WHITMAN — With about $56,000 now separating what the town can commit to the school district, and what W-H is seeking within the fiscal 2018 budget, Selectmen have voted to issue the special and annual Town Meeting warrants.
Town Administrator Frank Lynam said $12,064,195 has been voted for schools by the Finance Committee — a budget increase of $1,444,007. He said Superintendent of Schools Dr. Ruth Gilbert-Whitner told him that, without $12,119,787 — which represents a 9-percent assessment increase — “they’re going to need to seek funding through an override.”
“I’ve been working on these right up until this afternoon,” Lynam said of the warrants on which the Board of Selectmen voted Tuesday, April 11. “This whole budget has been a moving, living item.” There will be 10 articles on the special Town Meeting warrant, which is prepared for publication, and about 65 on the annual warrant.
The Fire Department will be seeking a $310,000 override for increased staffing on this year’s Town Meeting warrant and Town Election. Selectmen also voted Tuesday to place the Fire Department override request on the annual Town Election ballot.
Fire Chief Timothy Grenno expressed confidence after the meeting that residents would see the need for that request.
“I think the taxpayers support the Fire Department and, with the presentation that we’re going to put on to show them the needs and the staffing levels that we currently run at, the demand for service that we’re currently confronted with, I think that they’ll understand it’s not a wish list, that it’s a need assessment for us,” Grenno said.
The Selectmen would have had to vote April 11 to call for a school override on the annual Town Election ballot, and are required to have a specific amount before taking such a vote.
Should the schools decide at a later date — inlcuding the School Committee’s scheduled meeting on Wednesday, April 12 — to seek an override, a special election would be required. Such a move would cost the town $6,000 to hold that election.
“I talked to the chairman of the FinCom [Michael Minchello] and he said that they’re done with Article 2 and, depending on the items that are in the annual Town warrant, that they’re able to give a pretty good-sized percentage for the operating budget for Whitman-Hanson,” Selectman Dan Salvucci said.
Salvucci said that the possible removal of a capital project at Town Meeting, could help avoid a special election to fund the shortfall.
“I recognize that the School Department is making an effort to find a way to make this work,” Lynam said. “The superintendent feels that, if we can come up with that additional $56,000 she will be able to recongifure things in such a way that this year they will not have to lay anyone off.”
“They’re not crying wolf, there’s some real issues,” Lynam said. “But, at the same time, we have issues in some of the other departments, as well.”
Police and Fire chiefs have already withdrawn some requests, he noted. Lynam said he discussed the budget with Gilbert-Whitner Tuesday morning.
“We talked about what we had pegged for an apropriation,” he said of his talk with Gilbert-Whitner.
Lynam said he has asked the schools to work with town officials to come up with a minimally acceptable figure to avoid putting the town in override position for the schools because he thinks next year’s budget will be tougher.
“There’s going to have to be a lot of analysis and education directed toward next year’s budget,” he said. “I think going for an override of $400,000 this year is not going to solve the problem.”
Salvucci said he feels if the schools do not accept the Finance Committee’s recommedation, and Town Meeting supports a school override on the election, the town will be looking at the need for budget cuts.
The Finance Committee was meeting with school officials Tuesday night to discuss some of the articles Lynam is not recommending due to a lack of funding.
Selectmen voted to issue the special Town Meeting warrant and to authorize the annual Town Meeting warrant “with the understanding that some articles will be removed prior to publication,” according to Lynam.
In other business, Selectmen granted a request from the Recreation Commission for an expenditure of $4,500 from the World War II Memorial Field Fund to replace the fence around the basketball and street hockey court behind the police station. The fund, in existence since the field was designated, has been used very conservatively as it holds a small amount of cash — about $18,000 — and when no other funding is available, Lynam explained.
Selectmen also accepted of the gift of a 1910-15 Henry Miller mahogany baby grand piano with ivory keys from Fred Gilmetti on behalf of the Eileen Regan family.
“The piano is showing it’s age although it is quite beautiful,”said Assistant Town Administrator Lisa Green. “I would like to look into foundations and maybe seek a grant to help us restore the piano.”
Green also outlined plans to seek a grant from the Mass DEP Recovery Program to finance recycling programs in order to reduce town waste.
Selectmen scheduled hearing date for O’Toole’s Pub for Tuesday, May 9. The hearing will be the only item on that agenda.