By Beth David, Editor
The Fairhaven Select Board held a budget meeting on Wednesday 3/1/23, with the Finance Committee, and also held a regular SB meeting on 3/6. At the budget meeting, the two boards received an update from Rich Bienvenue, who is the Assistant Town Administrator/Finance Director for the town of Eastham, Mass., and has been helping out a day or so a week while Fairhaven searches for a Finance Director.
Mr. Bienvenue told the board that a couple of things had changed on the revenue side, making the projected $750K budget shortfall drop to $450K. In order to balance the budget, he proposed an override of the Proposition 2 1/2 tax law to cover the $450K. An override requires a majority vote at Town Meeting, and a ballot initiative. The override, if it passes, will increase taxes by about $47 per residence.
Mr. Bienvenue said the preliminary state budget included more for the school department than first projected, and the regular state aid to cities and towns in the governor’s projected budget (the Cherry Sheet) was higher than first estimated.
This still leaves a $450K shortfall that must be addressed.
Mr. Bienvenue said he estimated use of local receipts (building permits, excise taxes) at 92.5% which is high and does not leave much cushion if the economy softens. It also means a decrease in free cash, which is used for capital expenses. Free cash is what is left over after local receipt money is spent, and money left in department budgets from previous years.
The cannabis host agreement money may also be changed at the state level, leaving that amount in doubt; and the excess capacity at SEMASS, the waste-to-energy plant where Fairhaven’s trash goes, which the town could sell for revenue, is also change, so that revenue source is not longer available.
Increases in the budget include four new firefighters, partially funded by an increase in ambulance receipts; addition of a part-time finance intern; maintenance position at the public works department; increased costs due to inflation; and an unknown in the salary budgets because not all union contracts have been settled.
The two boards are holding extra joint meetings to try to figure out how to fix the shortfall.
At the Select Board’s regular meeting on Monday, Town Administrator Angie Lopes Ellison announced that the police department had hired five new police officers and one dispatcher. She said they are filling vacant positions and are also in anticipation of retirements. Three of the new hires will need to go to the academy, so they will not be on patrol for several months.
The board also voted on the aquaculture license renewal for Matt Loo. At the last meeting, Ms. Ellison told the board that town counsel had advised her that only town meeting could issue the license. Mr. Loo had disputed that.
Ms. Ellison said she looked into it further and got an opinion from Mass. Wildlife and provided information back to town counsel. Ms. Ellison said TC thought it was a land lease. Licensing does not need TM approval, the SB is the licensing authority.
The board voted to renew Mr. Loo’s license for ten years, citing Mr. Loo’s record of being a good steward on the water for the past six+ years, and language that allows the board to revisit the agreement in case of any violations.
FinCom member Terry Szala asked the board if they would authorize her to get the employee salary list that is customarily included in the Town Meeting Warrant/FinCom report, and print it. Ms. Szala said she was concerned that the information was not going to be included in this year’s Town Meeting materials. She said she had not received an answer to her emails.
Ms. Ellison noted that she was researching what other communities do. Ms. Szala countered that the employe salaries have been included in the Fairhaven TM materials for at least 20 years.
Ms. Ellison said it is all part of the “budget book,” and said it was a “level of redundancy.”
Ms. Szala said she felt that if she herself did not take on the task, that it would not be printed and included in the TM materials.
Select Board Chairperson Stasia Powers assured Ms. Szala and the public that the information would indeed be in the Town Meeting Warrant/Finance Committee book
“It’ll be in the book,” said Ms. Powers. “She’ll take care of it.”
Ms. Szala said somehow the information got taken out.
Ms. Ellison said she would look at what the town has done in the past.
“I sent you a copy of it,” said Ms. Szala.
“It’s going to be in the book,” said Vice Chair Leon Correy.s
Click here to download the 3/9/23 issue: 03-09-23 MissingWoman
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