Minutes of the Finance Committee
January 13, 2001
Budget Request Reviews for FY02

In attendance: members Farley, Nash, Leclerc, Roberts, Vogt. Also present Selectmen Flinkstrom, McCallum, and McMurray, and Town Administrator Sanders.

Meeting opened at 9 a.m. Before each budget review Ms. Vogt reviewed the facts of 3.6% projected increase in revenues and 12.11% increase in budget requests as well as the looming possibility of noncertification of free cash, meaning budget will have to be cut by ~$600,000 from requested line items alone.

Dog Officer (Allen Phillips)

Ms. Vogt thanked Mr. Phillips for presenting a reasonable and timely budget proposal. FinCom appreciated the fact that he limited his budget increases to 3% (salary, expenses, and equipment) which was a reasonable request in order to keep up with inflation.

Mr. Phillips told FinCom that he had thought about asking for funds to pay for an assistant, but he decided not to at this point. When he is on vacation or indisposed, he has been paying an assistant out of his own pocket. Mr. McMurray commented that it might be a good idea to fund a line item, if possible, to have some money to fund an assistant. This idea is under consideration by the BOS. Mr. Phillips also cleared up any rumors that he is planning to retire. He emphatically stated that he has no such plans to retire this year, and when he does formulate such plans, he will give the town administrator a clear 6-month notice. He told the FinCom and BOS that his kennels would be usable for another 5 years; at that point, the town would need to come up with some additional kennel space.

Highway Department (William Davis)

Ms. Vogt thanked Mr. Davis for submitting his budget on time and assured him that FinCom had reviewed it prior to this meeting. Points of discussion were as follows:

Salary vs. Hourly Wage

When asked his feelings on the subject, Mr. Davis was against his position becoming a salaried one. His reasons were that he liked to "earn" his extra pay, such as when he mows, snowplows, etc. and he didn’t just want it handed out to him by the town. He also felt a salary "put a leash" on him and he liked to have some freedom in choosing what extra work and meetings he attended. When pressed by Mr. Farley as to whether a salary would be acceptable if the amount offered were large enough, Mr. Davis replied that he would have to think that over more.

Heating Fuel Request

Mr. Davis had asked for a 30% increase, but Ms. Vogt was concerned that this was not enough. (40% was a more accepted request). Mr. Davis was happy to increase his request to 40% if this was the suggestion by FinCom.

Winter Operations Request

Mr. Davis had increased his request by 122% (from $27,000 to $60,000) stating that the former number is never a reasonable request. Last year alone he spent over $44,000 on materials only for winter operations. Mr. Davis felt the $60,000 request would not even be sufficient, but it would cover the costs of sand, salt, and some of the independent contractors who are hired to plow. He did state that he realizes the low figure is usually inserted in the budget, alluding to the fact that this is one area that can be deficit-spent.

Ideas to Make Department More Efficient

Mr. Davis quickly said that supplying him with the proper equipment, such as the two trucks he has requested this year, is the best path to efficiency. Increasing pay scale so he can hold on to qualified employees and not lose them to other jobs was another suggestion. A third idea was to think about replacing the old highway building with new headquarters, as the present building is very cramped and outmoded.

Ways to Cut Budget?

Mr. Davis was feeling that there was not a lot of fat to cut in his budget, but if something had to go, it might be the trial street sweeping program he had hoped to initiate. He also said the winter operations budget could be cut because of the fact that it could be deficit-spent. He felt it was quite necessary to get the two trucks that he requested. The larger truck is replacing a 1983 truck with plow and is vital. The smaller truck is a new truck for the Highway Department because the Cemetery Commission and Highway Department share the truck currently used (because Andy Miller works on both). When Mr. Miller retires, this vehicle may no longer be available to the Highway Department.

EMS (Sue Cudmore, Linda Brooke)

Discussion centered on the following topics:

Wages

This line has risen from $8,000 to a request for $22,350. To justify this increase, Ms. Cudmore pointed out that from the beginning of the current FY to 1/03/01, there have been 133 calls for the ambulance. This projects out to 250 calls for the year. The calls continue to rise each year. Each time the ambulance rolls, 3 EMTs are usually on it. The plans are to raise the responder pay from $8.50/hr to $10/hr. The usual call requires 2.5 hours from start to finish. 7.5 hrs/call x 250 calls x $10.00/hr = $18,750.The stipend per EMT is $150/yr, so 24 EMTs x $150 = $3,600. $18,750 + $3,600 = $22,350. Mr. McMurray pointed out that these two figures will have to be separated to two different lines on the warrant.

Billing Fees

Projected cost is $3,800 to pay a billing agency (Comstar) to collect fees. Ms. Cudmore stated that this could potentially bring in $100,000 to the town, but is more realistically going to bring in half that amount. Billing is done only when an actual transport in the ambulance is made.

Lost Time Wages

This request is up 60%. This money pays EMTs who have to take time off from their jobs to go to court. The increased number of calls leads to increased costs in this area.

Ways to Increase Efficiency

Ms. Cudmore felt the main thing is to have more people involved so this will prevent existing people from burning out so quickly. The last mailing to the townspeople has brought in a surge of new trainees.

Assessors (Dondi Larue)

Regional Assessor Harald Scheid joined the meeting at a later time, see below.

