By Beth David, Editor
The main event at the Fairhaven Selectboard meeting on Monday, 3/4, was the FY20 budget. The board heard from the Fire Department, Public Works Department, School Department, and Town Clerk’s Office. The board also received Town Administrator Mark Rees’s annual report.
The board decided not to vote on any budgets because board member Charles K. Murphy, Sr., did not attend the meeting because he was traveling out of state and got delayed due to the snow.
Highlights and changes of the budget include the recommendation to hire a garage superintendent at $65,479 per year to help offset costs associated with modernizing the fleet of the BPW and Police Department.
Mr. Rees also said his new budget recommendation creates a new line item called “Sanitation,” that combines solid waste expenses that have previously been spread out in different places. Instead of recycling being in the BPW budget, and trash pick-up being in the Board of Health budget, they will both be under Sanitation. The amounts of the contracts are not affected, and it is not a new department, said Mr. Rees. It simply puts sanitation related costs in one place.
The new budget recommends $21,082,516 for the school department, a 3.4% increase over last year.
The total recommended operating budget is $50,978,082, a 4% increase over last year.
Fire Chief Timothy Francis and Deputy Fire Chief Todd Correia gave the board an overview of changes in their budget from last year. Chief Francis said he was asking for more money to hire two more full timers. He said ambulance runs were up 17% from last year.
“I don’t see it going down anytime soon,” he said.
Chief Francis told the board that the station is empty “too often.” He wants to have two people at the station at all times. He also noted that ambulance services brought in $1.2 million in revenue last year.
Those funds go to the town and are allocated by a vote at Town Meeting.
Board member Bob Espindola noted that there are other costs associated with hiring full time or permanent part time employees, such as medical benefits and retirement costs.
The board also heard from Public Works superintendent Vinnie Furtado.
He said the department’s regular operating budget has no surprises. The department is looking to upgrade at least one vehicle in the water department, and has other equipment upgrades and maintenance, so his increases are mostly in the Capital Improvement Plan budget.
Public Works will also have to do some work on pump stations and the Wastewater Treatment Plant. The Inflow and Infiltration (I&I) work is also ongoing. That involves going to different areas of town and identifying where groundwater is getting into the sewer system. The infiltration of water from other sources wreaks havoc with the treatment plant operations and can put millions of gallons a day into the system in big rain storms. The I&I plan seeks to identify and rectify the places where the infiltration is happening.
The total for those kinds of projects is about $350,000 this year.
Mr. Furtado did have one request, though, that garnered some discussion. He said he wanted to bring back Kathy Tripp, who just retired, on a part time basis to help.
“There’s plenty of work there,” said Mr. Furtado.
He also asked for an additional seasonal person to help with grass cutting in the summer.
Peak grass cutting time is also peak construction time and is also peak vacation time, he said.
Selectboard Chairperson Daniel Freitas noted that when he was on the BPW there were 17 seasonal workers. Now there are five. The machines got bigger, he said, but so did the areas that need to be cut.
Acting Town Clerk Carolyn Hurley, who is running unopposed for her seat in the 4/1 election, also asked for funds bto ring back a retired employee, former Town Clerk Eileen Lowney. Ms. Hurley said she has an assistant, and two former clerks come in to help, but it is not enough.
Ms. Hurley said there are “extremely busy” times of year, and some years have multiple elections. As soon as the local election is done, she needs to be ready for Town Meeting, usually just four weeks later. Meanwhile, dog licenses and the annual census all need processing at the same time of year. Right now, it is also voter registration, she said, which is extremely important.
In the past, she has taken work home, and so did the previous Town Clerk, she said, but that is not sustainable. She is also trying to learn the job.
“It’s been daunting, to say the least,” said Ms. Hurley.
She is asking for $20,000 per year for an employee that would come in as needed, during the very busy times.
“It’s overwhelming. It really is,” she told the board.
She said they are processing 30 to 70 dog licenses each day, and had five people waiting in line on Monday. She noted that the additional person would improve service to the public, which is one of the board’s stated goals.
“I have so many ideas to streamline,” procedures, said Ms. Hurley, adding that some things have been done the same way for “years and years.”
Maybe there were good reasons then, she said, but times change.
The School Department also addressed the board, saying that the only increase it was asking for, besides contractual obligations, was for transportation. Mr. Rees and Superintendent Robert Baldwin both told the board that the funding formula for schools in Massachusetts is flawed and needs to be changed.
Dr. Baldwin said it was barely comprehensible with 13 factors used to decide who gets what. Towns like Fairhaven, that are not big cities, tend to lose out.
What is clear, though, is that transportation needs to be included.
He said he understood there is only one pot of money, and the school department is doing its part to keep costs down.
“This is no longer a town problem,” said Dr. Baldwin. “It’s a state problem.”
The board also got a quick preview of articles for the annual Town Meeting in May. In addition to the budget articles, there are a couple of bylaw articles, and many articles submitted by citizens for road paving. The board did not take any votes. The articles will be discussed a few more times before TM in May.
In a matter that was not on the agenda, but came up in the town administrator’s report, the board formalized their decision not to put a recreational marijuana question on the ballot in the April 1 election. Several marijuana related articles were on the warrant at the 11/13/18 Special Town Meeting. TM voted to approve a bylaw regulating recreational marijuana sales in town. The article to extend the moratorium on recreational marijuana sales long enough to get a question on the 4/1 ballot failed. The Selectboard can also vote to put something on the ballot, but because of the other two votes, they did not make a clear decision on that, said Mr. Rees. He advised them to vote to make it clear that the Selectboard was not going to put the question on the ballot.
The board voted, 2-0 to do that.
Mr. Espindola and Mr. Freitas both noted that they had not heard from any of the proponents of the ballot question since Town Meeting.
In another matter, the board approved use of town hall during the summer concert series held by the Fairhaven Improvement Association on Thursdays in summer.
During that discussion, Mr. Freitas brought up a subject that has been brewing on social media and throughout town in various conversation spots. A vendor from last year’s Homecoming Day Fair, which is run by the FIA, is accusing the organization of deliberately forcing him out after a verbal argument with an FIA volunteer last year.
Mr. Freitas said he wanted to find a way to intercede for the man.
“Everybody’s trying to do the right thing,” said Mr. Freitas. “I know this gentleman. He’s done a lot for the town.”
Although the board members did not mention his name, Stephen Almeida has been making a public point of telling people he has been “black balled” by the FIA.
In the course of those discussions online, it was revealed that the FIA is also the reason that the Fairhaven Marketplace will not be able to operate on the same day as the Homecoming Day Fair. The office of Tourism had been promoting the Marketplace, and included that date with the hope that both events would benefit from each other’s crowd.
Apparently it was because of a specific request from the FIA that the Town Administrator ordered the Office of Tourism to remove that date.
The FIA is a private, nonprofit entity, not a town department or town committee.
It was unclear if Mr. Freitas wanted Mr. Rees to facilitate a meeting or not.
In other business the board:
• Voted to appoint Shallyn Carreiro as an associate member of the Wellness Committee.
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