Minutes of the Finance Committee
January 20, 2001
Budget Request Reviews for FY02

In attendance: members Farley, Nash, Leclerc, Raymond, Roberts, Vogt. Also present Selectmen Flinkstrom, McCallum, 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.

Ashby Free Public Library (Maureen Davi, Judy Kulju)

Rather than going over the Library budget requests line by line, the following items were discussed:

Librarian Salary

This request was up 136.25%. The rationale given by Ms. Davi was that the Trustees want to fund two positions at 22.5hrs/week at $12.72/hr. The positions will be Library Director and Library Manager. The present Librarian is unable to keep up with all duties and needs help. She is putting in many unpaid hours of work which is illegal and has to cease. This will be even more necessary if the new library is built. By funding the positions now, the library will be able to expand its hours from 23 hrs/week to 35 hrs/week. Ms. Davi noted that the two positions perhaps will not be evenly split, but the hours will add up to 45 hrs/week.

Book Budget

The request was up from $6000 to $9000. This number is based on a law that states that the town needs to fund a book budget for the library that is equal to 20% of the total library budget. This percentage is needed in order to maintain certification.

Besides wages, how can the library be made more efficient?

The Trustees are looking into getting a grant for a computer system that would scan books, cutting down on the hours needed for this job. However, to get such a system in place, it will take considerable manpower to enter each book manually into the system. Another way to increase efficiency is to repair the downstairs of the library. This space is almost totally unusable at the present and needs major work.

Construction Projects

$54,000 has been requested for projects if the grant for the new library does not go through. These projects are listed in the handouts presented to the FinCom and are prioritized in descending order of importance there. If the grant goes through, these improvements would be covered by it. If necessary, where could cuts be made? Ms. Davi and Ms. Kulju were loath to say that cuts could be made anywhere in the budget requests. They decided that perhaps janitorial services could be cut slightly and perhaps fuel request might be lower.

Further Discussion

At the end of the meeting, Mr. McCallum expressed reservations that the town would agree to such a big project on its own. He felt that the Trustees would be wiser to wait and tie their plans in with a "grand plan" to take out one large loan (or bond?) which would cover all the buildings in town. Then all groups (like firemen, police, library lovers, etc.) would have to vote for the project to get their buildings fixed. Ms. Davi responded that the Trustees have already filed for the grant application on 1/18/01. The awards will be announced in mid-late June. The town will have to sign an agreement and secure funding by December to qualify for the grant. Most likely, the town would have to fund this project through a debt exclusion.

 

Police Department Budget Review (Chief Jim Victoria and Lt. Steve McLatchey)

Current Year Shortfalls

Ms. Vogt initially asked questions about the current year’s budget shortfalls (FY01). She noted the training line item was 100% and overtime almost 100%. Was this by design?

Chief Victoria said he thought it probable his department had spent what it was going to spend in the training budget, which covered special trainings like fingerprint school. There was a remote possibility something else might come up, but he thought these expenditures might be finished for the year.

Regarding overtime, the Chief said he had encountered some unanticipated situations, like an accident in June, which put an officer out of commission for 6 weeks. He also said, especially in light of the accident, he had not yet seen the benefit of the additional two full time officers which he had anticipated would cut down overtime. Until November 3, he had been down three officers. In addition, the second new officer had not yet been funded by Federal funds so was not yet in the department lineup. He reiterated his FY01 concerns that Reserve Officers available for part time coverage were increasingly difficult to find and keep. He advised FinCom that although he would soon have his full current lineup back on duty, his people were expecting overdue vacation and personal days equivalent to 5 1/2 months of time, total, for the department.

Chief Victoria pointed out that FinCom spreadsheet had not included the warrant-article-funded officer in the wage line item. When that $27,000+ amount is added to that line, the increase in wages requested for this year decreases from 21% to 5%.

Chief Victoria also noted department had tripled arrests which meant an increase in court time and thus, additional overtime for regular officers.

In response to questions from FinCom, Chief Victoria explained that all academy-trained officers must spend one week a year to keep their certification up. Lt. McLatchey is almost finished with 21 weeks of academy training and will be returning full time in February. Chief Victoria said contracts for policemen normally include a stipulation that should town finance academy training, officer is required to stay in the town for a set number of years, normally two to three years.

