HANSON — After holding public office in one capacity or another since 1977, Selectman Bruce Young has decided to retire — opting not to seek re-election this May.
He provided the Whitman-Hanson Express with a statement about his decision before the board’s Tuesday, Feb. 28 meeting, but made no public comment on it in the session during which much of the discussion centered on the schools and municipal budget outlook.
“I will be ending my service to the Town of Hanson in May, but will still actively participate as all good citizens should, staying informed and attending town meetings, and will be happy to share my knowledge and experience with anyone who may have a question,” Young stated.
Besides the Board of Selectmen, he has served on the town’s Finance Committee, Historical Commission and Board of Water Commissioners. [See Letters to Editor, page 12].
“I understand and respect his decision,” Selectmen Chairman James McGahan said Wednesday morning, lauding Young’s status as an invaluable member of the board. “His knowledge is exceptional on government policy and procedures.”
McGahan said he hopes Young will, indeed, remain active in town affairs as a private citizen.
“He will be missed,” McGahan said.
Young’s retirement reduces the field of candidates having taken out nomination papers to four — incumbent Selectman William Scott, former Selectman James Egan, CPC Chairman Laura FitzGerald-Kemmett and former Recreation Commission Chairman James Hickey. None have yet returned nomination papers ahead of the April 4 deadline, according to Town Clerk Elizabeth Sloan.
Young indicated Wednesday morning he wanted to make his decision known in time to give other interested candidates enough notice to allow them to take out nomination papers ahead of the March 30 deadline.
Among the career highlights he outlined in his announcement, Young stated he has played a role in guiding Hanson through the first two years of Proposition 2 ½ without major financial or town service problems; he also
• Established the first combined position of Treasurer Collector;
• Established the Priority Repair Committee following the defeat of a proposed new school project in 2014;
• Established the first recall law and the town administrator position (then known as the executive secretary to the Board of Selectmen);
• Established the first Water Department Master Plan and
• Established the first certified historical survey of town properties.
He has also worked on efforts to preserve the 111-acre Smith-Nawazelski Conservation Area and the placement of the Camp Kiwanee historic District and District School House No. 7 on the National Register of Historic Places.
In business before the board Tuesday night, Selectmen heard an update on the WHRSD fiscal 2018 budget from School Committee Chairman Bob Hayes and Business Services Director Christine Suckow. School Committee members Christopher Howard, Michael Jones, Fred Small and Dan Cullity also attended the meeting.
Following the transfer of $750,000 from excess and deficiency as well as $13,000 in interest-rate income from district bank accounts and $50,000 from the self-funded school lunch program toward utility costs, the shortfall for a level-service school budget is now $1,914,754. Projected revenue is expected to be short by $869,767.
“It’s not unique to Whitman-Hanson,” Hayes said. “This budget shortfall is pretty much the norm in the school districts around the state — some are worse, some are in better shape.”
At this point, Whitman-Hanson would require a 10.5-percent assessment increase — $1,167,502 from Whitman and $793,039 from Hanson —to fully fund a level-service budget, Hayes noted. Assessments are set based on student population as of Oct. 1 each year.
State representatives Josh Cutler, D-Duxbury, and Geoff Diehl, R-Whitman, are co-sponsoring a bill to again raise the state’s per-pupil increase in Chapter 70 aid from $20 to $50 — and are working to change wording in the state law to make $50 the required minimum annual increase. Last year Cutler and Diehl’s efforts yielded a $55 per-pupil increase, which brought the district an added $137,000.
“A level-service budget means bringing back exactly what we have today, not adding anything,” Hayes said. The proposed budget as unveiled Feb. 1 is up by $1,857,987 — a 3.95-percent increase over the current operating budget. Final figures for state aid are not available until the state budget is finalized in June. Town Meeting is Monday, May 1.
The School Committee will be continuing work on the budget during meetings at 7 p.m. Wednesday, March 8 and Wednesday, March 15 in the WHRHS library. Hayes urged the public as well as interested town officials to attend any School Committee meeting, all of which are open to the public.
“We don’t have hard firm numbers, there’s no way to nail it down,” Hayes said. “This is a work in progress.”
Cuts being considered include a possible closing of Maquan School by fall 2018, which could save about $800,000 in fiscal 2019, split sessions or cutting the athletics programs, which could save about $200,000 for a program that costs $400,000, but brings in $200,000 between fees and gate receipts.
“It’s a balancing act, because we don’t want to put in more money to fix the school if this is going to be the ultimate choice,” McGahan said.
Hanson’s Town Accountant Todd Hassett also reviewed the town’s budget outlook, as the fiscal 2018 budget is currently looking at a 5.49-percent increase, or $24,727,978. The current town budget is $23,441,725.
“As Mr. Hayes told you, this is a work in progress much like the school budget,” Hassett said. “We still have article requests that have not been submitted — the deadline is … March 10.”
He also noted the Capital Committee has just begun reviewing capital requests.
The bottom line for net sources available for appropriation is currently at $23,047,573 with expenditures projected at $23,047,573 — leaving $1,004 unspent.
The levy limit is now projected at $18,390,443 with the 2 ½ percent increase of $459,761, but new growth revenue is down $298,037 to $175,000 as estimated from the trend in new building permits. Total stabilization funds are projected at $670,869 and state aid, or cherry sheet receipts is expected to increase by about $806,000 with local receipts going up by $77,500 to $1,727,750.
Hassett has placed $250,000 in the free cash capital/other account, the minimum baseline, which brings available funds to $1.2 million.
“We’re not really in a position where we can put a lot of recurring revenue toward our capital needs yet,” Hassett said.
General government spending is being cut by 3.51 percent, as was done for the current budget.
Hassett has projected an increase of 3.91 percent for all school spending, including W-H, SSVT and Norfolk Aggie assessments. Public safety is up by 1.01 percent, not including contact negotiations, and public works up 6.19 percent — largely due to shoring up expenses to repairs and maintenance.
“They’ve historically been under-budgeted for a lot of their operating expenses and have really been handcuffed as to what they’ve been able to do for the town,” Hassett said of the Highway Department increase.
“You’ve spent the money anyway, historically,” Town Administrator Michael McCue said of supplementary spending at fall town meetings to cover shortfalls.
The Water Department has proposed to add another position and the financial effect of water main and water tank improvements have also begun to show up in the budget, but Hassett does not foresee an effect on water rates.
Recreation budget is up 8.21percent as the full year of salary and benefits of a new director is reflected in that budget. McCue, Scott and Recreation Chairman Rachel Gross are interviewing candidates this week.
Anticipated health insurance increases are also a concern, Hassett said.