On May 14 the Mattapoisett Board of Selectmen discussed how and if they had the authority to implement fines or other disciplinary actions should businesses violate conditions imposed by Governor Baker that were to be updated on May 18. The specific issue is the need to wear face coverings inside places of businesses.
Selectman Paul Silva expressed his concerns saying that, in the many years he has served the town, the number of calls he has received from people concerned that others are not wearing masks in public outpaces all other topics. “I’ve heard more about people, businesses not following the governor’s orders than anything else,” he said.
Silva asked Town Administrator Mike Lorenco what he had learned in recent discussions with the town’s counsel on this topic – does the Board of Selectmen have the authority to impose fines?
Lorenco said that his office had also been receiving calls from concerned residents. Silva said he wanted to come up with a policy, one that would notify businesses if they were in violation, giving them the opportunity to correct problems, followed by increasingly more stringent steps including the possibility of license revocation in the event rules continued to be breached.
Lorenco shared the opinion of town counsel that the Board of Selectmen does not have the authority to impose fines but can call into question operating permits. “Only the Board of Health can impose fines,” Lorenco stated, “but you can hold hearings on licenses.” He further explained that current bylaws do not spell out specific fines for specific, non-criminal-action causes, thus the BOS does not have that authority.
Last week Marion’s Board of Selectmen voted to give its Chief of Police, John Garcia, the authority to issue fines on defiant businesses or individuals but only as a last resort.
Regarding masks, Lorenco said that a new explanatory flier was being passed out to businesses that spells out “No Mask – No Enter” and other signage that business owners can use to help educate themselves and the public.
“I still think we should have a policy, three step policy,” Silva reiterated. Selectman Jordan Collyer concurred. Collyer said, “Maybe three steps, first a verbal warning with a letter outlining the verbal warning, then a written warning, then a hearing with maybe a suspension.” Collyer said that if someone calls to report a business those “complaints” must be in writing to ensure fairness to the business owner. “We are going to need something firm to avoid challenges,” he said. The selectmen agreed that electronic messages from the public with contact details would be acceptable. “It’s absolutely necessary to let businesses know so they can address it, so we don’t have to,” said Silva. Collyer asked Lorenco to draft the steps and have them reviewed by town counsel before moving forward.
On the matter of fines, Lorenco said the Board of Health does have that authority, but the selectmen decided to wait until after May 18 to see if further measures would be necessary, “Let’s wait and see if the governor’s recommendations are sufficient,” Silva said.
Earlier in the meeting the selectmen voted to open the spring town meeting warrant for petition articles until May 28. Currently the spring town meeting is scheduled for June 22.
Financial implications from COVID-19 remain high. During an email conversation with former town administrator, now town consultant Mike Gagne, he reported to The Wanderer that the original FY21 operating budget had been sent back to all town departments in an effort to trim expenses. He wrote, “Local schools has trimmed their budget, they are at the lowest percentage increase I have seen in many years. Revenues that will be down, motor vehicle excise taxes, expect state aid to schools will be down, permits, license and fees down, earnings on interest.” While the primary source of revenue for the Tri-Town communities comes from real estate taxes, both Gagne and Lorenco stressed the importance of keeping a tight rein on expenses.
Lorenco said during the May 14 meeting, “We are reworking the budgets to level spending wherever.” He said that monies were being redistributed in the updated budget-planning process, that numbers were being verified and that further cuts might be needed. Thinking ahead, Lorenco said, “…budgets and savings aren’t going to stop in June; we are going to take a conservative approach to hiring and spending in case things are prolonged.” He said that fiscal impacts from COVID-19 are likely to be felt through 2022.
Silva said that state aid to the town generally comes in at $1,500,000 on a $28,000,000 budget. Lorenco noted the state is facing a heavy fiscal burden. “The state’s April budget came in $2.3 billion under budget… I expect a lot of financial trouble at the state and federal level.” He said it is possible hiring will be cut and capital expenditures trimmed. Collyer agreed that wherever possible savings will be sought, “We don’t want to overshoot our growth… we’re taking a hardline approach and may cut back our 2.5-percent levy.” He said that, should fiscal matters improve, the fall town meeting would be an opportunity to add back expense line items that were cut in the spring town meeting. But for now expenditures needed to be cutback.
The next meeting of the Mattapoisett Board of Selectmen was not been scheduled at press time.
Mattapoisett Board of Selectmen
By Marilou Newell