HANSON – With a nod to the changing demands on town officials in general and Hanson’s in particular, voters in the Wednesday, Nov. 9 special town meeting approved staff additions to the Town Administrator and Conservation Commission offices. Both were approved during the session, which spanned just over an hour in length.
It was the second attempt to complete town business, as the town failed to draw a quorum on the original date of Monday, Oct. 3.
“I thank you very much, from the bottom of my heart for coming out tonight,” Town Moderator Sean Kealy said. “We worried we weren’t going to get a quorum, but I can officially declare that a quorum is present, and that, we, the special Town Meeting of the Town of Hanson is now in session.”
The meeting started with $1,490,984 in available free cash; $1,365,763 in stabilization; $187,637 in school stabilization; $1,426,920 in Water Department surplus; $135,512 in Recreation Department retained earnings and $166,108 in the solid waste retained earnings fund.
One of the staffing articles, sought the transfer $17,659.20 from free cash to make the conservation agent position a full-time one at 35 hours per week. The added 16 hours per week had originally been placed at $26,488.80 in the warrant, but was lowered at the request of the Conservation Commission, Kealy said.
“The number’s lower because the time frame for this fiscal year is shorter,” Commission Chair Phil Clemons said. “This lower number recognizes that it would be more feasible just to plan for January to June.”
He said the position is needed because the position was originally a full-time one and there is still a need for that. The fiscal crisis during the Great Recession in 2010 led many town departments to voluntarily reduce hours to help balance the town’s budget.
“Since then, most departments have been restored,” Clemons said. “Conservation has not and the conservation agent is considered the head of the Conservation Department — the only non-full time department head.”
He noted that requests for services are up and a part-time conservation office is not serving the public well.
“The job is getting more complex, and more regulations and workshops are happening, and we can’t have our agent go to those things or answer the phones or handle issues,” he said, noting committee members are limited in how they can fill in.
But it was the statement made by West Washington Street resident Joseph O’Sullivan that may have changed minds in the room. He was an abutter of a project on County Road that would have built 10 four-bedroom houses on six acres that were surrounded by 40 acres of wetland.
“That project passed through every board except the Conservation Commission, and through their due diligence, it went through appeal after appeal and the DEP finally rejected it in a 14-page document that cited five different irregularities in what the company had proposed,” O’Sullivan said. “They are, in fact, our homeowners association, because they can use their judgment about the future impact of this.”
He pointed out that 75 people had written letters of concern from abutters about the houses which would have taxed the water system at about one million gallons of water each year.
While the Finance Committee did not dispute the need for extra hours, they recommended passing over the article because of the town’s fiscal position.
The meeting voted overwhelmingly to approve the article.
That recognition of needed help for overtaxed town employees carried over to the next article seeking the transfer $23,034 from free cash to Selectmen’s budget to hire a part-time administrative assistant for 15 hours per week.
Town Administrator Lisa Green spoke about the request, which was also approved.
“We really saw the value of that this past few months when we had an intern from Bridgewater State University work in the office,” Green said. He helped review policies, draft procurement paperwork and help with other projects that were overloading the office staff.
Resident Kathleen Marini about the fiscal responsibility of the move, noting a full-time person would mean health benefits.
Ken Sweezey of Matakeeset Street asked if more interns could be sought in the future.
While Green replied that is always a possibility but the town may not always get one, but their intern was paid for 23 hours of pay while the college also offered a stipend. Internships are usually tied to a specific project and are not always available every day. There is also a growing call nationwide for all such internships to be paid positions.
Green also said the position could be combined with the 19-hour part-time Planning Board administrative vacancy to retain staff.
“That position is, unfortunately, a revolving door type of a position,” she said, noting that people have been hired and trained only to leave for a full-time job in town.
Combining it with the Planning position will give the person hired a 35-hour full-time job — working 15 hours in the Select Board office and 20 hours per week in the Planning Office.
“It will cover the needs of both offices and it will create a position that will encourage the person to stay with the town, so we’re not a revolving door,” she said.
Frank Milisi asked why the Select Board recommended the hire and if they would be involved in grant writing. Select Board Chair Laura FitzGerald-Kemmett said the board has “consistently” been getting feedback from everyone they have hired, and from those before their tenure, that the office is under-staffed.
“There was not one town with the same population that we have that only had a two-person office,” she said. “We, honestly, thought that we needed three people, but we felt that was probably an overreach at this point.”
She also mentioned the new salary levels that Whitman would be deciding on at their special Town Meeting Monday, Nov. 14.
“This is a very competitive environment right now, for anybody in the town administrator position,” FitzGerald-Kemmett said. “We need to retain people.”
Former School Committee Chair Bob Hayes spoke in favor of the article before it was eventually approved, noting that regulations that had once been simpler are now much more complex.
“You have immense, immense things for the town administrator to do and for the paperwork that we all want done,” he said.
Hayes also pointed to the Conservation hours the meeting had just approved.
“I was against it until I heard Mr. O’Sullivan stating why it was needed,” he said. “The same thing is needed in the Selectmen’s office.”
Select Board member Joe Weeks reminded voters that for several years, the town had the luxury of a well-seasoned and skilled assistant in Meredith Marini, who was able to serve as a temporary town administrator.
Corrine Cofardo, a volunteer on several town committees reminded the meeting that Marini also frequently worked on her own time at night and weekends to complete work.
“That’s how the job got done,” she said. “That’s why we need this part-time position filled.”
FitzGerald-Kemmett said the board had received a letter from Impressed LLC earlier in the week asking that an article amending Zoning Bylaws regarding medical marijuana facilities and marijuana establishments be passed over until the May Town Meeting.
“They are tied up with trying to finalize their license and they felt that [May] would be a better time for them,” FitzGerald-Kemmett said. “They also thought by that time, they would have some financial experience to share with us.”
She said the board also asked to have the town assessor provide numbers to indicate the value of the personal property tied up in the building and business and what could be expected in the way of propery taxes.
The meeting was opened with a moment of silence for town officials and volunteers who died since the May Town Meeting: Carroll P. Gagnon, Ernest E. Jutras, Peter Muise, Richard Muncie, Della Snow and William Strait.
Before dealing with the evening’s final article, Kealy asked the meeting to join in a round of applause for Town Clerk Elizabeth Sloan and Assistant Clerk Jean Kelly and the town’s volunteer clerks who checked people into the Town Meeing for their work on the state election the day before.