override for a municipality.”
Hayes said the school district has lost tons of employees over recent years, a situation getting worse all the time, while everyone blames the schools for budget problems.
“Police and fire have the same issues,” he said. “We are doing the same job — we service the biggest amount of people in town at 4,000 students roughly, employ the biggest number of people. …We need to continue on supporting all of our services.”
Joe O’Sullivan of West Washington Street moved the question, but Young was allowed to speak again before that happened. If the override passes, he promised to put a vote yes sign on his lawn.
Selectmen Chairman Kenny Mitchell said the town’s bills are $31,366,000 to run the town, there is only $29,516,000.
“The override must go through in order to maintain town services,” he said, urging voters to reject Young’s amendment, speaking as an individual, said there is a possibility of a super town meeting if the override fails and that it require a two-thirds vote of the entire School Committee to pass a budget. The school budget was approved by an 8-2 vote.
“If you watched the meeting, the two opposed wanted, likely, a higher budget,” he said. “The likelihood of a budget coming back to the School Committee and being reduced by $3 million-plus is extremely low.”
The $3 million-plus figure represents the $1.3 million reduction to the operating assessment Young advocated, almost $2 million more in the whole budget would be affected, Howard explained.
Young’s motion was rejected by voters, with the original $29,508,290 budget Article 4 approved.
Article 5 was also passed after another heated debate between Young and Sullivan, with the $31,363,245 bottom line, including the $1.85 million override passes.
Sullivan said the override was aimed to prevent starting the next fiscal year in a deficit.
“Our job is to ensure the financial well-being of this town, looking at where we are and where we’re going,” Sullivan said. “The School Committee made some small cuts — in the grand scheme of their budget, they are small cuts — these cuts may not be there next year, so we looked at setting us off on a level footing for next year.”
Sullivan said the number presented to the town was what the Finance Committee felt was needed to put Hanson on a level footing next year, with any unencumbered balances going into free cash the following year.
Young expressed umbrage that $305,000 was being added to the School Committee’s certified assessment at Town Meeting. He sought to amend it to reflect the School Committee’s certified assessment of $12,646,118.
Town Meeting voters rejected Young’s amendment and approved Article 5 as presented in the warrant.