Minutes of the Finance Committee
February 22, 2001

In attendance: Members Nash, Morey, Raymond, Roberts, Vogt.

Chair Vogt called meeting to order at 6:35 pm.

Accept Minutes of February 8, 2001

Minutes of February 8, submitted by Mr. Nash and previously circulated to members, approved unanimously, subject to review.

Financial Management Review by Department of Local Services

Ms. Vogt reported that DLS would be attending BOS meeting on March 21 to report on their Financial Management Review. Members of FinCom have copies and Ms. Vogt asked all members available on the 21st to be at the meeting for the presentation. She also asked members to review the report thoroughly, write thoughts on it, and bring to the next meeting for discussion. There was discussion about whether March 21 might be an appropriate night to air publicly FinCom’s concerns over both FY01 (current year) and FY02 budget shortfalls. The committee will discuss this more fully at next meeting.

Letter of Priority Regarding Reserve Fund Transfer

Mr. Nash, Ms. Raymond, Ms. Vogt reviewed for Mr. Morey and Ms. Roberts, who were not in attendance, the discussion held with BOS at the Feb 8 meeting regarding Reserve Fund Transfer to close town books. Mr. Morey was opposed to approving the transfer of approximately $16,000 from Reserve Fund to pay to have books closed for he felt this was not an unforeseen expense. He felt BOS and Town Administrator had known since September that this was a problem, not to mention knowing since 1992 that there were problems with earlier years, and had consistently not managed the situation well. He feared FinCom members had been swayed by BOS’s political pressure to fund this mismanagement, rather than putting responsibility back on BOS to find other money.

Ms. Raymond expressed concern that FinCom would be changing the in-depth conversation held with BOS if we refused at this point to justify the transfer. She regretted Mr. Morey was not at the meeting two weeks earlier to put forth his objections, which seemed sound, but she felt FinCom had definitely not been political pawns in the discussion. She rather felt FinCom and BOS had been working together to solve a problem. Ms. Vogt added that FinCom had repeatedly pressed for a Special Town Meeting to transfer these funds from other sources, but BOS were determined not to hold an STM so close to ATM.

After considerable debate, majority of committee empowered Ms. Vogt to write a letter to BOS and Town Administrator agreeing to authorize a transfer of funds to support closing of the FY00 books in order to certify free cash and keep cherry sheet payments coming in a timely manner. She would word the letter strongly, indicating FinCom was approving this measure only with the understanding that Reserve Fund would be replenished at the next STM, no matter when that is.

Fire Department Issues

Ms. Vogt reported Assistant Fire Chief, Billy Seymour, Jr, had visited her in order to deliver a letter in support of a full time fire chief. Ms. Vogt read the letter to the committee, noting that in their discussion she had questioned Mr. Seymour about the department’s assessment of the difference between full time and part time employment, i.e., how many hours were part time and how many more would be considered full time? She suggested to Mr. Seymour that fire department might investigate additional tools, such as internet access and a laptop computer, which might help a part time chief manage the paperwork burden and reduce hours. She reminded FinCom that when Chief Stacy had visited the committee, he said that although the job was full time now—during this transition period—he could see the workload gradually diminishing as he gained more experience and cleaned up backlogs.

Ms. Vogt was concerned that FinCom were being lobbied directly by the fire department, when in fact the decision of whether Ashby needs a full or part time chief is the responsibility of BOS. She said she had encouraged Mr. Seymour to take his recommendation directly to the BOS for consideration.

Police Department Reserve Transfer

After FinCom had tabled a Police Department Reserve Fund Transfer request at last meeting on grounds that there was no backup to the request, Chief Victoria had supplied Ms. Vogt with his personnel schedule for September through December, which were copied for the committee. The Chief had also related to Ms. Vogt his frustration at not having access to insurance reimbursement for an officer who was absent on sick leave following an accident. There was discussion with town treasurer Lillian Whitney, who had dropped in on the meeting, about how such insurance money is received by the town. She said it is deposited into a special revenue account, as part of the general fund. That money could conceivably be transferred back into the police overtime budget at a town meeting, but not without the town’s vote. The committee looked briefly at the Chief’s schedule, but were unable to understand it fully. Ms. Vogt asked Mr. Morey if he would talk with the Chief and report back to FinCom with an explanation of the rotation in lay terms.

Communications Department Concerns

Ms. Vogt also heard from Chief Victoria on his concerns about the need for wage increases for Ashby dispatchers. He provided her with comparison wages from other towns and also indicated that Ashby dispatchers were considering joining the union, as were dispatchers in both Townsend and Lunenburg.

EMS Budget Warning

Ms. Vogt received notice from Sue Cudmore, advising FinCom that she felt the balance of $1354 remaining in the EMS wages account would not last throughout the year.

Highway Department Report

Bill Davis submitted a comparison of winter operations expenses paid so far this year in Ashby (~$67,000), Townsend, (~$110,000), Ashburnham (~$82,000), and Westminster (~$75,000). Mr. Morey pointed out that we had only budgeted $27,000 for this line item, knowing it could be deficit-spent, so these comparisons would mean more if we knew what those towns had budgeted.

North Middlesex Regional School District Budget

Ms. Vogt reported she had heard from NMRSD committee member Jerry Martin that representatives of the school district wished to meet with FinCom on the school budget during the third week in March. She told him that date was too late for discussion since the budget will be finalized on March 15. She requested he send all the numbers directly to FinCom so we could plug them into the spreadsheet. She had some new numbers which she gave to Ms. Raymond, but she said she had also requested specific numbers be broken out of the budget so we could compare increased costs. FinCom would like to see numbers for increases in transportation due to travel for 6th grade, and also information on Ashby’s portion of additional expenses for capital improvements or repairs.

 

Continuing General FY02 Discussions

Ms. Vogt and Ms. Raymond are working on spreadsheets to indicate results of both 3% and 7% wage increases, addition of BOH lines for waste management and transfer station, increase in Treasurer wage line, and various scenarios in free cash availability to include 0, 50K, 100K, 150k, and 200K. Committee will discuss these in detail at next meeting.

Other Business

Ms. Vogt shared information sent by Conservation Commission Chair Roberta Flashman about the Community Preservation Act, which will allow towns to impose a surcharge on taxes to fund projects that fall under that Act.

Ms. Vogt said she had also received itemization of receipts from the ambulance service from Ms. Cudmore which were impressive and showed ambulance department was realizing considerable revenues for the town.

Mr. Nash said he had spoken with Mr. McCallum about the Mt. Watatic purchase since he had read in the Worcester Telegram and Gazette that purchase negotiations were proceeding positively. He said Mr. McCallum indicated the mountain purchase was in all likelihood not going to materialize and that interested parties in town were looking to use donated funds to purchase other property for open space.

Ms. Vogt reported she had received a detailed written report from FinCom member Jim Farley outlining his responses to the Department Head Budget Review meetings in January. She would make copies available to the committee and hoped Mr. Farley’s observations could be discussed fully after the current year’s budget process was completed.

Ms. Roberts reported that she had gratefully accepted Mr. Nash’s offer to alternate note-taking with her throughout the remainder of the budget season.

 

Meeting adjourned at 8:30 pm.

Respectfully submitted,

Peggy Roberts, Clerk