On March 28, Mattapoisett Town Administrator Mike Gagne asked the Mattapoisett Board of Selectmen to support a sum of $10,000 – a sum that will need to be approved during the upcoming spring town meeting – to hire an outside consultant to study expenditures and revenues for the past several years at the ORR School District.
Concerned that a recent accrual report and study completed by KMS Actuaries declared the OPEB liability for the school district at $21 million this year, and with no plan on the part of the school district to fund OPEB, Gagne believes that time is of the essence.
Gagne said, “I feel strongly after seven years and budget cycles we need to step back and look at finances, funding, revenues of the school district.”
“This is the greatest, most significant issue to address for the next eight to ten years,” he told the board.
Gagne reminded the selectmen that several years ago, the town had set up budget line items to set aside money in trust accounts for the local school and town employee retirement plans. “We now have after six years $1.6 million towards that liability,” he said.
But Gagne stressed the need for OPEB to be a budgetary line item at the school district as well.
“This [liability] is only going to get bigger and bigger,” Gagne said.
Selectman Tyler Macallister said, “I think it’s necessary … we need to take a look at getting the business of the school healthy.”
Selectman Paul Silva asked how the OPEB liability was split between the Tri-Towns. Gagne wasn’t sure how that would work, but thought the study would help to ferret that piece out.
Silva said, “We need to know what that number is … what if Mattapoisett puts money away but the other towns don’t … we need to answer those questions.”
Continuing on, Silva said, “It’s not rocket science … when you have a $6 million budget, when you have salaries going up four percent per year – you are behind the eight ball.”
Gagne said, “They went to school choice … it’s a safety net this year … but what about next year?” He called it a severe deficit situation.
When asked why the school committee members repeated that salaries only went up two percent but the towns say it was more, Silva responded, “Step increases … they only talk about the contractual increase … when you put the two together the raises are four percent.”
Regarding the OPEB obligations, Silva asked, “What about Old Colony?” Gagne indicated that should be part of the larger conversation.
Macallister said, “Even without the other towns, we need to get ready.”
Gagne stated, “It’s paramount to know how we got into this, and we need to plan and stick to the plan.”
All three selectmen supported an article to appropriate money for a study. Gagne will discuss Mattapoisett’s plan with Marion and Rochester to try and gain their support as well.
In other bleak budget news, Library Director Susan Pizzolato reported that the FY18 federal budget draft cuts $3.2 million dollars from library funding.
Pizzolato said in a prepared statement, “The current draft of the federal Fiscal FY 2018 budget eliminates funding for the Institute of Museum and Library Services, known as IMLS. The IMLS, along with appropriations made available through the Library Services and Technology Act, supports libraries across the country. This year, the Mass. Board of Library Commissioners received approximately 3.2 million dollars through the Library Services and Technology Act, from IMLS, to operate and to pass funding onto libraries directly through grants, and indirectly through services and products. IMLS ensures equitable access to quality library services. Eliminating the IMLS would mean significant staffing cuts to the Mass. Board of Library Commissioners, greatly reducing their capacity to function. Their ability to administer the programs and services that we benefit from, here in Mattapoisett, would be impacted negatively.”
Pizzolato said that since 2003, Mattapoisett had received $43,200 from the fund that had been used in a variety of ways such as supporting the “tweens and teens” program and science programs such as Backyard STEM ‘Science is Everywhere’ backpacks. She said that if this federal cut is approved, the impact will be profound on services throughout the Commonwealth.
Gagne said that letters should be sent to Senator Elizabeth Warren and state Representative William Keating informing them of the town’s concerns and asking for their support.
The meeting was not all bad news. Jodi Bauer came before the board asking that they grant use of the town’s transfer station for the annual Pilgrim Sands Trail Rider events planned for August and September. She said that funds generated from these races go to various local needs such as equipment for the police and fire departments and nonprofit organizations such as Helping Hands and Hooves.
Bauer also asked permission to hold a second Doggie-Walk-A-Thon on Saturday, August 26, an activity sponsored by Mattapoisett Boy Scout Troop 53 with Eagle Scout Freemin Bauer as coordinator. The event will raise money towards a local dog park. The selectmen approved the event.
Tree Committee Chairman Sandy Hering discussed a plaque for the tree planted at the town hall by the Mattapoisett Women’s Club in commemoration of their Diamond Jubilee. Gagne said that usually a flat granite marker is used, but in this case they deserved something more to honor all that the organization has done for the town and its residents. Hering and Gagne will work together to find a suitable signage.
Police Chief Mary Lyons introduced the selectmen to Ross Lacasse, a new reserve officer and EMT. Lyons said Lacasse was a graduate of Bishop Stang High School and University of New Hampshire with a degree in sociology. Lyons said another new hire, Nathan Rock, who could not be present, was now onboard and performing in “flying colors.”
Earlier in the evening, the selectmen voted to accept a settlement in the amount of $130,000 from Tamko Roof for the defective roofing materials that failed at the library expansion the first winter after installation. Gagne said the full repair was being offered in the settlement. The selectmen moved to accept the offer.
Michael Ward received approval to move to the next stages of securing an aquaculture permit for oyster growing in Nasketucket Bay.
Gagne reported that April was Autism Awareness month. In recognition of those with autism and their families, blue light bulbs may be displayed in outside lighting. Mattapoisett Town Hall will install a blue light on Friday.
Mel Pacheco, administrative assistant to the selectmen, said that a fundraiser for Rob Daener will be held at the Knight of Columbus Hall sponsored in partnership with the Lions Club on April 8 at 5:30 pm. The event will include dinner and live music. Money raised from the event will help fund a wheelchair that will allow Daener to experience standing.
The next meeting of the Mattapoisett Board of Selectmen is scheduled for April 11 at 7:00 pm at the town hall.
By Marilou Newell