ADAMS, Mass. — The proposed Adams Fire District budget has decreased but members will be asked to consider the addition of two full-time positions.
The proposed fiscal 2020 budget of $2,177,361 is down 21 percent from this year's budget of $2,777,800. However, voters in the district will also be asked to decide on the addition of a full-time fire chief position and a single full-time firefighter position prior to the annual meeting.
"It's a large item for the members and it's going to be a cost up front," Prudential Committee member Thomas Satko said. "There's going to be a cost so we decided to put it out to the voters."
Fire Chief John Pansecchi went public with his desire to increase his position to full time this past winter.
Satko said it has been discussed in the past but the prudential committee felt that it was too large of an increase for the committee alone to approve.
Pansecchi, who also has a full-time job, felt with increased calls, duties, reporting, and inspections a full-time chief was needed. He also thought it would put the town in line with other smaller communities who have a full-time chief.
He also advocated for a single full-time firefighter that would add consistent and faster response times during the day. This employee could also help with maintenance and share some of the administrative duties with the chief.
Satko did agree that the chief has more administrative duties and that the job has changed over the years. He said medical calls alone take up a third of the department's responses
"I think the overall Fire Department changed a little bit and there are more medical calls answered," he said. "Before they basically were the fire department. Now they're going to every little fender bender."
Although Satko and fellow Prudential Committee member Fred Meczywor Jr. agreed with this sentiment, they were concerned about what it would cost.
"Case in point, my mother, she's getting $40 more a year in Social Security. Well, this will blow that right up," Meczywor said. "There's a lot of elderly on fixed incomes that we have to really pay attention to."
Currently, the chief position is a part-time elected position that comes with a nearly $16,000 stipend. If the vote passes, the salary would bump up to $65,000. Another $30,000 would be tacked on for benefits and $17,000 to fund retiree health insurance.
The full-time firefighter position would come with a $40,000 salary and another $30,000 in benefits.
These new positions would raise the fire protection cost from $84 to $121 per unit annually.
If this goes through, Satko said the district would have a year to make some bylaw changes to accommodate the two full-time positions. Because the positions would be paid, they would have to be altered from elected to appointed.
"We are paying for it now so we have to form a job description with the qualifications and certifications," he said.
Satko said they would likely form a committee to select the employee but he and Meczywor were confident Pansecchi would apply. Also, they would hope to hire the full-time firefighter from within the ranks.
The two did admit there was still a lot to figure out -- like how to break down the salary they have budgeted. They were still not confident that the job warranted a full-time position.
"There are twice as many reports to do, you know, and he does a lot of different inspections and works with the building inspector," Satko said. "I think there's more paperwork now than there used to be but is it a 40-hour job or could you do it in 20?"
There was also a concern that two full-time positions could create rifts in the volunteer fire company.
"This is like a foot in the door we may start with one and they may say it is not enough," Satko said. "Alerts are all volunteers and there may be bad feelings. They are not getting paid and may not want to do this anymore."
There was a fear this could drive down already dwindling numbers in the Alert Hose Company.
District members will decide these two ballot questions at the annual election, which will be held Tuesday, May 14, from noon to 6 at the firehouse.
"I used to be on the Fire Department ... I see both sides," Meczywor said. "I don't want to inject my personal opinion so that is why we are doing it this way."
District members will also vote on some new costs that will increase the water rate 62 cents per thousand gallons.
"There were quite a few years that they didn't have any water increases or we have had small increases you know like 27 cents or 30 cents," Satko said. "This is going to be probably one of the larger ones but you gotta do it."
District members also will vote on seven items during the annual meeting: A 20-year infrastructure master plan ($66,500), a rate study, creation of an asset management plan ($35,000), an update of the emergency response plan ($15,000), Update Operations and Maintenance Manual ($21,500), a Bassett Reservoir Dam Emergency Action Plan ($24,000), and the replacement of water meters ($100,000).
Water Superintendent John Barrett said these costs are mandates from the state Departments of Environmental Protection and of Conservation and Recreation and it would only cost more to deny them.
"If this gets voted through that is going to be the cheapest way," he said. "If it gets voted down the DEP will come back and probably write an administrative consent order. Then we will have to hire a lawyer and there can be daily fines."
These items will be decided at the annual meeting to be held the same day as the election at 7 at the fire station.
Meczywor said the rest of the budget was mostly flat and in some areas lesser than this year's budget. He said last year the district had to budget for the installation of a Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition system which increased the bottom line in fiscal 2019.
The Prudential Committee does plan to hold an informational meeting but a date and time have not yet been scheduled.
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