Ms. Larue distributed a detailed breakdown of tasks associated with Assessors office as justification for increases requested in number of hours and hourly rates for assessor’s clerk. She explained that many of the tasks were one-time only tasks and could not be made more efficient with better equipment, though she felt the department would benefit from use, or part-time use, of a folding and postage meter machine which she is pricing.

Ms. Larue reported that Mr. Scheid would not be renewing his regional contract with Ashby, Lunenburg, and Townsend and suggested that BOS and FinCom will need to address their future needs either with a new assessor for Ashby or a new regional assessor with the other two towns. She said Mr. Scheid might still be available to Ashby for special projects

Mr. Scheid arrived later to explain that the 10% increase requested for assessors clerical was a combination of more hours and increase in rate as well as the possibility of restructuring the position to take on more responsibility. Since the town needs to decide on where to go next year with this department, Mr. Scheid requested leave to return to FinCom with a revised budget in a month or so.

He reported that the Regional Assessment position, while beneficial to Ashby in many ways, had been frustrating for him because it fragmented his time in the larger towns which had more paperwork for him to handle. He felt all towns needed more counter and office coverage to relieve the assessor.

He also reported to FinCom that filing backlogs and inefficiencies in other towns had surprised him, which makes Ashby’s department seem in very good shape.

Town Treasurer (Lillian Whitney)

In response to questions about her request for increased salary, Ms. Whitney said her workload had increased by 50% because of research required now by DOR as well as the extra work involved in having worked with three accountants over the course of her tenure. She is now working close to 30 hours a week and feels her salary should reflect that time. She said the history of the position showed Treasurer had not received increases in line with other town employees and reported she had saved the town upwards of $60,000 in short-term interest over the years. In answers to questions of how her job might be made more efficient she cited, 1. improved communication on employee status affecting payroll; 2. advance notice of big expenses coming forward from various departments so she has warning of cash flow problems; 3. a town accountant who can work during the week.

Explaining her request for increases in expense lines, she noted that all expenses, including costs of postage and bank transfers have increased. Mr. Farley asked whether the increase in hours was a blip caused by extra DOR requirements this year, she replied she could not see number of hours going down below 20-25 hours even when this extra push was finished.

Town Clerk (Dianne Enus, Lorraine Pease)

Ms. Enus made the surprise announcement that she would not be running for the position this year. She hoped Lorraine Pease would be elected, since she is fully trained in the job.

Supporting the increase in wages, Ms. Enus asked for an increase to $12/hour which she said reflects the value of the work for the town.

She reported that although the Town Clerk is paid a 20/hr a week job, that she works, on average, an additional 10 hours or so as a volunteer at home. The Town Clerk’s office is paid mileage for all travel outside the town and for additional, exceptional in-town expenses such as census follow-up.

Future Needs

New computer system may be needed in the next few years. Also town needs to investigate how to fund a preservation of records, possibly as part of the Lyman Building renovation.

Collector (Lee Mikkola)

Wages

Mr. Mikkola has requested a pay raise so that his salary will be $27,144. This is based on a pay of $13/hr x 40 hrs/wk. When checked, this sum should be $27,040 rather than the number requested. Mr. Mikkola also requested that clerical help be available on a flexible basis. Help is not needed weekly, but there are times when he might be on vacation or ill; at these points, someone is needed. BOS is looking in to the possibility of having a full-time clerical person who can float to different departments as needed.

Ways to Increase Efficiency

Mr. Mikkola would like to take additional classes in accounting. He would also like to network with the assessors so they are working on the same page as he. The collector’s computer is 4-5 years old; new hardware is needed. More physical space would help increase efficiency and end clutter. A "read-only" computer available for the public to check records would be an item worth having at some point also.

Board of Health (Mary Krapf, Cedwyn Morgan, Chris Allen, Bill Stanwood)

BOH came to the meeting without written budget requests. The board had not yet submitted requests to FinCom prior to meeting. Mr. Stanwood was representing the Solid Waste Management Committee of the BOH.

There was considerable discussion about the issues facing the BOH at this time, and FinCom entertained discussion, though Ms. Vogt and Mr. Farley both told BOH that FinCom needed real numbers and recommendations from BOH before discussion could proceed further.

Issues raised included:

1. Use of $75,000 balance in landfill escrow account—whether to use for ongoing expenses, like monitoring and maintenance; how much to leave as a balance when DEP certifies that account can be used.

2. Site improvement at landfill site—additional storage for bulky items, sawtooth beam for rolloff parking, rolloffs.

3. Contract negotiations with Alan Murray for curbside pickup—including discussion on legality of having bag proceeds paid directly to Murray & Sons, cost of drawing up contract.

4. Estimates of costs of solid waste management program to town, $21,600 to $30,000.

5. Enforcement of new hauler regulations.

6. Discussion on number of households using town options of 1. dumpster, 2. town bags at curbside, 3. private curbside pickup.

FinCom asked BOH to review recommendations for how to fund department expenses and landfill/solid waste management for the town and provide it, in writing, to FinCom. Mr. Morgan agreed to pull numbers together in the next two or three days for presentation to FinCom.

Meeting adjourned at 2:00.

Respectfully submitted,

Chris Nash and Peggy Roberts,

Clerks