Williamstown Fire District Passes Budget; Land Deal Still in Works

By Stephen DravisWilliamstown Correspondent
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J. Paul Dube was presented a plaque for his 29 years of service to the Williamstown Fire District. He is stepping down as the district's clerk/treasurer and moderator.

WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The chairman of the Prudential Committee made it clear on Tuesday night that the Fire District will move forward with plans to acquire land for a new station no matter what comes of talks with the town about a combined emergency services facility.

The question was raised by an audience member after it was reported that the district was no closer to a final purchase-and-sales agreement on a Main Street parcel it is negotiating to acquire. The town is looking to build a new police station and the possibility of a joint venture has been raised before.

Prudential Committee Chairman John Notsley said he had agreed to serve on the newly formed Public Safety Building Study Committee, but those discussions don't signal a change in direction for the Fire District.

"As far as the Fire District is concerned, we've spent seven years studying this situation," Notsley said. "My father had a saying: They're not making any more land.

"We feel the Lehovic property is centrally located and priced right. And if the people of the district allow us, we intend to buy the property in the next month to six weeks."

Unfortunately for the district, it is no closer to taking that step than it has been for the last several months.

After negotiating a price with the estate of Kurt Lehovic, the land transfer bogged down earlier this year when Lehovic's widow passed away, Notsley said.

"As soon as [a purchase-and-sales agreement] is received, we'll call a special Prudential Committee meeting and then a special Fire District meeting," he said. "It is in the works, and we're confident it will be forthcoming."

Earlier this year, the committee had hoped it would be able to put the land purchase to a vote at the Fire District's annual meeting, which also was held Tuesday night.

Instead, that meeting featured the more routine business of approving the annual budget and electing officers to serve the district, which is a separate entity apart from the town's government with its own taxation powers.

Ed Briggs was re-elected to another three-year term on the Prudential Committee, and Corydon Thurston was elected to one-year terms as the district's clerk-treasurer and moderator, taking the place of J. Paul Dube, who is stepping down after serving the district for 29 years.

Fire Chief Craig Pedercini said the district is in need of some new volunteer firefighters.

Forty-two residents cast ballots in the district election.

After the voting — and before the Prudential Committee meeting — the annual meeting featured brief discussions about the district's $471,000 budget.

Dube, the committee and Chief Craig Pedercini fielded questions ranging from why the district's budget includes $94,000 for street lighting to why there are separate line items for firefighters' pay and salaries.

Dube explained that when the Fire District was formed in 1912, its responsibilities included many things besides putting out fires. At one time, the district was responsible for the town's police force and water supply.

"Over the years, the Police Department spun off, the water works spun off," Dube said. "The street lights are still here."

The district's $56,500 line item for paying firefighters is to cover the $15 per hour that the town's volunteer firefighters are compensated for time they spend responding to calls. The firefighters, who are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, are not compensated at all for the numerous hours they spend training to serve the town.

"Fifty-six thousand dollars wouldn't pay for one full-time firefighter anywhere in the commonwealth," Notsley pointed out.

The budget's $88,900 line item for salaries covers the cost of Pedercini, who is full-time, four part-time assistant engineers, the Prudential Committee (whose members receive a $600 stipend) and the clerk-treasurer/moderator, who receives a $3,000 stipend.

The Williamstown Fire District boasts 23 firefighters on its roster, Pedercini said. A number of them are students at Williams College, including one, Karlan Eberhardt, who is graduating this weekend.

The district actually is looking for new firefighters to join its ranks, and Pedercini used the occasion of the annual meeting to appeal via community access television for new recruits.

Briggs noted that even though the district is looking to grow its ranks, it still has plenty of dedicated volunteers serving the town.

"We frequently have more members of this department on the scene of a fire than most cities would have on a second-alarm fire," Briggs said

Tags: annual meeting,   fire district,   fire station,   prudential committee,   

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