North Adams Considering New Public Safety Positions

By Tammy DanielsiBerkshires Staff
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NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The draft budget for fiscal 2022 includes beefing up the command structures in the Police and Fire departments and reclassifying the director of inspection services.
Mayor Thomas Bernard presented the $5.5 million public safety budget to the Finance Committee last week as it continued its review of the proposed spending plan. 
"You'll see that there's a fairly significant proposed change this year, a fairly significant increase and I can walk through the sources of those changes as we go through," he said. "This is still very much for discussion at every level."
The proposed public safety budget is up by 7.9 percent, or $395,867. It includes the 1.5 percent wage increase for non-union staff but not for a senior clerk position that will be left vacant this year.
 "Under the building inspector, the three areas of significant variance are, I would like to propose a reclassification of the director of inspection services position to reflect what I think where that position actually should be," the mayor said. "We've talked about the need to comprehensively address the compensation plan, but this would be the one of a few areas in the budget where I would like to consider a reclassification, addressing some equity for department heads."
The director's classification would shift from S-24A to an S-33 with a salary of $74,306, about $7,000 more.
The code enforcement officer has been done on an on-call basis with the real cost to be reflected by a $28,000 line and a line for the hearing officer that has not been formally part of the budget. Bernard said this was a compliance issue.
"The ideal for a position like this is the fees collected would fund that stipend for a hearing officer," he said.
The Fire Department has budgeted a deputy chief at $76,890; the chief's salary is set at $87,500.
Bernard said the deputy chief post was "strongly recommended" by retired Chief Stephen Meranti.
"One of the things that both chiefs presented to me was that having the deputy chief creates more consistency around issues such as training so that there's a central support for that rather than the training being handled at the shift level by the lieutenants," he said. "It's also important to note as we talk about this, that there's a little bit of a disconnect in the structure of rank between the police and fire departments. ...
"This would create that comparable structure within the Fire Department."
The Fire Department has firefighters, four lieutenants and the chief while the Police Department has patrol officers, detectives, sergeants, lieutenants and chief. 
Fire Chief Brent Lefebvre said the deputy chief would be a non-union administrative position that could also be used for the myriad inspections now handled by the lieutenants and chief. These include smoke alarms, hot works, painting, propane, demolition and fire codes.
"There truly isn't enough time in the day to complete all of the inspections that are required by the state," he said. "So, having a deputy chief position the head off the Training and Inspection Division of the Fire Department would greatly help to relieve a lot of that."
Committee member Keith Bona noted that the committee would be reviewing fees and asked Lefebvre to consider where changes could be made. The chief said a substantial amount of time is spent on inspections and that it would be nice to recoup that. The city charges $5 for an oil burner inspection while other communities have a minimum of $25.
The budget also included higher amounts for repairs to Engine 3 ($75,000) and firefighting equipment ($25,000).
The Police Department is budgeting for a second lieutenant. The department currently has 24 officers — one lieutenant, four sergeants (including a detective sergeant), three detectives and a school resource officer.
Chairwoman Lisa Blackmer pointed out that a quarter of the officers were command staff and asked if that was too top heavy.
Police Chief Jason Wood said each shift needs a supervisor and that the lieutenant often has to take on duties beyond his administrative duties.
The committee also discussed overtime, which has been a significant line item for years. Both chiefs said they had difficulty finding reserve staff to fill in for permanent staff. The Fire Department is still on Civil Service although the Police Department left some years ago. 
Lefebvre said Civil Service limits his ability to hire but thought it would be difficult to get rid off because more senior firefighters felt it afforded them some protection. He said he is budgeted for 25 firefighters so would be hiring three. 
The police OT budget is tentatively set at $300,000 but the mayor said this figure is still under discussion. Wood said he could use three more officers but had set the OT line so as not to run into trouble as he had his first year as chief.
"I worry about, as far as my officers, health and well-being and wellness, I mean, when you're forcing them to work 16-hour days and they're not getting the proper rest ... that becomes a whole separate issue which can lead to burnout, poor decision making," he said. "I mean we all know this day and age, I mean we can't afford to have that happen."
Bernard said the committee should keep in mind that adding officers should bring down the overtime line but they would expect to see an increase on the health insurance and pension line.

Tags: fiscal 2022,   north adams_budget,   

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North Adams Schools Fully Open Beginning Next Week

By Tammy DanielsiBerkshires Staff
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — High school seniors will be returning to classrooms full time beginning next week on May 17, following the return of Grades 7 and 8 on April 28.
The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education in March voted to give the commissioner discretion to require in-classroom instruction to count as learning time. Most elementary children returned to classrooms April 5, although some students and schools were allowed to remain remote. 
"It looks as if about 75 percent of our seventh- and eighth-grade population returned for full in person, and we are currently processing the data for the high school return," Superintendent Barbara Malkas told the School Committee last week. An earlier survey to parents got very little response so a second was issued the week before. "We really needed to make sure we had a full complement of data."
She noted that the federal government was expected to approve use of the Pfizer vaccine to ages 12 and up; those 16 and older can already receive the shot. The more members of the school community are vaccinated, she said, the less disruption in learning since vaccinated people are not required to quarantine after contact with someone who has COVID-19.  
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