The Plympton Board of Selectmen and Finance Committee held a three-hour, remote, joint meeting on Monday, May 18 to go over the budget as well as the warrants for the annual and special town meetings.
Chair of the Finance Committee Nathaniel Sides led the budget discussion. Sides said that salaries were capped at a 1.6 percent cost of living increase. Other highlights include an estimated 14 percent increase in disposal and recycling fees associated with the transfer station. Overall, the public works budget is relatively level funded.
Sides said that the Finance Committee and Fire Department went back and forth several times regarding their budget requests. The Fire Department requested $747,000 and the Finance Committee is recommending $696,000. The Police Department requested an additional officer. Sides said, “Initially I would have liked to support that but given the current scenario, we can’t.” Costs associated with emergency dispatch are also going up significantly though they are down from original estimates thanks to negotiations with the Regional Old Colony Communications Center (ROCC).
The Finance Committee and the schools also had several communications on the budget. Sides said that while there were some requests that they would like to recommend, he noted the importance of treating all town departments equally. Plympton School Committee Chair Jon Wilhelmsen was also in attendance. Wilhelmsen said that the school was asking for a new special education position. He said the position is necessitated by the number of current and incoming students in need of such services. According to Wilhelmsen, without the position, students may need to seek services outside of Dennett. The cost of just one student doing so would be at the same cost as the new position. If two students were to go outside the district, it would be double.
Sides said that the reserve fund was increased from ¾ percent to one percent of the total budget due to the departments being asked to be extra lean this year as well as the unknowns that potentially lay ahead due to the current climate. The total of the budget voted on by the Finance Committee is $11,412,323 for a 1.2 percent increase overall. The selectmen also unanimously voted in favor of the budget as presented.
Selectman Mark Russo gave kudos to the Finance Department and Town Administrator Elizabeth Dennehy for their efforts to bring forth a budget during difficult times. Selectman John Traynor said, “The budget as presented is well done.”
Dennehy led the discussion on the warrant, beginning with the one for the annual town meeting. The Board of Selectmen and the Finance Committee voted whether to recommend each article. Article 2 authorizes the treasurer to enter into compensation agreements, Article 3 is for an updated wage and personnel chart, Article 4 is for the budget, and Article 5 is for financial audits. All were approved by the necessary participants at the meeting.
Articles 6 through 8 pertain to the Highway Department. Article 6 authorizes the Highway Department to utilize Chapter 90 funds, Article 7 transfers $200,000 for road resurfacing, Article 8 is for roughly $17,000 for the annual lease agreement for the department’s truck, and Article 9 is for $30,000 for a flail mower. All were approved unanimously.
Article 10 is a standard CPC article for estimated revenues for various items.
Articles 11 and 12 are each for $2500 and are for various property valuations. Article 13 is for $10,000 toward updated software for the assessors.
Article 14 is for the Police Department to lease and purchase radios and accompanying equipment. Article 15 is to authorize the selectmen to enter into a purchase or lease agreement for equipment needed to continue to build the fiber optic network. Article 16 is for $340,000 to purchase an ambulance. Article 17 is for roughly $49,000 for lease payments on the Fire Department vehicles. Article 18 is for $10,000 for the Fire Department to purchase new personal protective equipment. Article 19 is for nearly $16,725 for the annual lease payment for the Fire Department command truck. Article 20 is the required 5 percent match for the FEMA Grant with the contingency that it is dependent on the success of the town’s application. Article 21 is for $8,000 for the purchase or repair of self-contained breathing apparatus for the Fire Department. Articles 10 through 21 were all recommended unanimously.
Article 22 is for $14,000 to support the part time school resource officer at the middle school. Plympton supported this article last year at town meeting while Halifax did not. Plympton’s support allowed for a school resource officer at the middle school for a very limited number of hours per week. Halifax selectmen are once again not recommending this article as they are opposed to the mechanism to fund the officer through an article rather than as part of the school budget. It was also one of the only articles of the night not to garner unanimous support from both the Board of Selectmen and the Finance Committee Monday. Sides voted against it leading to a 4-1 vote on the part of the Finance Committee. The Plympton selectmen all voted to recommend it.
Article 23 is for $100,000 to replace the roof and insulation at the Highway Department building. Article 24 is to authorize the selectmen to enter into an agreement with the not-for-profit Soule Homestead in Middleborough. According to Dennehy it is a project that has been in the works for a while and the agreement would be mutually beneficial to both communities. The agreement would enable Plympton to get access to the public open space area near the two lots that are currently for sale at 2 Brooks Preserve. “This article is the product of a lot of work and a lot of talking back and forth between us, Middleborough, Soule Homestead, as well as both town councils,” Dennehy explained. Both articles were recommended by unanimous votes.
