HANSON — Board of Health Chair Arlene Dias fielded some tough questions on the state of the department’s budget during a meeting of the Select Board on Tuesday, Aug. 30 ahead of the special Town Meeting next month.
“We’re trying to really urge transparency in the budget process, and the only way we do that is if we’re consistent across the board,” Select Board Chair Laura FitzGerald-Kemmett said.
Just prior to the May Town Meeting, the Select Board had asked that the Health agent provide them with a budget plan similar to one provided by the Recreation Commission, outlining any austerity measures the Board of Health might be able to implement to narrow the town’s revenue investment required to keep it solvent.
FtizGerald-Kemmett said Dias had indicated to her that the whole Health Board had not discussed it yet, but some members had a conversation about the issue at their last meeting.
“They wanted to take a look at it before I presented it to the [Select Board],” Dias said, noting that the Board of Health’s next meeting is not scheduled until Sept. 28.
“Well, that’s not going to be sufficient because we’re shutting the warrant tonight,” FitzGerald-Kemmett said, noting that the Select Board would next meet Sept. 13 and strongly suggesting that the Board of Health schedule a “one-off meeting” to “have a conversation about this and make it a priority.”
She said that otherwise a stalemate would loom at the Oct. 3 special Town Meeting.
Dias said she submitted the Health Board’s article as a placeholder. FitzGerald-Kemmett said a placeholder could be put in, but it could not be included in the warrant when the board closes it without having a conversation about the Health Board’s budget.
The warrant closes on Tuesday, Sept. 20 with the “drop-dead date” for submitting information supporting a warrant article would be this week’s [Sept. 13] meeting.
“I certainly think [a one-off meeting] is justified, given the alternative,” FitzGerald-Kemmett said.
Diaz said that, in going over the warrant articles earlier that day, the Heath Board realized it would probably see a budget shortfall.
“We thought we had enough to cover everything through program revenues, and we may be short a little,” she said, noting she would have to talk with Town Accountant Todd Hassett, but she anticipated it being less than $50,000. “We have to shore that up.”
Quasi-revenue sources, such as for cardboard recycling, comes in as a credit so it doesn’t appear as revenue, were one example of areas where Dias said could show “what we truly get for revenue.”
“This will be an ongoing request for you guys,” FitzGerald-Kemmett said about the budget reviews.
Select Board member Jim Hickey stressed that the situation is not Dias’ fault, and FitzGerald-Kemmett agreed. He said the Health agent and board should have held meetings with Hassett right after the spring Town Meeting, instead of the Select Board’s waiting all summer for the information.
“She picked up the ball here, and I want to be careful how I say this, which is not a strong suit so this should be good,” she said. “Typically, it would be a department head that would be presenting the budget, and I think Ms. Dias is trying to be responsive to what this board has asked, knowing that we were not satisfied with what was presented to us the prior two times that we heard from them.” She acknowledged there is a lot of ground to be made up.
FitzGerald Kemmett put it another way, asking Dias what steps the Health Board or agent have taken since the May Town Meeting, taken to address the Select Boards information requests.
Dias said she could not speak for Health Agent Gilbert Amado, but said that she met with the Health agent three weeks ago when Hassett provided help with the article and his office was closed Aug. 30.
FitzGerald-Kemmett thanked Town Hall personnel for helping get the warrant squared away during Town Administrator Lisa. Green’s medical leave.
“I want to extend a huge thanks to Beth Sloan and Jean Kelly [in the Town Clerk’s office] and Jeanne Sullivan [in the Collector’s offie] and Todd Hassett, all who have stepped up in Lisa’s absence … to work with us on the warrant.”
FitzGerald-Kemmett also thanked Town Counsel Kate Feodoroff for prioritizing the town’s town meeting warrant needs.
“The warrant is actually in much better shape than one would have expected given the circumstances,” she said. “They’ve all worked together as a team to get it … where we’re at.”
The board was asked to discuss and approve a new rental agreement for the Nathaniel Thomas Mill, but FitzGerald-Kemmett expressed some confusion about the context of the request, but tabled the matter.
“We’ve got a revised Thomas Mill application here, but I don’t really have a comparison of what it was before and what precipitated the change,” she said. “So I think it’s probably not the most urgent of matters at this moment, and I would therefore suggest that we not discuss it.”