Chair Morey called the meeting to order at 6:35 pm
Present: Committee Members Donahue, Morey, Nash, Roberts, Vogt;
Town Administrator Sanders
I: BUDGET REVIEW AND OTHER BUSINESS
Filling in blanks on budget line items, FinCom agreed to recommend level-funding for Building Inspector lines since there was no request for change.
Earth Removal Board (Line 95) was used at 50% for last year, so FinCom agreed to recommend cutting in half to $50.
The Lyman Building line is still blank. Ms. Sanders reported that the structural engineer she’d hired for a preliminary look at the building had requested further inspection which will require removal of some floor joists.
Ms. Sanders said Jeanie Lindquist of the Open Space Planning Committee requested time to make a presentation to the FinCom. FinCom is interested in the presentation, but would like to postpone until budget work is closer to completion.
The minutes for meetings held February 7, 10, 17, 21, and 24 were submitted and accepted as read.
II: DISCUSSION WITH SELECTMEN
Representing the Board of Selectmen were Mike Reggio and Mike McCallum
Ms. Vogt expressed FinCom’s wish to hear Selectmen’s rationale and priorities on town budget for 2000/2001. She said the FinCom was interested at this point in getting an overview, not with examining the budget in detail since FinCom had not yet begun serious analysis of budget requests. Discussion on topics of concern followed:
Mr. McCallum said he has started negotiating toward purchasing additional land to add to town cemeteries and was also concerned with finding funds to purchase open space for the future.
The Police Chief budget request figures have been difficult for both FinCom and Selectmen to follow and Ms. Sanders agreed to meet with the chief to hammer out more concrete numbers. Of concern is Chief Victoria’s request for two new full time officers in a warrant article and how the resulting department overtimes, as well as vacation and sick-day coverages are calculated in line-items. In addition, the ongoing union contract negotiations make wage projections difficult.
Chair Morey explained the chief felt need for more full time personnel because of difficulty providing 24 hr/7 day a week coverage with reserve officers. He said the chief’s figures indicate that additional full time personnel will reduce overtime and improve management and coverage with relatively little additional cost.
Mr. McCallum suggested that FinCom should fund the department, and the warrant articles, with the same overall increase as the rest of town budget, since increases determined by current union contract negotiation were impossible to predict before town meeting deadlines. The town may then need a special town meeting to approve changes when the negotiations are complete.
In answer to questions, Ms. Sanders said the union contract negotiations were about half finished, with another five or six sessions to go. She said she felt it was not appropriate nor necessarily advantageous to the town to push for a hasty resolution.
There was general discussion about recent-past issues with the police department when 28 officers left in two years,. Since the interim chief has been in place and new management policies implemented, there has been improved morale and no departures on the force since October. Both committees were anxious to understand better the chief’s proposed personnel schedule and overall budget.
Fire Department/EMT Chief Position
Ms. Vogt said FinCom were interested to know why selectmen were supporting this new position, which effectively doubles the Fire Chief position salary.
BOS said since Chief Fitzgerald was retiring it seemed a good time to reevaluate the position and try to do something about the lack of EMT coverage in the town during daytime hours. Mr. McCallum said he was concerned that we could not change a job description once someone was hired and should town decide it needs fire chief to be full time, or cover as EMT for part of job, it would not be possible to do so in future.
Discussion centered on difficulty of sending town-owned ambulance to emergency scene since two EMTs must be dispatched with ambulance at all times. Ambulance could go to scene with only one EMT, but cannot transport without a driver/EMT as well as second EMT to remain with injured. The problems of dual responsibility of fire chief and EMT means there is really no guarantee of two-EMT availability without two full time daylight EMTs on the town payroll.
Mr. McCallum said the position was problematical and that he was uneasy no matter what the decision since the potential fire chief candidates from within department are not interested in a full time position, and much of fire department is not interested combining with ambulance department.
Mr. Donahue said he had concerns about combining any functions since abilities in one job don’t necessarily translate to abilities in another. He expressed FinCom’s feeling that the position, and indeed all emergency services for the town need further study before a new position is created.
Mr. Donahue also expressed concerns at this year’s requests from the Fire Chief—for additional firemen, equipment, etc.—since after major expense for a new engine last year the FinCom had been promised modest requests for this fiscal year.
Selectmen said they had plans to meet with fire department personnel to discuss the fire chief position in more detail.
FinCom and Selectmen briefly reviewed requests from highway superintendent for maintaining and upgrading equipment.
Ms. Sanders clarified that all town-owned vehicles are insured for replacement at depreciated value.
The Ashby Free Library
There was discussion on the Library Trustees’ requests for $250,000 for property purchase toward the major building plan for the library. Ms. Vogt expressed concerns that basic needs for town buildings were not yet in place—including potable water and approved septic systems for most town buildings—and that it seemed a difficult time to entertain new building until we had a more secure infrastructure—including making the town hall ADA compliant. She said although FinCom members appreciate the trustees work and were attracted to the library plan, it seemed a stretch to consider it at this time.
Mr. McCallum agreed the initial expense seemed problematic and risky and he hoped there might be a way for the town to buy an option on the parsonage and its land, rather than buying outright, locking in price for a few years, and continuing to seek additional funds for the library project. There would need to be purchase of backland for septic and well in any case, but that price should be more reasonable for current budget restraints and as seed money for the bigger project.
There was related discussion about the ongoing issues of bringing the Town Hall into ADA compliance by pursuit of the grants Ms. Sanders has been researching. FinCom restated a request for an overall ADA plan for the town.
Mr. McCallum said the town might consider financing the library then using the library as meeting space while other buildings, including Lyman Building, were brought up to compliance.
Ms. Sanders agreed to meet with Police Chief to clarify his requests. FinCom would go over budget in detail at next meeting and provide initial recommendations to BOS. BOS were invited to return for more discussion after they reviewed FinCom recommendations.
III. ADDITIONAL FINCOM BUSINESS
Mr. Morey asked for Finance Committee action on a request to transfer $260 from the Reserve Fund to cover costs for labor counsel. Motion was made, seconded, and unanimously accepted.
Lillian Whitney joined the meeting to make the following report:
1, Increases in health insurance for 2001/2002 would not be more than 6.5%
2. NMRSD assessment will be available March 15
3. Monty Tech assessment will be available March 1.
4. Board of Health trash bag income total for fiscal 2000 to date total close to $4000.
5. BOH has not yet transferred money to town for unemployment; this line appears about $1000 short.
Meeting adjourned 9:45 pm.