Whitman’s Board of Selectmen, meeting Monday, June 1, Town Administrator Frank Lynam said Town Counsel had asked to amend the Regional Agreement amendment due to concerns over clarity of how accurately the process had been outlined.
The proposed amendment provides for a 50-50 split of the W-H assessment for fiscal 2021 only and thereafter moves to the full statutory method.
“That was the problem with the language, because it really isn’t 50/50,” Lynam said. “It’s 50/50 of the difference.”
Lynam said two copies of the agreement — one the original from W-H and the other Whitman’s recommended language received Sunday, May 31 — are posted on the town website whitman-ma.gov.
Language changes allow amendments up to a Town Meeting vote, according to Lynam, providing the ability to make changes if there is no uniform agreement with the school district and Hanson, but enables placing it before Town Meeting for action.
Selectman Dan Salvucci asked if he was precluded from speaking against an item on the warrant, as the amendment is, if he disagrees with it.
“This is not a collective bargaining issue where we’ve entered an agreement and now have to present it for approval after we’ve ratified it,” Lynam said. “This is a proposed amendment. We’re all free to speak as we may choose.”
Lynam said the board’s vote to accept the amendment and the W-H budget are conditioned on whether Hanson accepts the agreement and funds the resulting appropriation. Whitman’s affirmative vote at Town Meeting would accept the “50/50” split.
“I think what our lawyer has done in drafting the language for Article 7, has taken care of the questions that we had last week,” Selectmen Chairman Dr. Carl Kowalski said.
Hanson Selectmen did not vote on recommending the amendment to the 1991 regional agreement and the override facing the town, but several agreed the town’s hands are tied, financially.
Town Administrator John Stanbrook on Tuesday, May 26 and Finance Committee Chairman Kevin Sullivan led a discussion on the issue. Sullivan said his concern centered on the effects of the changing timeline and COVID-19 delays on the standard negotiating window.
“This is the first time I’ve ever experienced this,” Sullivan said. “I’m fearful that this is the best deal we’re going to get, and I hope — at a very minimum — the citizens of Hanson realize that regardless of how we got here or the tempers that are flaring on both sides, there’s a very real possibility that this is the best deal we’re going to get.”
Sullivan said he is working to set up a couple of informational events to advocate for the override, not for the benefit of the school district but for the overall financial health of the town.
“The worst-case scenario is pretty dire, and I think people need to just take that into consideration,” he said. “I’ve never been a fan of an override, but I think this is a unique one-off circumstance.”
Selectman Matt Dyer said he would like to see an additional year of compromise under the post-COVID “new normal” before going to the full statutory formula.
Selectmen Chairman Laura FitzGerald-Kemmett said the amendment precludes further compromise, which Stanbrook confirmed.
“I think, at this point, that ship has sailed, said Selectman Kenny Mitchell. “We need the override.”
Mitchell said if the override fails, Hanson faces potential cuts to public safety.
Selectmen Jim Hickey and Wes Blauss favored placing the issue before the voters, but Hickey did not agree with the compromise on balance, based on Whitman’s retaining a 6-4 majority on the School Committee. Blauss argued the board was not obligated to support the compromise because it is Town Meeting and Town Election voters and the state is likely to support the statutory formula.
“Of course I’m going to vote for the override, because I see there’s no possible way for the town of Hanson to move on,” Blauss said. “I’m just infuriated, as are most of us, that we’ve been put in this position.”
He argued that Hanson has always been the less wealthy of the two towns and has practically no commercial base. As a former teacher, however, who educated younger members of the police and fire departments who would be among the first to face layoffs in the event of budget cuts, he felt there is no other choice.