Plympton held both its annual and special town meeting on Wednesday, June 17 inside the Dennett Elementary School. The annual addressed fiscal year 2021 while the special was to address funding changes for this current fiscal year’s spending. Town Moderator Barry DeCristofano donned a purple and gold mask as he explained the protocols that needed to be followed due to COVID-19. Residents attending the meeting were divided between both the gym and the auditorium in order to ensure proper social distancing.
Article 1 was the annual report of town officers that was moved by Board of Selectmen Chair Christine Joy. Joy also moved Article 2, authorizing the town treasurer to enter into compensating balance agreements in accordance with Massachusetts Law. There was no discussion for either article and both passed unanimously.
Article 3 was a vote to amend the wage and personnel classification plan effective July 1, 2020 and to pay in wages the sums as read by DeCristofano. The Fire Department/Paramedic, clerical and election workers, elder affairs, library, professional, town hall support, town labor, and veterans’ affair all passed without discussion. Resident Ted Taranto went to the microphone to suggest that the special police officer and matron police officer be paid the same amount. Wage and Personnel Chair Alan Wheelock said he deferred to Police Chief Matt Clancy. Clancy said that there were different rates as they were completely different jobs with separate training requirements. “There needs to be at least a modest grade separation,” Clancy explained. Following the discussion, all lines were passed.
Article 4, the town budget, did generate considerable discussion with respect to both the town clerk’s salary as well as the regional schools’ budget. Chair of the Finance Committee Nathaniel Sides requested a few changes to the funding sources for the insurance and pension line but did not request any changes to the overall amount of $1,243,613. Total general government came in at $75,768, total assessors $82,292, Total tax and treasurer, $186,249, total Selectmen $323,053, total public works $591,678, total protection of personal property $26,617, total building department $95,116, total fire and EMS Services $695,678, total Board of Health $35,393, total police $1,069,879, total veterans $59,756, total emergency dispatch $103,000, and total library $155,239. Those areas all passed without discussion.
Town Clerk Patricia Detterman asked for a hold on both lines 180 (the town clerk salary) and 197 (town clerk support staff). Detterman explained that the fy20 salary for the town clerk was decreased by 11 percent by the Finance Committee bringing the total from $47,163 to $42,000. Detterman countered each of the Finance Committee’s arguments for reducing the salary including that it was not an election year, job duties were calculated at 25 hours per week, and she was a new employee. She said that there were actually 4 elections held during that year, her predecessor reported that it took 30 hours or more to satisfy the duties of the job, and that aside from volunteering for the town in multiple capacities over the years, she also served as the assistant town clerk for 8 years. Detterman also pointed out a number of challenges faced this past year including the sudden resignation of her first assistant, COVID-19 related difficulties, and an inability to take vacation in the past 18 months. She asked for a motion to restore the clerk’s salary to a fair wage. Specifically, Detterman was looking for $47,163 with a 1.6 percent cost of living increase, bringing the total requested salary to $49,925.
Detterman also cited a survey she conducted of town clerk salaries in Plymouth County. She said that the next lowest paid clerk in the county, who happens to limit their hours to 25 per week and is in a border town, made $55,000. Sides countered this argument saying that Plympton was among the smallest towns in the South Shore and therefore, comparing salaries was not comparing apples to apples. He said that the Finance Committee had conducted their own survey using towns in Massachusetts of similar size. He went on to say that based on that survey, Detterman’s current salary would place her into the top third. Detterman said that such a comparison was unfair as the clerk must live in the town to which they are elected and the cost of living on the South Shore is vastly different than the cost of living in say, the Berkshires.
Retired town clerk Nancy Butler came to Detterman’s defense saying that there was no way the job could be done in 30 hours per week. “I wish you would all consider the recommendation by the town clerk,” Butler said.
In the end, there was a slight majority in the two rooms and Detterman’s motion passed. She also made a motion to increase the town clerk support staff line from $22,186 to $25,804 saying, “The service that the support staff does for the town is incredible. We are the front porch for the town.” Like the motion before, it passed though by a very slight majority. The new total for the town clerk’s budget is $103,829.
Chair of the Plympton School Committee Jon Wilhelmsen asked for a hold on all three lines of the Plympton school’s budget. Wilhelmsen explained that when the budget was created the school committee had not yet had a chance to look for additional savings. Wilhelmsen proposed reducing the elementary school costs from $2,494,050 to $2,441,399 and the vocational costs from $105,000 to $90,000. Wilhelmsen proposed an increase for the special education line from $1,115,495 to $1,186,396. He explained that the proposed increase was necessary to keep certain students in the building and prevent them from going out of district, which would incur significant additional costs to the town. The total amended budget amounted to $3,717,795, which Wilhelmsen said, “…is pretty close to the recommended budget.” The town voted to support this new number.
