Town Reviews Budgets as Town Meeting Approaches

            It’s no small task to prepare financial documents, warrant articles, bylaw language, and numerous departmental budgets in advance of the Annual Town Meeting. Mattapoisett Town Hall has been buzzing with action as department heads and committees get ready for the big night on May 3 at 6:30 pm in the ORRHS auditorium.

            On April 3, the Finance Committee sat down with Administrator of Assessing Kathleen Costello, whose duties also include managing the information technology systems utilized by town departments.

            One major software package was discussed – Geographic Information System Mapping Technology, known as GIS.

            Costello said the program was being successfully used by the Building Department and the Accessor’s Office. GIS integrates data allowing real-time information exchanges. She said that while staff members are out in the field performing various functions, GIS gives them timely critical data via handheld tablets. Also using the system with great success is the harbormaster’s office, she added.

            The GIS costs around $24,500 Costello said. With the addition of the Board of Health and other upgrades, costs would rise to approximately $54,000. In-house technical expertise has been instrumental in keeping costs reasonable, she added, and Costello envisions a point in the future when the Police and Fire Departments might also be tied into the program.

            Also meeting with the Finance Committee on this night was Highway Superintendent Barry Denham. While a wide range of needs, projects, and projections were discussed, things got a bit bogged down when Denham brought up the maintenance needs of the Town Barn located on Mendell Road.

            Previous town meetings had appropriated funds for some items like new windows and wash down drainage, and some of the appropriations have been used while about $217,000 has not.    According to Denham, a complete building improvement program that includes pending upgrades and other needed renovations were estimated at $600,000 by Cape Building Systems; however, FinCom didn’t understand why the unspent money wasn’t subtracted from that sum.

            “It important to cost the balance of the work,” versus including work previously identified and appropriated, Town Administrator Michael Gagne said.

            Of road improvement projects for which the town had anticipated receiving Massachusetts Department of Transportation funding, Gagne said, “Most projects have been kicked into 2023.” That included the village streets improvements proposed for Main, Water, and Beacon Streets.

            On April 5, the Mattapoisett Board of Selectmen talked numbers holding a working meeting to discuss the ORR School Committee’s proposal for a $2 million bonding request for improvements to outdoor athletic fields and the auditorium lighting, with Marion picking up 28 percent of the costs, Mattapoisett 34 percent, and Rochester 36 percent, figures based on student enrollment, according to Gagne.

            Gagne said it was necessary to have that request processed through Capital Planning and ranked with other needs presented on the 10-year investment plan. Selectman Jordan Collyer also questioned if the project had been cycled through the ORR capital needs process.

            There are still questions that need answering, said Gagne, and those questions will be sent to the ORR School Committee via letter. He plans on asking them to meet with the Capital Planning Committee to ascertain where this proposal ranks in the ORR Capital Plan.

            The Selectmen expressed concern that a project of this size would have a negative financial impact in spite of the shared costs.

            “It’s a borrowing that will require a two-thirds vote,” Gagne explained, saying that all three towns would have to agree. “My feeling is it is going to be a debt service,” he stated, adding, “you do not have the capital in the levy to fund this.”

            Mattapoisett Library Director Susan Pizzolato brought forward some library personnel needs, and she explained that the library and the community would benefit from the hiring of a paraprofessional, a position that had formally been part of the library structure, but was split into two part-time positions. She expressed the importance of service continuity, especially with needed computer upgrades and ongoing management of consumer accounts.

            “We have two floors and are open 43 hours a week,” she said of the demands on her staff. “I’m not proposing to keep all my part-time positions,” she explained, but she said needed to plan on how to best to serve a community with increasing needs. Part-time positions are currently paid $17.30 per hour. The full-time paraprofessional was estimated at $20.25.

            Pizzolato also said that she wished to have the library open on Monday evenings to better serve the needs of the community. This would also allow the library to receive intra-library deliveries with greater expedience.

            Another department coming before the selectmen with personnel needs was Jacki Coucci, director of the Mattapoisett Council on Aging (COA).

            Coucci said the position of full-time Administrative Coordinator is still vacant, but that several strong resumes had been received. She also said that she wished to upgrade the front desk staffing from senior volunteers to a part-time staff member. Although the work performed by the seniors had been appreciated and well done, she expressed concerns that the discrepancies in skill levels made it difficult to provide adequate customer service. And while she wished to have at least one senior helping to staff the front desk, a professional part-time clerk was warranted, said Coucci. Hourly wages were estimated at $14,231.

            In other areas of the department, Coucci pointed out the increasing demand of COA services, especially for rides to medical appointments.

            Earlier in the evening, Carlos DaSousa, chairman of the Marine Advisory Board (MAB), presented a committee report intended to demonstrate how the Waterfront Enterprise Fund could support the hiring of a full-time harbormaster.

            The MAB drafted the FY20 budget that included a full-time harbormaster, four part-time assistant harbormasters, one wharfinger, and expanded hours of service at approximately $183,450, an increase of $98,650 from FY19, which DaSousa assured the selectmen could be funded by the enterprise fund.       DaSousa explained that revenue for FY19 will come in at $223,517 and FY20 projections should land at approximately $271,317.

            Selectman Paul Silva expressed concern that 50 percent of the budget is salaries, “And that goes up every year, but fees don’t go up every year,” Silva said.

            The selectmen agreed that some staffing adjustments could bring down personnel costs.

            On the matter of staffing the new pump-out boat with costs for that operation being covered up to 75 percent by the state, DaSousa said the town’s share would be about $16,688. The issue of hiring additional staff was debated with Collyer, who said the new full-time harbormaster and their staff will be expected to perform those duties.

            “Part of the point was to get staff out on the water,” Collyer said, adding that at the end of the first year, the MAB and Harbormaster could review staffing needs.

            Gagne said tracking expenses through the boating season would help to establish manpower needs. 

             “Once we have a full-time harbormaster, we’ll be eligible for grants,” said Collyer.

            While wrapping up his comments, Gagne said a meeting had been held with the Finance Committee and the Conservation Commission on the topic of adding new fees for services, and he confirmed that the town could do so without a local wetlands bylaw.

            According to Gagne, a 1997 state law allows cities and towns to set fees for specific services that benefited individuals. He said he would work with town counsel to develop a warrant article asking the voters to allow the Conservation Commission to develop a fee schedule for requests for determinations of applicability and certificates of compliance, as well as other in-field services. He said the department currently cannot cover its own $62,000 annual operating costs.

            The next meeting of the Mattapoisett Finance Committee will be meeting on April 10 at 5:00 pm in the Town Hall conference room.

Mattapoisett Finance Committee

Mattapoisett Board of Selectmen

By Marilou Newell

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