WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The committee that governs the town's fire district is aiming to give firefighters a 13 percent raise in recognition of their efforts and in hopes the department might attract some more men and women to the call-volunteer service.
On Wednesday afternoon, the three-person Prudential Committee met to begin building the budget request it plans to send to the district's voters on May 22.
Chairman John Notsley recommended — and his colleagues agreed — that the district give firefighters a bump from $16.80 per hour to $19 per hour.
"That's a fairly hefty increase, but the fact remains these are trained emergency professionals with no benefits," Notsley said. "They're available weekends, nights, holidays, and they get nothing but the basic wage."
They also don't get all that many hours over the course of a year.
The district's firefighters earn, at most, $3,000 per year, Notsley said. Through the first eight months of the current fiscal year, the district has expended just $13,592 of the $49,500 it budgeted for firefighter pay in FY18 — about 28 percent of the budgeted amount.
The firefighter pay rate was last changed in 2017.
"Number one, they deserve it," said Notsley, who participated in the meeting remotely by phone. "Number two, it may open an avenue for some other individuals in town to decide they'd like a second job or a part-time position, and we might be able to snag some more working bodies for the district and the town.
"That's my proposal. It's obviously something to discuss."
Notsley's colleagues, Ed McGowan and Ed Briggs, needed no convincing and readily agreed to support the recommendation.
The three also agreed to budget for a 2.5 percent pay raise for the fire chief, a raise in line with other town employees, and to raise the salaries of the district's engineers from $2,750 to $2,900, an increase of 5.5 percent; the engineers saw their last raise in 2017.
District Clerk/Treasurer Corydon Thurston will feed those numbers into the budget and bring an updated FY19 spending plan to the Prudential Committee for a special meeting on April 11. At its regular monthly meeting on April 27, the committee hopes to approve a budget that can be warned for the annual district meeting on May 22.
That annual meeting this year moves to the cafeteria at Williamstown Elementary School, from its customary location at the Water Street fire station. The Prudential Committee, in response to requests from some town residents to have more outreach to the community, moved Wednesday's meeting to Town Hall, where it was filmed by the town's community access television station, WilliNet.
And the annual district election of officers will be at the elementary school from 6 to 8 p.m. on Tuesday, May 22, with the meeting, to follow at 8 with the consideration of the budget and other fiscal warrant articles.
On Wednesday, the committee discussed adding a warrant article seeking funds to pay for a study to assess the town's needs for fire service as the district makes plans for the Main Street parcel district whose acquisition voters approved in October 2017.
Briggs on Wednesday told his colleagues that after delays related to settling the estate of Kurt Lehovec, the district hopes to close on parcel next week or in early April.
"Two meetings ago, the Prudential Committee agreed that as we look forward to what to do with the property … there was a unanimous vote to seek a feasibility study so we could have an independent third party assess the current and future needs of the district," Thurston said. "To that end, I think it's appropriate to support that study with an article or a special article in the budget."
Thurston said he did not know how much such a study would cost, but as a ballpark, he used the recently completed study assessing the future of Village Ambulance Service, which last year merged with North Adams Ambulance Service. That study cost $25,000. Thurston said he would try to get a better estimate for the committee before they sign off on the warrant.
In other budget-related news, the committee discussed the district's rising need for funds to maintain its fire equipment. With two thirds of the current fiscal year completed, the district has used $43,747 (87.5 percent) of its $50,000 line item for maintenance and operation in the FY18 budget.
Notsley encouraged Thurston to adjust the "M&O" line upward in the FY19 budget; its last increase was from $45,000 to $50,000 in the FY16 budget.
"Fire apparatus always lasted 30 years, easily, and they're not doing that anymore," Notsley said. "With all the electronics and everything, they're just not holding up — that in addition the corrosive material used on the road to prevent icing are raising hell with them."
On the other hand, the committee got some good news on finances when it came to its electric bill. Thurston reported that the district has started to see solar credits reflected on its bill.
The fire district is responsible for street lighting in the town. As recently as FY17, that was the largest line item in the district's operating budget: $95,300, or 19 percent of a $488,915 operating budget.
In FY18, anticipating the town's solar project coming online during the fiscal year, the district budgeted just $80,000 for street lights, a drop of 16 percent. Thurston's draft budget for FY19 drops that appropriation again, to $60,000, a reduction of 25 percent from the current fiscal year.
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