By Beth David, Editor
Department heads made their cases to the Fairhaven Selectboard on Monday, 3/2/20, explaining why their budget requests should be supported.
Departments submitted their budget requests earlier this year to Town Administrator Mark Rees He and his budget team, Treasurer Wendy Graves, Town Accountant Anne Carreiro, and Human Resources Director Anne O’Brien, then met with the department heads to “delve into” what the requests were about, said Mr. Rees in a phone interview.
He then created his recommended budget, which did not include all the requests made by the departments. Mr. Rees said he is committed again this year, to creating a “consensus budget,” with the Selectboard and Finance Committee, so he will consider some requests that he may have orignally denied.
On Monday, Superintendent of Schools Robert Baldwin made the case for reinstating $200,000 that Mr. Rees shaved off the bottom line. Dr. Baldwin told the board that the new school funding formula did not result in Fairhaven getting any more money from the state.
He also discussed an item he is requesting from the Capital Budget, which is a separate fund for capital items. The schools are hoping to get funding to replace the grass on the football field with turf. He said the high school is competing with area schools that have modern athletic facilities, and he fears that some students will opt to go to other schools instead of choosing Fairhaven. He also said that he could get rid of $30,000 in field maintenance. They could also hold more games. When it rains, they cannot use the field near the high school.
“Every new school comes with turf. If we don’t compete, then we are going to see money go away,” he said, meaning tuition money that will go to other schools.
Selectboard member Daniel Freitas voiced support for the turf field, saying that colleges are looking for “well rounded” students. He also said sports keep kids out of trouble.
Selectboard Chairperson Charles K. Murphy also supported the idea, saying it will boost morale to have a better athletic field.
Dr. Baldwin said the lacrosse team has to play away instead of at home because of the wet spring conditions at the high school.
Mr. Rees said he supported the capital funds going to that project. The Capital Planning Committee ranks projects using a variety of criteria, he said, and they “ranked it up on the list.”
Fire Chief Timothy Francis also addressed the board, trying to get support for $28,000 in overtime money that he asked for, but was not in the TA’s recommended budget.
In a follow-up interview, Mr. Rees said he is going to make changes to add the OT money, but he has to “figure out where to get it from.”
Chief Francis also discussed the new radio system for the fire department, emergency management agency, police department, and harbormaster. The new system will be digital, and will include Acushnet and Mattapoisett.
“We’re just trying to streamline everything and bring it up to the 21st century,” said Chief Francis.
IT director Nicole Potter told the board that it will take time to build the program, and they will start developing it in a couple of months. The program will allow all those departments to be integrated.
Chief Francis said they will be able to do inspections on site and not have to go back to the station to type up notes.
For the IT department, Ms. Potter asked for an additional person to help with the day-to-day requests for IT help from various departments. The IT department has only recently included a full time person who is responsible for all IT needs of the town and school department.
The new fiber optic network now has the town hall and school department on an independent system that is more reliable than the commercial systems, such as Comcast and Verizon.
Mr. Rees said in the followup interview that the fiber optic system makes it possible for the town to run the phone system and internet use through the town’s own system.
He is not recommending the additional staff person this year, he said.
The Police Department’s request to make their part time custodian full time will probably also have to wait, as Mr. Ress did not recommend it.
Police Chief Michael Myers told the board that the building is getting older and requires more maintenance. He also said that the fire department side does not have as many people around as before, so the custodian is picking up a lot of those duties. He also said he wanted the extra hours for some outside work, and for the animal shelter.
The department is also looking for $10,000 for a heating system for the animal shelter, which is being recommended by the TA.
Harbormaster Timothy Cox told the board that he also needed new radios before the new system goes online or he would not be able communicate with the fire and police departments.
“They’re my backup,” said Mr. Cox.
“When we go out, we all go out together,” said Chief Francis.
Mr. Cox also discussed use of the Hoppy’s Landing revolving fund and the waterways fund.
Selectboard member Bob Espindola noted that some people are critical of the town using the waterways fund for salaries. But it is an allowed use, he said.
Mr. Cox will also be requesting money to study dredging around West Island and Hoppy’s Landing. He said there are grants he can apply for, but he needs to have boring samples, eel grass studies, and other information before he can apply for them.
Building Commissioner Kristian White explained that his permit revenue was down because of a slow-down in commercial building in town. He said the $90,000 drop was not due to the number of residential permits. He said those numbers are comparable.
“We’re looking better right now,” he said, adding that more projects have come in recently. “So things are looking up.”
Several departments, including Building, Health, and Human Resources, are also looking for new software programs.
HR Director Anne O’Brien said her request will allow for digital sign-off of personnel polices. The program will allow the town to track more easily which employees have finished which trainings, and if they have familiarized themselves with required policies.
Mr. Freitas asked Ms. O’Brien about the “job change,” which was in reference to a plan to reclassify two positions.
Mr. Rees told the Neighb News that no work has been done on that, and it is a long process. He has asked for $7500 in reserve for possible reclassifications of the positions.
Health Agent Mary Freire-Kellogg told the board that new software will allow inspectors to do all the paperwork on site and email the reports to the owners.
She also noted that she submitted her budget with no vehicle maintenance costs, but did fund mileage. In past Selectboard meetings, there were discussions about a vehicle assigned to the health department that is not being used.
Paul Foley, Director of Planning and Economic Development, made a request for a part time person to supplement his support staff. Conservation Agent Whitney McClees also asked for a full time person. There is a possibility that the two departments could share an administrative assistant, but not this time around. Mr. Rees is not recommending the position.
“One of my projects going forward is how to use our staff more efficiently,” said Mr. Rees.
Mr. Freitas reiterated an oft-voiced complaint that he has heard from residents that the doors are closed to some departments during the day.
“When people come in, they need to open the door and see staff,” said Mr. Freitas.
Mr. Rees said in the phone interview that he is still not recommending the additional position.
“Not that I don’t think it’s necessary,” said Mr. Rees, but the town just signed new collective bargaining agreements. “We need to meet our agreed-to obligations before we start adding things.”
The board also heard from public works superintendent Vincent Furtado, whose big request will be $2 million for a the design of the upgrade to the wastewater treatment plant. He said the new plant has to be online by 2025.
Mr. Espindola said that he has heard from people who are concerned when they hear “really high numbers,” and they want to know how it will affect their taxes.
He asked Mr. Rees to project the impact on taxes when they are talking about capital projects.
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