Dalton Fire District Annual Town Meeting May 14

By Sabrina DammsiBerkshires Staff
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DALTON, Mass. — Fire District voters will decide on a proposed $3,524,680 budget for fiscal year 2025 at the upcoming annual district meeting.
 
The meeting will take place at the Stationary Factory on Tuesday, May 14, at 7 p.m. The annual election will be held on the same day, from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the fire station. 
 
Offices up for election are one member of the Board of Water Commissioners for three years; one member of the Prudential Committee for three years; and one moderator and one auditor, each for one year. 
 
Water Commission incumbent Michael Kubicki is being challenged by Ken Sagendorph for the seat on the Water Commission. 
 
A number of the budget hikes are caused by increases outside the district's control, specifically insurance. Additional proposed increases relate to competitive wages and stipends, personnel and training, education and recertification, and building improvements, all of which aim to improve the district's Property Protection Classification. 
 
Throughout the budgeting process, Fire Chief Christian Tobin emphasized the need to communicate with voters so that they are informed why these increases are necessary to operate and improve safety in Dalton and the surrounding towns. 
 
The district held an information session in April to improve attendance at the annual meeting and communication with residents. 
 
During the meeting, Tobin clarified that the district is not part of the town, which is a common misconception. 
 
The Fire District provides residents with all-hazard mitigation, including fire, emergency medical services, rescue, hazardous material response, inspections, investigations, community education, permitting, and good intent assistance, among other services.
 
The state does not consider the EMS service an essential service, so the town is not required to provide it. However, Tobin demonstrated that Dalton has a low tax rate compared to some other towns in the Berkshires.  
 
He also clarified that the town's tax rate is $17.01 per $1,000 of assessed property value, while the district is only $1.19 per $1,000. 
 
Great Barrington has a $1.79 tax rate but does not provide EMS services and has no 24/7 firefighters on duty; Dalton has eight, Tobin said. 
 
According to the Becket Ambulance's website, the company has an average of 250 runs yearly with its 24/7 365-day service. Dalton does four times that amount, and it keeps going up, Tobin said. 
 
Ambulance and fire have proposed a combined budget of $1,873,608, up approximately $360,000. 
 
In fiscal 2024, voters approved a $703,506 ambulance budget and a $597,837 Fire Department budget, for a total of $1,301,343. 
 
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 during a previous Water Commissioners meeting.  
 
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 during a previous Water Commission meeting. 
 
It will take two or three years to meet those standards, he said. Using run data, he found the busiest times are between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. when on-call firefighters are unavailable.
 
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.
 
Throughout the budgeting process, Tobin emphasized that properly equipping, staffing, and training the town's fire department can save residents and businesses money because it improves the department's Insurance Services Office rating. 
 
The score reflects a community's preparedness for fires and focuses on local fire departments, water supply, and emergency communication systems. A good ISO score will result in lower insurance rates for their properties. 
 
The department last had an ISO rating over a decade ago, the chief said.
 
Tobin has been working with the district to develop a three-year strategic plan that outlines its organization's challenges and opportunities and the anticipated strengths and weaknesses it will face over the next few years. 
 
As part of the strategic plan, the department must have a vision of who it is, what its purpose is, and how to align that purpose with serving the community, Tobin said.
 
The district is there to minimize and mitigate risk in the community, and insurance companies are in the business of doing the same thing, he said during the information session. 
 
The fire and ambulance insurance line item is projected to increase by $105,875, bringing it to $436,561. 
 
The administration budget is proposing a 25.76 percent increase, bringing it to $166,396, a $34,081 increase from last year. 
 
The leading factor in the increase is the insurance line item, which is going up by 58.25 percent, or $15,679, to approximately $42,594. 
 
The administration budget also includes an additional $10,000 to cover the additional hours the office assistant has been working. 
 
In fiscal year 2024, the district budgeted $5,000 for an office assistant who works on call. She has been working more than anticipated to help with District Clerk and Treasurer Melanie Roucoule's workload. 
 
The proposed Water Department budget is mostly staying the same. It includes salary increases and insurance rate hikes. 
 
The district is projecting a budget of $830,918, a $125,077, or 17.72 percent increase from last year. 
 
The water department's insurance hikes are the driving force behind its increases. The district budgeted $240,050 for the department's insurance, a $60,116, or 116.16 percent 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. 

Tags: annual meeting,   fire district,   

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Pittsfield Girls Softball to Host New England Regional

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PITTSFIELD, Mass. – Pittsfield Girls Softball will host the New England Babe Ruth Regional Tournament at the Doyle Softball Complex from June 28 to June 30.
 
The tournament will feature 15 teams, including the Berkshire Force 12-and-under and 14-and-under travel squads. The event will get under way at 8 a.m. on Friday and run through about 3:30 p.m. on Sunday.
 
Winners from the tournament will advance to the 40th anniversary Babe Ruth Softball World Series in Florence Ala., in July.
 
“The Pittsfield Girls Softball League extends its appreciation to the City of Pittsfield and all of our event sponsors for their assistance in making this tournament possible,” PGS President Jack Roy said in a Tuesday news release.
 
For more information about the tournament, contact Roy at 619-318-3908 or royjack254@aol.com.
 
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