By Beth David, Editor
The Acushnet Selectboard continued looking at budgets at its meeting on Tuesday. 1/22/19, with a discussion on budgets for the Fire Department, Police Department, and Building Department. The board also discussed a plan by the School Department to start the process of applying for state funds to replace a section of roof on the Acushnet Elementary School.
Police Chief Michael Alves told the board that he included money in his budget to have four officers on duty for all shifts. The increase of about $209K will be offset by some overtime costs that will be reduced. The chief said that he also added to the salary budget to accommodate wage increases for two officers who earned college degrees, making them eligible for raises under the Quinn Bill.
One big question mark, though, is the raises that have not yet been decided in the new union contract being negotiated now.
Chief Alves also said that he had two possible retirements to think about in the next couple of years.
When Selectboard member Kevin Gaspar asked about how satisfied the chief is with the staffing levels and if he felt they were stable, the chief said “as of right now,” it was “looking good.”
“How long have you been doing this?” asked Chief Alves, adding that right now “on paper” it looks good, but noted that people retire, people transfer.
The chief also discussed changes in the part time academy rules. It costs recruits more to go, so they are less likely to do it.
Board member Roger Cabral asked why anyone would pay for it all, then noted that it was just like going to any other school where students have to pay tuition.
Chief Alves said that recruiting for police officers was a “crisis nationwide.” Public safety careers are not as popular or desirable as they once were, he said.
The chief also put money in his budget to buy hybrid cruisers, which will run on gas and electricity. Cost is an extra $7500.00 per vehicle, but the savings in gas should make up for that in a year or two.
Fire Chief Kevin Gallagher presented a budget that completely integrates the Emergency Medical Services department. Chief Gallagher reminded the board that the process started several years ago and the merger is now complete.
His salary budget assumes a 2% increase. The negotiations with the union are not completed, so the increase is an estimate to have at least some money available when the contract is decided. All personnel, from EMS and Fire are now under one union.
The budget is for four full time paramedics and four full time firefighters. He said they have had seven not eight full timers, but now that they have activated the second ambulance, he wants to fill that last slot. He has been using Call Firefighters and overtime. He said he is not quite ready to hire, though, because the contract is still being negotiated.
Among the changes will be a “significant change” in the way the department hires, he said. The announcement will be made at Town Meeting, assuming the terms are negotiated into the new contract.
Building Commissioner James Marot also presented his budget, telling the board that he is happy with the level of staffing he has with two maintenance workers, not three, after one left recently.
Mr. Marot said he shuffled some salary money around, but did not increase by much. He said plumbing inspector Raymond LaFrance “almost never uses” part timers, because he does all the inspections himself. Mr. Marot took money from the part time salary budget for a 6% increase for Mr. LaFrance, who has not had an increase in years, said Mr. Marot.
Mr. Gaspar noted that the budget also reflects the $18,000 increase Mr. Marot received in September.
Instead of hiring a full time person, Mr. Marot told the board he would rather hire another pair of students from Old Colony to do routine work in the summer, such as grass cutting, and grounds maintenance. The two workers under his supervision often work on projects with the Department of Public works. They were both Old Colony students hired after working during the summer.
The two young men are “going full steam,” said Mr. Marot.
He said they worked on Sunday to make sure that Town Hall and the Parting Ways Building would be clear from ice for Monday morning.
“I never see them sitting down, like I used to see before,” said Mr. Marot, adding that he had nothing but good things to say about both of them.
Mr. Marot also told the board that he would continue to pursue Green Community grant money as long as the town was eligible. He said past grants have paid for a variety of cost saving measures, such as new insulation, and new light bulbs. The town has also changed to more efficient gas boilers.
Most of the savings the town has seen has come from the installation of LED lighting, he said. All town buildings, except for the historical buildings have been changed over to LED.
The budget shows a significant increase in grounds and supplies because town workers are doing more of the work, instead of bidding it out, said Mr. Marot.
A rather interesting discussion ensued over the difference between the “supplies” line item and the “buildings and grounds” line item, with the board, Mr. Marot, and even town accountant Julie Hebert agreeing that a door could be put in either column. Paint is most definitely under supplies, but…fixing a boiler is buildings & grounds?
Mr. Gaspar, ever the stickler for detail, persisted until he was satisfied that he could indeed tell the difference between six and a half a dozen: “If a repairman comes in I can’t pay him out of supplies.”
Mr. Marot took that particular opportunity to note that the town hall roof was leaking and it looked like the repairs would be significant. He said it was a job that should be bid out.
“Some things are too big for my workforce to do,” said Mr. Marot.
The board also heard from Kristin Flynn, School Business Manager, who asked the board to vote to support a Statement of Interest with the Mass. School Building Authority, for a new roof on the Elementary School.
A study done by CBI Consulting recommended replacing 63,000 sf of a roof that dates back to 1971.
Estimated cost is $1.2 million not including design and other fees. The MSBA reimburses local school districts for eligible construction projects, from 31–50% depending on a number of factors.
The board agreed to sign the SOI to get the process started. The process can be long, Ms. Flynn told the board, but the first step requires approval from the Selectboard.
The School Department can now go to the next step in the application process.
“This is just the first step” to get the funds, said Ms. Flynn.
She said the portion of the roof that needs replacing cost about $10,000 last year to maintain and will cost the same this year.
She also said that the leaky roof has interfered with activities inside the building, with buckets in the hallway not helping much.
Dr. Paula Bailey, School Superintendent, told the board that because of the problem with the roof, other projects inside the building have been postponed.
The department must submit the materials to the MSBA by February 16. Town Meeting will have to vote on any funds expended, and the town will be reimbursed for at least some of the costs.
Town Administrator Brian Noble reported to the board an extension request by the town of Freetown over the one-acre parcel that is located in Acushnet on the town line. The town has not been able to locate the owners.
Freetown wants to acquire the piece to combine it with an abutting piece it owns to build elderly housing on the parcel. Myriad problems have arisen during the years-long process. The parcel is contaminated, and although it was in tax title to Acushnet, the town never took it because of the contamination and associated cleanup costs.
The end result could be that Freetown owns land in Acushnet, or, another possibility is that the legislature re-draws the town line to put that piece in Freetown.
All three Selectboard members and Mr. Noble agreed that the parcel was not worth the trouble and if Freetown wanted it, they could have it any which way they could get it.
Freetown has applied for a Brownfields grant, that will require the complete cleanup of the piece.
Mr. Noble clarified what his message to Freetown would be: “We’re willing to do whatever is necessary” for them to get the piece.
Mr. Cabral then asked if Freetown could at least give Acushnet an acre in exchange. All three of the other men responded at once with audible shock and possibly awe.
“Just get rid of it. Don’t ask questions,” said Selectboard Chair Michael Cioper.
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