Explaining a decreased request for court wages, Lt. McLatchey explained that court wages comprise three basic levels: 1. administrative work at the courthouse in connection with prosecutions, 2. case prosecution–officer presence in the courtroom to represent the town and 3. actual individual officer testimony in a case. When Lt McLatchey returns to full time work, department hopes to use him to cover administrative and prosecution presence time when possible. This would decrease extra wages since this time would be included in his salary.

Selectmen McCallum suggested Chief Victoria consider consolidating some of the lines in the budget (such as court wages and training wages) in order to cut down on accountant paper work. Chief agreed to look into this, possibly with FinCom and BOS, to increase efficiency.

Recommendation for cuts from department

Chief suggested we level fund his fuel account and promised to go back to look at overtime account to see where he could suggest cuts there.

Other than wages, what does Police Department need for efficiency.

Chief said retention of personnel was his greatest concern. He has not yet been up to full complement of staff.

In response to other questions, Chief said town would receive something like $19,000 in insurance for the totaled 4WD cruiser and he was looking to replace it either with a Chevy Impala or a Ford Crown Victoria. He said he might be short something like $3,000 after all equipment from damaged cruiser was moved over and the new vehicle was in place.

Condition of Police Department Offices

Chief Victoria reviewed his three-year plan from taking on the position, by year’s priorities.

1. attract and retain good officers

2. offer specialized training to reduce need for outside help

3. pull all together in a "proving year," to review progress and project future needs.

He said after that, he would concentrate on building needs. However, the building was currently in poor condition with no good working furnace and no hot water.

Patrolman’s Contract

Chief Victoria reported that patrolmen had ratified the contract unanimously this week. This assures a 14% raise for patrolmen in the current year plus 5% in the subsequent two years.

Communications Department Requests

Chief Victoria represented Communications Department. He said the main needs for the department were raises in salaries to bring dispatchers up to level of neighboring towns. He said there was feeling among dispatchers of diminished worth relative to police officers and that he felt they were unhappy. Department has requested $12/hr for full time, $10/hr for part time personnel. He said neighboring towns pay from 10.80 part time with nighttime differentials to XX full time. Current Ashby payscale goes from $8.50 to $10.25. Ms. Vogt suggested dispatchers would not be interested in moving to other towns because there were advantages to living close and working in your own town. Chief Victoria also noted that the advancements department has made in computerization has increased workload and required skills for dispatchers. He noted that he still has openings in the department so is not convinced of advantages to the job without raising salary.

Parks Department (Linda Stacy, Peter McMurray)

Mr. McMurray started the discussion concerning the requests by stating that the large increase (114%) was due to the lack of maintenance at the Allen Field facilities over the last 15 years. He said that the only improvements done up there have been under the auspices of the Little League organization; the town has neglected the area. The top priorities for Allen Field should be:

1. Replacing the roof on the carriage shed

2. Replacing/repairing the main gate which is about to fall off

3. Sandblasting/painting the rusted chain link fencing around the park

4. Replacing the rotted-out flooring in the grandstand

5. Fixing the underground wiring from the grandstand to the bandstand

6. Upgrading the bathroom facilities

The top priorities for the town common, according to Ms. Stacy:

1. Placing all wiring on the common underground

2. Repairing the rear steps to the bandstand

Ms. Stacy is working hard to get volunteer labor to do the work needed on the common. She says the Parks Department needs the town to pay for materials, however.

Mr. Farley wondered if the facilities at Allen Field could be rented out to organizations to help generate some income for the upkeep of the park. Other ideas to generate some income were to check with businesses and to see if any grant money was available. Ms Stacy responded by saying that a Rebok grant was being looked into; it was a possible source of $50,000.

Fire Department (Wayne Stacy)

Discussion centered on the following topics:

Chief’s Salary

Request was up 13.46% to $19,500. When asked how this figure was arrived at, Mr. Stacy said that it was somewhat an arbitrary figure. He felt the sum of $25,000 was more realistic, but also too big an increase to ask for. He stated that the job is more than part-time, but less than full-time. He felt the job should be more than sitting around waiting for emergency calls; the chief should be out fulfilling other duties such as doing certain home inspections and town building inspections.

Fire Equipment

Up from $2500 to $5000. This was to cover items that have been forgotten over the past years, such as oil changes, oil filters, airpacks, and worn tires.

Fuel Budget

The waste oil furnace is not working. It will cost about $5,300 per year to heat the station with conventional oil heat. If a new waste oil furnace was purchased at a cost of about $6,900, this could be used to heat the station and all the fuel (waste oil) is free.