Chair of the Silver Lake Regional School Committee Jason Fraser asked for a hold on the regional school line requesting that Plympton’s assessment be raised from $2,463,609 to $2,513,608.42. Fraser said this represented a 0.4 percent increase over the previous year’s number. Fraser also explained that cuts to state aid are still unknown. He went onto explain that provided one other town in the district votes to approve the number, if Chapter 70 funding comes in below what is expected, the school committee has the ability to amend the number without requesting a special town meeting as long as the assessment remains the same or lower. Thirty percent of the Silver Lake Regional School budget comes from Chapter 70 funds.
Sides said that while the Finance Committee had originally agreed to Fraser’s amended number, they had since decided to ask for an overall decrease in the town’s assessment. He said that the estimated amount was somewhere around a $50,000 reduction. Fraser said he had no record of being reached out to by the Finance Committee to discuss amending the budget. Ann Sobolewski took to the microphone in support of Fraser saying that if the town votes the number recommended by the Finance Committee, there would no longer be an ability to amend the budget should Chapter 70 funding come in higher than anticipated. Another resident inquired as to the cost to hold a special town meeting. Selectmen Chair Joy said it would cost roughly $9,000. The town voted to approve Fraser’s requested amended number of $2,513,608.42.
Before recessing the annual town meeting to begin the special, DeCristofano lamented, “I know people can leave when they want but I really feel bad when people leave after their pet projects have been voted on. It’s not fair to the rest of us.”
The special town meeting had 7 articles. Article 1 was a vote to transfer $29,882.13 from available funds to pay for the final change order for the Plympton Police Station project. Selectman Mark Russo reduced the amount requested to transfer from available funds to pay unpaid bills from the prior fiscal year in Article 2 from $6,897 to $2,153.09. Article 3 was a vote to transfer $10,000 from the overlay surplus fund to the OPED retirement fund. Article 4 was a vote to transfer up to $50,000 from the overlay surplus fund into the town building and maintenance emergency fund. Article 5 included several line item transfers in the fy20 budget. Article 6 was a vote to transfer from the sale of town owned property $8,100 raised from the sale of the Fire Department’s modular home to cover the costs for Fire Department repairs. Article 7 was for $7,000 to replace the Fire Department ladders that were rendered out of service due to safety issues. All transfers passed.
DeCristofano then returned to the annual resuming with Article 5 to transfer $33,000 from free cash to conduct fiscal audits for fy21. Article 6 allowed the town to borrow in anticipation of reimbursement $169,092 as the state’s share of the cost of work under Chapter 90.
DeCristofano then read Articles 7, 8, 9, 14, 15, 17, and 19 which all proposed funding various things from the capital stabilization fund. Article 7 was for $200,000 for road construction and resurfacing. Article 8 was for $17,700.30 to make the annual lease payment on the Highway Department truck. Article 9 was for $30,000 to purchase a flail mower. Article 14 was for $6,950 to make the first payment to lease/purchase 10 digital portable radios for the Police Department. Article 15 authorized the Board of Selectmen to enter into an agreement to lease/purchase fiber optic equipment and allowed for $22,000 to make the first payment. Article 17 was for $48,90.05 to pay the lease payments for the Fire Department vehicles. Article 19 was for $16,724.23 to pay the lease payment for the Fire Department command vehicle. All motions passed.
Article 10 included multiple requests from the Community Preservation Committee for fy21. Articles 11, 12, and 13 were all requests for the Assessors office. Article 16 was a request for $340,000 to purchase an ambulance. Article 18 was for $10,000 to purchase new personal protective equipment for the Fire Department, Article 20 was a request for $12,000 from free cash to provide the required 5 percent match for a FEMA grant to replace a brush truck. Article 21 was for $8,000 to purchase or repair self-contained breathing apparatus. Article 22 was for $14,000 to fund Plympton’s share of a part-time school resource officer at the middle school. Article 23 was for $100,000 for the replacement of the roof and insulation at the Highway Department building.
Article 24 authorizes the Board of Selectmen to enter into a mutually beneficial agreement with the town of Middleborough for access to the parcel of land at 0 Soule St. to provide (among other things) parking and access to 2 Brooks Preserve Conservation land. Russo described it as a “win-win-win” for those involved. Russo made a motion to refer Article 25, which would amend zoning by-laws regarding floodplains, back to the Planning Board rather than voting on it. Articles 24, 26, 27, and 28 all had to do with the recodification of bylaws. Articles 24, 26, 27, and 28 all passed as did Russo’s motion regarding Article 25.
Articles 29, 30, 31, and 32 were all in regard to payments on the following solar projects: 29 Brook St Solar, Upland Road Solar, Plympton Lake St. Solar, and Main St. solar – all passed.
Russo asked to pass over both Articles 33 and 34 and his motions were approved. Article 35 was a vote to adjourn the town meeting until the town election.