WHITMAN — Final costs, and the timing of bills, for a new DPW plow truck raised some concerns during the Feb. 28 Board of Selectmen’s meeting.
The town of Whitman recently acquired a truck for snow and ice removal, for which the $136,000 price tag has been accounted, but Selectmen expressed concern this week over an additional $25,000 for the plow mechanism that had not been accounted for after the initial purchase.
“The superintendent believed the plow would come in while there was still funds in the account, as a result of timing the bills came in after we entered into deficit spending,” said Town Administrator Frank Lynam.
“I was concerned this purchase was being made out of a budget appropriation rather than a capital article,” Lynam said. “Any purchase of that nature should be treated as a capital purchase and should be funded outside of the normal budget process.”
Selectman Daniel Salvucci argued that the town bears some responsibility for the discrepancy.
“This is an item that is not the vendor’s fault — it’s our responsibility — for the vendor to suffer the loss of the sale because someone jumped the gun is wrong,” he said.
Selectmen suggested the situation was likely an oversight by the superintendent and that there was no malice in the deficit spending.
“They were probably looking to purchase a truck at no cost to the taxpayers, out of Chapter 90 money, and the plow at minimal cost because it’s out of the snow and ice that was appropriated at the town meeting, but that’s just a backdoor way of spending,” Salvucci said.
Salvucci said he believed that this should be something that is discussed at town meeting and to allow taxpayers to vote.
The board seemed unsettled by the way the money was being spent, but concluded they did not have much of an option when it came to passing this issue due to the purchase having already taken place.
The citizens of Paul Street, located off of South Avenue, have presented a petition to the town to officially consider the street a public way.
“There is a citizen’s petition to accept Paul Street as a public way and to expend the funds necessary to bring the street up to road acceptance standards,” Lynam said.
Paul Street was initially a private road for a single home, and was approved to be developed as a private way that was not to be built to town standards, according to Lynam.
“I’m waiting for actual estimates for that work, but we anticipate that it’s going to be in the $300,000 to $350,000 range,” Lynam said. “If we vote for this, there will be no Chapter 90 work done in the town of Whitman next year.”
Since the initial planning of the street, multiple new homes have been built there. The original owner of the property is also no longer located there, leaving the new residents on a road in “really bad condition.”
“You can’t plow and them you can’t fix them because they are not municipal roads,” Lynam said. “It is illegal to use town funds to maintain a private road.”
Since this is a citizens’ petition, it must be submitted to town meeting next year.
“The voters at the town meeting will have to decide if they want the town to spend a large amount of money to accept this street,” Lynam said.
Electronic Voting Committee Chairman Mike Seele provided a report on his panel’s research into to possibly using the devices for town meetings. He gathered information from various local towns to determine whether or not this would be useful for Whitman.
The technology would be a remote with a few buttons signaling “Yes” or “No” so that attendees could have their voices heard during meetings when questions or issues arose. It is similar to a technology used in colleges to ask large classes questions and immediately discuss the responses.
“We found that, for the most part, representative town meetings were using this technology as a way to enhance accountability to the representatives” Seele said. “A handful of towns using open town meetings format that we have, they have a history of consistently contentious town meetings that went on for a while.”
A few towns in this area rejected this issue due to cost.
“The cost is 15,000 to 16,000 for 300 handsets,” Seele said. “It’s impossible to determine how many of these you need in advance.”
Seele also added that renting is an option but this would cost $1,700 per meeting for 300 handsets.
“One central fundamental issue that we thought was important was privacy versus accountability; people know where their neighbors stand on any given issue,” Seele said. “We also heard account that people have felt intimidated at town meetings, this was really impossible to find out if this was a real problem.”
This technology allows people to remain anonymous rather than continuing the traditional standing vote.
One initial thought on this issue was that voter attendance would increase if this technology was implemented. However, some towns did not see a notable change since adding the electronic voting. Attendance did not increase and voting projections were not different than expected.