WHATELY — The need for a new town administrator was announced on the town’s website on Feb. 14, Valentine’s Day. That may be a subtle signal that town officials want someone they like as much as Brian Domina.

Domina, the current administrator, will work his last day for the town on March 4. He said his replacement should have finance and budget preparation experience since it’s such a significant part of the job.

“The way this town is set up, the town administrator is heavily involved in the finances and budget preparation,” Domina said. “What we plan for today happens tomorrow. If you’re not focused on that you can get some surprises, especially in finance.”

Domina will be taking a position as lead administrator in Hampden. The move will consolidate family activities. His wife works in Agawam and one of his children has activities outside Franklin County.

The Selectboard discussed hiring a new administrator at the Feb. 13 meeting. That’s when members realized the first question facing them. Interim or short-term?

“There are people who do things like be interim town administrators,” said board member Joyce Palmer Fortune. “And for our budget period it’s important that we have … someone who’s really on top of it.”

Palmer Fortune recognized that amidst the budget process for fiscal year 2025, which starts July 1, town officials will need a seasoned administrator. It may not be possible to find one. Domina’s replacement, a candidate who understands budgeting and the timeline leading up to Town Meeting, are in very short supply in Western Massachusetts.

Southampton, somewhat larger in population than Whately, began a search to hire a new administrator last July. The Selectboard offered the position to a candidate last month, after a seven month search process that drew 15 applications. Eight applicants were qualified, three finalists were named, but one dropped out.

Southampton dealt with a finalist dropping out of contention in a prior job search. It’s a sign, according to Bernard Lynch, principal at Community Paradigm Associates, an employment company hired to help Southampton find a new administrator, that good employees are few and hard to find.

“It’s a very challenging time right now … a real period of change for town administrators,” Lynch said. “We see that in the numbers of candidates … [and] in candidates pulling out of searches.”

Lynch said that about three-quarters of towns hired a new lead administrator in the last four years. Now, those employees are in new jobs and looking to dig in. Other administrators, like Ed Gibson in Southampton and Marlene Michonski in Hatfield, have retired or will be retiring at the end of this calendar year. That increases the available jobs and further tightens the field of candidates.

Can Whately find a candidate in the next two months? Or will it take six or seven months? Board members discussed the likelihood of finding an interim administrator, who would stay in the job longer, or someone to oversee town functions just through Town Meeting.

Discussion revealed that Palmer Fortune knows several possible candidates for the town administrator position, though it isn’t clear until a contact is made whether a candidate would be available short-term or long. An administrator to assist the town for a couple of months may be a retired administrator interested in a part-time or temporary arrangement.

Board member Fred Baron counseled a quick effort to tap into regional partners, such as Community Paradigm, or clearinghouses for municipal employees. The Mass. Municipal Association advertises positions and plays a very visible role in the industry.

“Let’s just set up a procedure … to get the vacancy open [and] publicized on whatever grapevines that serve around town administrators,” Baron said. “We should also probably set up a procedure to establish a search committee.”

“I really think we should hire somebody who can come on immediately,” Palmer Fortune said.

“It’s a two-prong problem,” Baron said. “We need an immediate person and we need an interim person.”

A candidate offering short-term assistance may be homegrown, a current member of town government. Domina recommended that department heads be represented on the search committee. A committee was established that consists of Baron, chair of the Selectboard, Police Chief James Sevigny Jr. and Treasurer/Collector Amy Schrader.

Domina was upbeat about the likelihood the town will find a new administrator. He said Whately is a great place to work and that will be recognized. He was thankful for his time in the town.

Domina said, “I appreciate the opportunity and I wish everybody the best.”