HANSON — The Board of Selectmen is looking at override options to close the town’s $2.18 million budget shortfall.
“People are asking how would you get to $2.18 million?” Town Administrator John Stanbrook said. “Should we go for the entire amount? Should we cut what we can [first]?”
The board will be meeting again on April 6 to finalize the budget.
Should an override fail, he said, the school district would have to cut about $750,000 — with Hanson realizing 40 percent of the cut.
If free cash were used to keep the transfer station open, for example — $118,000 is needed — it’s a dollar that can’t go into the town’s budget. If retained earnings were used for the transfer station, it would return $60,000. No additional OPEB transfers would bring $25,000 back to the budget coffers; $616,000 in the budget would close the gap a bit more than has already been discussed; Ambulance receipts could mean another $100,000; overlay surplus holds another $215,000 with the potential to free up $200,000 toward the deficit; $20,000 in the tax title line is not needed this year; boosting the local receipts by $80,155 — or a 4 percent increase — would also produce deficit savings. Finally, cutting the town budget where it can be cut to the fiscal 2020 level, would bring back $847,053.
The $847,053 represents “real money and would mean real cuts” to police, fire, highway, Town Hall, Council on Aging, library and transfer station.
“All of those together would be the $2 million-plus amount that we’re looking at right now,” he said. Using free cash is using money the town won’t have next year, however, because the town would be cutting the budget as close to the bone as possible.
Stanbrook said the town cannot afford the 4-percent increase in the assessment sought by the school district.
“That gives us a $1.9 million deficit,” he said. “It’s really every dollar that the school district does not charge us is a dollar amount that we could use on the town side.”
He suggested the Article 4 budget line could be presented in two columns, representing the budget impact with and without an override. Or divide the two budgets between two separate articles.
Selectman Chairman Kenny Mitchell advocated for a single column, arguing that two columns would be too confusing.
“It seems to me as though this is an all-or-nothing [approach],” said Selectman Laura FitzGerald-Kemmett, asking if a tiered approach would be better. “I’m always afraid when it’s almost like you’re calling people’s bluff.”
She suggested counter-arguing for the need of an override.
“We haven’t taken this lightly,” FitzGerald-Kemmett said. “John’s crunched the numbers beyond crunching and there’s no way around it.”
Selectman Wes Blauss said a tiered approach has been tried before, and did not work well. He advocated providing voters with both options as a method for helping them decide.
Town Moderator Sean Kealy suggested the information could be provided to voters in a handout, because two columns in Article 4 could be very confusing.
Selectman Jim Hickey agreed with Kealy’s suggestion.
“When you say this is what we’re going to have or this is what we’re not going to have, you’re talking jobs and you’re talking services,” Hickey said. He argued that the message has to center on what the town could be missing.
“When we debate the override — and it’s going to be debated — is someone going to make a presentation on de-regionalization, or at least speak to that issue, because I anticipate it coming up,” Kealy said.
Town Meeting, to be held at 7:30 p.m., Monday, May 3 at the WRHS gym as a priority one site, with an outside location at the high school as priority two.
Mitchell advocated for keeping the date and the original location at Hanson Middle School.
“Especially when you’re talking about an override, I think going to the ballot first before Town Meeting is a little deadly,” Mitchell said.
Town Clerk Beth Sloan agreed with keeping the meeting date on May 3. Her only question was how to fit people in the auditorium while observing proper social distancing if an override is to be discussed.
“I don’t have any objection to keeping it on May 3,” agreed Kealy. “Was there an argument for keeping it May 3 other than more people would be vaccinated by then?”
Mitchell said, so far as he was aware, that was the only argument.
“You’ve got to be thinking about overflow,” Town Counsel Kate Feodoroff said about the potential for a large turnout. “It really depends on what infrastructure you have at that building and I just don’t know.”
Sufficient technology would be needed to enable people in overflow rooms to hear and participate in the proceedings.
“I think our last July Town Meeting went very well and I think there is going to be an overflow crowd,” said Blauss. “I think we’re dealing with a large number of people, and I think that putting it on the field — it wouldn’t be able to start at 7:30 p.m. — rather than worry about where we are with vaccinations, which I think is still going to be a huge issue at the beginning of May, I think we should start off [acknowledging] last year worked great.”
Selectmen advocated checking with the School District to see if the Town Meeting can be held outside at the high school.
Kealy, expressing weather concerns, said the October Town Meeting held in the high school gym, worked well. He noted that social distancing could be observed there and the school has the proper ventilation to keep people safe.
“It may not be as good as outside, but outside would be tough because of the weather,” he said.