WHITMAN — With 101 voters present on Monday, Nov. 14 — just one over the required quorum minimum of 100 — voters backed Select Board requests to change the Treasurer/Collector position to an appointed one and increased the salary being offered a new Town Administrator.
The Treasurer/Collector question will appear on the May 20, 2023 Town election ballot to be ratified, now that Town Meeting has approved it.
Interim Town Administrator Frank Lynam argued in his report, initially placed on the warrant as Article 12 from the board, that both moves were in recognition of recent changes that mean people serving in those positions these days require more advanced certifications. The report was taken out of order and made the first item of business for the evening.
“As an elected position, the sole requirement for the [Treasurer/Collector] role is to receive more than one more of 50 percent of the votes,” Lynam said. “There is no requirement that the candidate have any experience in managing and handling cash or in collecting municipal bills.”
He and former Treasurer/Collector Mary Beth Carter listed some of he requirements of the job today, as the financial market is more sophisticates and a town’s financial security leans mainly on the person in that post.
Carter was appointed by Selectmen Oct. 15, 2005 “following turmoil and resignation in the Collector’s Department.” She was subsequently appointed Treasurer on Dec. 2, 2008 after a retirement, Lynam outlined.
Questions about the appointment route, from Finance Committee member Rosemary Connolly, Town Clerk Dawn Varley and a resident centered on their concerns over taking away the voice of voters in that hiring decision.
Carter echoed Lynam’s remarks that the article is vital to the financial well-being of the town.
“I experienced first-hand the sense of duty and accountability of this position and the integral role this position plays in the town’s finances,” she said.
The positions require one to test for certifications and demand daily that the office-holder maintain cash book and record of all receipts, disbursement, cash balances as well as playing a major role in issuance of payments on all town debts, Carter enumerated. She recited a long list of job obligations including payroll, personnel insurance, trust funds, enterprise funds and investments. On the collectors side, the responsiblilities include for collecting all money the municipality takes in, payments of refunds, accuracy of information and initiates tax-takings. Basically they handle every single penny that comes into the town and goes out of it.
“If the position is not changed to an appointed position, the town runs the risk of possibly having a person who is unqualified or is inexperienced as a treasurer/collector,” she said. “This position is too important to … have a person who may be popular, however is not qualified for this job.”
In response to a question about who is responsible for paying for the educational credentials needed, Lynam said the town has always encouraged employees to further their education, but the initiative to learn the job requirements rests solely with the individual. But an elected officer cannot be directed or managed by anyone other than a town election, he said.
“It is very much in the town’s interest to thoroughly scrutinize the qualifications and skills of someone who will have access to and authority to invest, at various times, up to $45 million of taxpayer and ratepayer money on behalf of the town,” Lynam said.
There is little option to address an elected treasurer/collector is not performing, he cautioned, beyond a recall or superior court process.
Appointed persons go through a very public application process before they are hired. The majority of treasurer/collectors in both the area and the state are appointed, Lynam said.
Town administrators, meanwhile, present a salary problem, as Lynam’s research has shown average salaries have increased “well over 25 percent” since he retired in 2020 after 19 years on the job.
Extending the salary range by $10,000 – to a top level of $160,000 – has resulted in better responses to advertisements for the job.
He provided voters with a list of 30 municipalities on the South Shore in which administrator/manager salaries ranged from $142,500 in Acushnet to $215,000 in Scituate. Closer to Whitman, Bridgewater pays $178,607; East Bridgewater $150,000; West Bridewater $156,005; Hanover $158,200; Hanson $145,800 and Abington $150,000.
Whitman’s offering of between $143,000 to $150,000 “produced limited results” Lynam said and market conditions require more compensation than the town was offering. Increasing the range to $160,000 on the top end has already resulted in better responses, he said.
“But unless we are willing to offer competitive compensation, our ability to recruit is extremely limited,” he said.
The $10,000 for potentially increasing the town administrator salary was passed, along with eight other salary line adjustments in Article 13, which had to be amended from a total of $21,065 to 23,065 because of a typographical error. In fact, discussing whether that represented increasing a warrant article raised more attention than the $10,000 request.
Town counsel pointed out that it was, indeed, not an increase because adding up the figures for each line – none of which had changed – added up to the $23,065 figure and not the lower number originally printed in the warrant. In that way, voters were informed of the amount of the article, which was passed.