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Dalton Fire District Prioritizes Ambulance, Fire Improvements in Budget

By Sabrina DammsiBerkshires Staff
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DALTON, Mass. — The Fire District is anticipating a budget of $3,516,650 for fiscal year 2025, an increase of $820,196 from last year. 
The increased funding is an effort to improve the district's Property Protection Classification, Fire Chief Christian Tobin told the Water Commissioners meeting last Wednesday in presenting his three-year strategic plan.
It also includes hikes in insurance, competitive wages and stipends, personnel and training, education and recertification, and building improvements. 
Ambulance and fire have a combined budget $1,851,501, up approximately $350,000. 
In fiscal 2024, voters approved an ambulance budget of $703,506 and Fire Department budget of $597,837, a total of $1,301,343. 
Tobin's plan focuses on staffing, professional development and community outreach. This includes hiring two full-time equivalent firefighters to work during peak operation hours, which are between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m.
"[These additions are] in trying to meet the National Fire Protection Association minimal standards for staffing and trying to meet the [U.S.] Occupational Safety and Health Administration requirements for firefighters on the ground," Tobin said, adding it will take between two or three years to meet those standards. 
Using run data, he found the busiest times are between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m., when on-call firefighters are not available.
"Times have changed, you don't have the availability, we got to pay the bills, too. So by hiring two and then putting them on 12-hour shifts, that'll bring -- during our busiest times during the week -- three people here," the chief said.
The department responds to people-intensive emergencies such as vehicle accidents, heart attacks, and strokes. Tobin said it's not a total answer but should help 80 percent of the time.
The commissioners agreed to remove several equipment purchase articles, such as funds for an ambulance, ladder truck and brush truck totaling $185,000. Another $112,860 of debt for a fire truck was paid off this year. 
"I've been around and I've seen the nice fire stations and I've seen the nice offices and I feel like sometimes they're missing the mark because what we're here for is where the service means to customers," Tobin said. 
"And it's nice to have nice buildings. It's nice to have a nice chief's car, but who's gonna show up to your house when you dial 911? So, I think the priority here is a Medic Unit." 
Medic Unit 1 and 2 are getting expensive to maintain. He proposes purchasing or leasing a new unit, that the current frontline ambulance become the reserve and the other unit could become a specialty truck or be outfitted as a "utility vehicle that could really come in handy in different scenarios," he said. 
Once the district has a clearer picture of the cost and need, a special town meeting will likely be held in the summer. 
The district budget planning packet said this would allow for a "more significant division of labor, enhance safety, reduce injuries, and provide flexibility" in the department's response matrix. Tobin said these improvements can factor into the town Insurance Services Office scores that can reduce homeowners' insurance premiums. 
The department is also budgeting $15,000 for firefighter training and education, an increase of $8,500 from FY24. An additional $5,000 is budgeted for ambulance training and education, a decrease of $5,500 from last year.
The department would like to invest in workspace improvements to meet Americans With Disabilities Act guidelines. The district would gradually bring the building "up to date to meet federal and state standards for community access," the budget presentation says. 
The department's proposed budget includes a new line item for $2,500 for building management and an additional $4,200 for radio maintenance, bringing the total radio maintenance cost to $10,000.
These increases are part of the department's gradual efforts to meet the standards, training, education, and recertification. Firefighters need to receive state training to be interior firefighters, Tobin said. 
Tobin emphasized the need for a strategic plan that outlines the challenges and opportunities of its organization and the anticipates strengths and weaknesses it will face over the next few years. 
"Over the next three years, the Dalton Fire and EMS members will strive to accomplish the goals outlined" in the strategic plan and celebrate the department's success and growth, the 2024 to 2027 strategic plan says. 
"In the end, we will be stronger, more professional, more dynamic, and more effective in providing services to our community. 
Once some of the changes have been implemented next year, Tobin will have the ISO evaluate the department. The score reflects a community's preparedness for fires and focuses on local fire departments, water supply, and emergency communication systems. 
The department last had an ISO rating over a decade ago, the chief said.
Most of the district's budget increases stem from expenses beyond its control, specifically insurance hikes.
The fire and ambulance insurance line item is projected to increase by $105,875, bringing it to $435,561. The administration budget anticipates a 58.25 percent or $15,679 increase in its insurance line item, bringing it to approximately $42,594. 
In fiscal year 2024, the district budgeted $5,000 for an office assistant who works on call.  The office assistant has been working more hours than anticipated so the draft budget includes $10,000 to cover the additional hours.
The Water Department budget is mostly staying the same. It includes salary increases and insurance rate hikes. The district is projecting a budget of $1,393,457, a $177,991 increase from last year. 
The department's insurance hikes are the driving force behind its increases. The district budgeted $240,050 for the department's insurance, a $60,116 increase from last year.  
Superintendent Bob Benlien is requesting a $30,000 line item for meters. The district will continue to budget for meters until all the meters have been changed. 
Benlien also requested a $10,000 increase for overtime, projected at $50,000. 
There will be a Fire District budget informational session on Wednesday, April 10, at 6:30 p.m. at Wahconah Regional High School.

Tags: fire district,   fiscal 2025,   

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Dalton Planning Board Works to Update Special Permit Fees

By Sabrina DammsiBerkshires Staff
DALTON, Mass. — The Planning Board is navigating how to update its special permit fees to bring them up to date with the current costs of services. 
During the board meeting last week, Town Planner Janko Tomasic said the cost of completing the services is higher than what it costs to take action on the application.
The current application fee charged by the Board of Appeals and the Planning Board is $375. 
This fee is intended to cover the cost of labor, time, materials, postage for the certified abutters list for abutter notification, postage for the certified mail for the notice of the decision, and two Berkshire Eagle legal advertisements for the public hearing.
"According to the data, the base cost for a permit application is barely enough to cover the cost of the application process," according to Tomasic's special-permit costs breakdown. 
Based on the last six permits, the least expensive permit is $414 to complete because of the increase in cost for the steps in the permit process.   
The flat certified mail fee for eight letters is $69.52, which covers the cost of certified mail to abutting towns, the applicant, and notice of the decision to the applicant
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