Article 25 is a zoning article for the updating of the flood insurance rate maps. Articles 26 and 27 are to digitize the zoning and general bylaws respectively. Article 28 is for $3,100 to continue bylaw codification. All were recommended unanimously.
Articles 29 through 32 are to authorize the selectmen to enter into pilot agreements on various solar projects including those on Upland Road, Lake St., and Main St. The Board of Selectmen voted to recommend these articles.
Article 33, which requires a vote by both the Finance Department and Board of Selectmen, generated considerable debate during Monday’s meeting. The article, which was submitted by the Conservation Commission, is intended to establish a natural resources protection fund. It would be funded primarily through the transfer of funds earned by the sale of town owned land or other fund transfers as voted at town meeting. The funds would be used to match federal, state, or private charitable grants and/or to fund other natural resource protection efforts. Traynor said that his initial reaction was that the article was quite broad, saying it appeared to state that revenue from the sale of any town owned land would automatically be transferred to the Conservation Commission. Sides was similarly concerned.
Conservation member Linda Leddy spoke to the article during Monday’s meeting. She said that the intent behind the fund would be a show of capacity for matching funds when applying for various grants, etc. Town Accountant Barbara Gomez asked if town counsel had approved the wording of the article since the sale of town property is directed into a separate account. Dennehy said that he had read it but not commented either way. She also suggested changing the wording so that the sale of town owned property was a potential source for the fund but not an automatic transfer. There was also discussion as to whether the transfer of sale funds would require a vote at town meeting. Traynor said that there were other things to consider such as affordable housing and said that he would hate to see one thing moved to the front of the line over another due to the wording in the article.
Even after the language change to the article, the Finance Committee said they would like to wait to vote to recommend the article. The selectmen agreed saying they would also like to see the article in its final form before making a recommendation. Since the warrant will be printed this week, the Finance Committee and selectmen will make their recommendation on the town meeting floor.
Gomez suggested further wording changes requesting that the $5,500 from the sale of the pumps at 2 Brooks Preserve be removed from the article and made into a separate article. Sides said that the Finance Committee took issue with the processes that were followed in selling the pumps. He said that it was not the Conservation Commission’s property to sell and assume the money as it belonged to the town. Selectman Chair Christine Joy said that the property should have been advertised as has been done with the sale of other town owned property.
“This is a function of sometimes volunteers don’t know all the rules,” Leddy said. “We appreciate there are probably some rules that we bumped into or crossed… there was always good intent along the way,” she continued. Leddy said the money is to be used toward public access areas at 2 Brooks Preserve. “My personal opinion is the money should go to 2 Brooks,” Traynor said. Russo said he was really uncomfortable with the article as it could appear that town owned money was being used to fund CPA projects that have been touted as not using town money. In the end, the Selectmen and the Finance Committee agreed to leave the article on the warrant and just be honest at town meeting about the mistakes that were made and explain the intention behind the use of the funds. Leddy said, “I would like to have a warrant on the town meeting floor… we just say, hey, volunteers make mistakes sometimes. We need the money to open this parking lot, the money is sitting in the town coffers, if you want to support it this is the time.”
Dennehy also went over the warrant for the special town meeting. Article 1 is to pay for the final changeover for the Plympton Police Station project. Article 2 is for $6,897 for unpaid bills from the prior fiscal year, and Article 3 is for $10,000 for the opec account. Article 4 is for money for larger scale building projects related to COVID-19. Article 5 is for line item transfers in the fiscal year 2020 budget. Article 6 is for $8,100 to be transferred out of the sale item account and moved toward repairs at the Fire Department. Article 7 is for $7,000 to replace fire ladders. The Board of Selectmen and Finance Committee voted in favor of all applicable articles.
Before adjourning for the evening, the Board touched base on some COVID updates. Dennehy said that they are looking to finalize anything that needs to b done to the townhouse building prior to reopening. Some staff will begin returning to the building next week. Dennehy said that all announcements made during Governor Baker’s May 18 press conference were as expected.
The Transfer Station hours are also going to be increasing in coming days. Dennehy also told the Board that as of Monday, there were two confirmed and two presumptive positive cases of COVID-19 in Plympton.