WHITMAN — The town’s financial future became a bit tighter Monday, May 1, after voters at annual Town Meeting agreed with requests from the floor for department head raises of 2.5 percent that, in most cases, were not included in the Article 2 budget for fiscal 2018.
“The whole point of setting financial controls is to set the tempo for future bargaining and future expenditures,” Town Administrator Frank Lynam said after the session. “Unfortunately, the message wasn’t perhaps, as clear as it needed to be.”
Lynam also suggested it could be a matter of too little a difference in dollars during a budget year in which one contract is out of synch by 2.5 percent.
“They collectively added up to about $5,000 or $6,000 on a $35 million budget,” Lynam said. “If the Town Meeting was willing to support the votes, I’m certainly not going to be opposed to it. It’s a decision that gets made here.”
He said that perhaps more work needs to be done during bargaining to make sure people understand a lot depends on the town’s ability to make the payments.
“We went almost right up to the levy limit tonight, so it’s going to limit what we can do next year, unless we change significantly how we do business,” Lynam said.
The 2.5-percent department head raises were requested by Michelle Hayes, who is a 13-year employee of the collector’s office.
“This is the first time I can remember that our department heads … are on your warrant [for a] 2-percent pay increase, while the Town Hall employees negotiated with the union for a 2.5-percent pay increase,” she said. “I would like to put them on par with us.”
All five of her amendments — for the town accountant, assessor, treasurer-collector, clerk and building commissioner — were approved by the voters.
Lynam said the department head salary issue had been intended to “set a standard for the next several years in the direction of salaries and costs,” and that it was very difficult to set one contract against another. He said he would support the Town Meeting’s decision.
Voters did question a $22,752 salary increase (for $86,000 total) for Assistant Town Administrator Lisa Green. The increase was supported by a vote of 96-62.
Michelle Winnett, 308 Raynor Ave., asked why the 35-percent increase was being requested. Lynam outlined that when former Assistant Town Administrator Greg Enos was hired in 2013, his limited experience dictated the starting salary of $63,248 now being paid to Green, who is an attorney and has government experience with the Social Security Administration. Enos had left to take a job with another town for $30,000 more.
Lynam then surveyed salaries in other similar communities, finding Whitman “significantly off” the pay scale.
“My concern, and the concern of the Board of Selectmen, was to recruit and hire somebody capable of doing the job I’m doing and, perhaps being prepared to [take over] when I’m no longer standing here,” he said. The decision was made to offer a salary commensurate with those responsibilities.
Winnett also asked what salary would be offered to an assistant town administrator without Green’s credentials should she move up on Lynam’s retirement. Another resident asked why a more competitive salary wasn’t advertised when Green was hired.
“We didn’t want to go through another cycle of hiring someone for less, training them and sending them off somewhere else,” Lynam said.
He also said he could not forecast the future but added, “It is impossible to do this job without the staff to support it.” He said the hours and responsibility of the job demands a competitive salary.
“There isn’t another town that operates as efficiently as we do, in terms of cost for administration,” he said.
The Board of Library Trustees sought a 4-percent salary increase (to $67,095) for the Whitman Library director, which Town Meeting approved.
Since the Town Meeting approved the other raises, Lynam then asked for reconsideration of salaries for DPW operations superintendent, recreation director, Council on Aging director and technology director, at 2.5 percent increases, which were approved.
Former Town Moderator Mike Hayes opened the meeting with a report on the Electronic Voting Committee’s work, and articles to authorize it on the annual Town Meeting and to fund costs associated with it on the special Town Meeting warrants. In a squeaker of a counted vote, the funding was approved, 83-81, with the article accepting the committee’s report later passing by large margin in a voice vote.
“If you have questions, just bring them forward and we’ll discuss this,” Hayes urged during discussion over transfer of $3,400 for the funding article. “It’s a big change for the town.”
Garrett Moniz of 88 Woodlawn Circle asked how the votes are stored. Hayes explained that vote totals only, and not information on how individuals cast votes are stored on the Internet cloud, but he admitted there is a risk of hacking.
Town Clerk Dawn Varley also said that devices, assigned a number at voter check-in, would be for ensuring the devices are returned, rather than tracking votes.
“I don’t even know what’s on that device,” she said. “I wouldn’t know what your votes were.”
Denise M. Taylor of Captain Allen Way wanted to know the name of the company — Turning Technology, which the town will be using — and more information on the cost. Hayes said Turning Technology and Option Technology were the two firms providing quotes to the town. The small devices work like a hand-held calculator, Lynam said, explaining that voters would have a time limit to cast votes with their last vote being counted. Voters therefore have the opportunity to change their minds. Final vote totals would be displayed on a projection screen.
Michelle LaMattina of 6 River Birch Circle asked if some kind of security deposit or fine for lost or damaged devices would be charged as the town would be leasing the devices. Hayes said there would be a replacement cost, but not a security deposit
Another voter asked why Whitman’s small Town Meetings require the devices. Hayes said most area towns already using the devices are or a similar size.
During the special Town Meeting, Article 4 — which called for a Transfer of $1.87 million to purchase and install replacement water meters — was passed over due to an equal cost to the town involved in intersection work planned to widen intersections, at routes 18 and 27 and at routes 14 and 27. Old water gates in those areas would be replaced at that time, which is where the additional $1.8 million cost would be involved.
Lynam indicated that, while the new meters are vital for auditing water costs, the town found out about a week ago that MassDOT intersection work will be done next year.
“We would like to step back from this article, have a conversation with public works, selectmen and the Finance Committee to determine what would be in our best interest,” Lynam said. “It may make sense to fund one of the projects by borrowing and paying for it over eight or 10 years … and pay the other costs directly. But that’s not a decision to be making on short notice.”