By Beth David, Editor
The Fairhaven Selectboard discussed the FY 18 budget at a special meeting on Monday, 3/6. Town Administrator Mark Rees came on board in January of 2016, when the budget process was already underway. This year’s budget is the first one he has created from the start of the process, and he has recommended some changes.
Those include funding the Recreation Center/Department entirely from general fund instead of using an enterprise fund. Enterprise funds are dedicated accounts that can only be used for a certain purpose or department. All money from the rec center goes into the fund, but it has never been enough to run the department.
Mr. Rees is recommending that Recreation be treated just like any other department, with money from dues and other fees going into the general fund. He said the town will still keep track of how much money the rec center generates.
Mr. Rees also budgeted money for a Human Resources Director to handle personnel issues. He said department heads are spending an “inordinate amount of time on personnel issues.”
Selectboard member Bob Espindola asked about other towns of similar size and if they have separate departments for HR. Mr. Rees said he would look into it.
The HR Director would be responsible for town hall departments, but Mr. Rees said he would ask the public works department if they would consider signing a memorandum of understanding to include the DPW.
Mr. Rees said the Personnel Director, aka HR Director, was mandated by the bylaws changes when the town switched to a Town Administrator form of government.
He is also recommending that the Planning Department and the Harbormaster share an adminstrative Assistant. They share an office now.
Mr. Rees’s budget also recommends $7,000 for the Wellness Commitee. He said the WC saves the town a lot of money by helping to keep employees healthy, which in turn, keeps insurance costs low.
Anyone who has been in town hall for a late meeting, or has at any time experienced its finnicky alarm system will appreciate the $3,000 to upgrade to a “modern system.”
The budget also funds the reorganization of the police department, which will now include two lieutenants and a captain. The new makeup of the department will be 24 patrol officers, five sergeants, two lieutenants, one captain and one chief.
In an exchange that began because of a point of confusion, Mr. Espindola asked if the salaries of town employees would no longer be available as it has in the past. Mr. Rees noted that it is the Finance Committee report to Town Meeting that includes the listing.
Mr. Rees said he does not recommend the practice but each town has its own traditions.
Mr. Freitas made it clear he does not like the practice or the tradition.
“It’s not helping a lot of people,” said Mr. Freitas, adding that his salary is available online beause he works at Mass. Maritime, and he does not like it. He said contractors may try to take advantage of people if their salaries are known.
Mr. Espoindola, however, made it clear that he believes the public has a right to know how their tax dollars are being spent.
“That’s municipal life,” said Mr. Espindola. “It’s one of the things you have to deal with.”
Mr. Rees’s budget also moves the Animal Control Officer from town hall supervision to police department supervision. He made it clear that the ACO will not have powers like a police officer, just the supervision of the job and department will be under police.
Mr. Espindola asked about regionalization of the shelter.
“I think we have a very robust animal control operation in town,” said Mr. Rees, adding that other communities use the shelter, so it acts as a regional shelter already.
The Fire Department will see some changes, too, if Town Meeting passes Mr. Rees’s budget. He has funded an additional firefighter/paramedic for the day shift.
Deputy Fire Chief Todd Correia said the position would allow the department to stay staffed-up for seven days instead of five.
In a letter to the board, Fire Chief Timothy Francis said the department answered 3500 calls for service in 2016, a five percent increase from 2015. He said they are “maxed out” on the number of calls they can handle at current staffing levels. The town used mutual aid for 108 calls in 2016.
Another change in the budget would create a separate account for Special Education with money from the general fund. Mr. Rees said that the new account would cover some costs not reimbursed by the state
The board also discussed plans to create a public safety ramp at Union Wharf. The spot would be a permanent spot for the Harbormaster and police and fire boats to be tied up. The boats are now split up at various private marinas in town. Although those arrangements have so far not cost the town money, Mr. Freitas noted that if the spot is needed by a private company, they can kick out the town.
“I think it’s a great spot,” said Mr. Freitas.
Harbormaster Timothy Cox said that the HM boat used to be there, but because a fence was installed to protect the boats, the public was cut off from using the public boat ramp. After the public spoke out and complained about being shut off, the gate was removed. He said it is back to “transient use.”
Mr. Cox is researching the surveillance cameras at Union Wharf, what they have and what they might need, including what New Bedford has on the other side of the harbor.
He said as the renovations to Union Wharf have been going on, they have been finding a mish mash of cameras and software systems, and they do not even know where some of them transmit to.
He said the state Department of Environmental Protection has infrared cameras for oil spills that the town might be able to use for security. It is too complicated for him to get it all together for this year’s Town Meeting. He is hoping to have something ready for next year.
“So many things have been added to that camera [system],” said Mr. Cox. “We are actually finding cameras we didn’t even know we had in the harbor.”
In other spending, Mr. Rees is recommending $9600 from the general fund be used for a new automated parking system at Hoppy’s Landing.
He is also recommending $5,000 for the Economic Development Committee, but Mr. Espindola advocated for more. He said that committee might need to use consultants and $5,000 will not go very far.
The CIP financing plan and Mr. Rees’s budget presentation are on the town’s website at http://www. fairhaven-ma.gov/ Find “Documents and Contracts” on the left and then FY18 Budget Documents.
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