Stipends

Request was up 20%. The Chief is asking to raise the stipend for each firefighter from $150/year to $200/year. Stipend for a Highway/firefighter would be raised to $400/ year.

Ideas to increase Department’s Efficiency?

Mr. Stacy first stated that the purchase of a 3,500 gallon tanker/pumper to be used as a "first attack" piece of equipment would be able to replace two aging vehicles. A computer with Internet capabilities would allow the Chief to file incident reports on-line to the state. Lastly, a third bay on the station would allow for more room for vehicles, an office area, and a meeting room for the fire department.

Warrant Items

The Chief is asking for 15 sets of turnout gear at $1333 each ($20,000 total). He is hoping a state grant will pay for some of this and he will know by mid-late February if this is so.

Cemetery Department (Andy Miller)

Mr. Miller will be retiring in April after many years of service and he had some requests to make before he retired.

Salary/Wages

He asked the town to consider raising the hourly pay rate from $7.00/hr to $10.00/hr. It has been stuck at this level for a number of years.

Maintenance

Request was up from $2500 to $3000. Costs have risen over the years but this figure has stayed the same for a number of years. Mr. Miller went on to explain that perpetual care income is used to help cover cemetery costs. At this point in time, that account is in disarray due to some mistakes made by the Treasurer. Mr. Miller and Ms. Sanders were in the process of sorting out what should be in the various cemetery accounts.

Mr. Miller said that the town had to start thinking about updating the well and water system at Glenwood Cemetery. Roads there also needed some repair. An artesian well put into the Lyman section would probably solve water problems at Glenwood, according to Mr. Miller. West Cemetery is nearly at full capacity; more land is needed there if it is to continue as an active burial ground.

Discussion about costs of burial plots pointed out the fact that prices in Ashby were very low compared to neighboring towns. Prices could probably be doubled and still be considered attractive. After all, people are dying to get into a nice cemetery like Glenwood in Ashby.

Electrical Inspector (Paul Lessard)

Mr. Lessard prefaced his requests with the comments that growth in Ashby is increasing rapidly. The number of permits for FY 1999 and 2000 were the same (87) but there have been 60 permits as of 12/16/00, which projects out to 100 total permits for FY 2001. For each permit, Mr. Lessard has to make one initial inspection; during construction, he needs to make from 3-6 additional inspections. At the present, a fee is charged per permit (average is $50-$55 per new construction, $25 per remodel). Mr. Lessard feels that these fees should increase in price, perhaps even charging per inspection rather than by permit. He is working with Ms. Sanders to make up a new fee schedule.

Salary

Requesting a $500 raise from $3500 to $4000. This will help compensate for the added time needed to complete all inspections and the increased administrative time.

Expenses

Office expenses should be increased by $200 up to $800. This will cover added administrative time, phone calls, and inspectors‚ meetings. Travel will be upped $100 to $800 to reflect the added travel needed due to increase in permits.

Board of Health (Mary Krapf)

Ms. Krapf presented the FinCom with some written requests for Landfill costs and Solid Waste Bag Program. The total requests added up to $38,240 ($14,000 for Landfill monitoring; $24,240 to fund Bag Program for upcoming year). She urged that these figures be considered line items and not be taken from the Escrow account. There are some one-time improvements needed at the Transfer Station (costing approximately $10,000) and these costs might come out of the Escrow account.

The BOH is currently negotiating a new contract with Alan Murray for Waste Removal services. They want one in place before the Annual Town Meeting. They are limiting negotiations solely with Murray. Their reasoning: If services are put out to bid, BOH feels that the bids coming in will be high, since Ashby is not a big concern for the large businesses. High bids will only give Mr. Murray more reasons to ask for higher fees. BOH has fees (wells, septic systems, hauler fees) that generate some income. These fees are low when compared to bordering towns. BOH is considering raising these fees but nothing has been set yet.

When asked what could be done to make her department more efficient, Ms. Krapf stated that clerical help would be very useful. She is still in the process of going over old records from boxes and is filing them accordingly. Ms. Krapf is keeping her line items at FY 2001 levels, but warned FinCom of areas that will rise in FY 2003.

Nashoba Board of Health assessment will probably rise due to increase in viruses transmitted by crows and mosquitoes. Towns might be asked to help monitor and carry out spraying programs. Town Nurse Assessment will also be rising in FY 2003.

Meeting adjourned at 2:10 pm.

Respectfully submitted,

Chris Nash and Peggy Roberts

Clerks