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Williamstown Prudential Committee members, from left, Lindsay Neathawk, David Moresi and Alex Steele participate in Wednesday's meeting.

Williamstown Fire District Meeting Tuesday

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff
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WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The Fire District on Tuesday will ask voters to approve a fiscal year 2025 budget that includes a 3.5 percent increase in the operation budget over the current year.
 
That is less than the 6.3 percent annual increase members approved in May 2023 and, in dollar terms, adds $18,787 to the district's maintenance and operation budget from FY24 to FY25.
 
The Fire District meeting traditionally falls one week after the annual town meeting, where registered voters can weigh in on the town's spending plan for the fiscal year that begins on July 1. With the town meeting pushed to this past Thursday this year, there is a smaller gap between the two.
 
As usual, the Fire District meeting begins with the election of officers starting at 4 p.m. in the Williamstown Elementary School gymnasium.
 
Polls will be open from 4 to 7 with two uncontested races on the ballot. Incumbents Lindsay Neathawk and David Moresi each are running unopposed to retain their seats on the five-person Prudential Committee that oversees the district.
 
At 7:30, after the ballots are counted, attention will turn to the remaining 10 articles on the annual meeting warrant.
 
Article 5, the maintenance and operation budget, is, as usual, the largest item, a proposed $542,901 expenditure in FY25.
 
Among the line items with the biggest percentage increases is the district's contribution to the Berkshire County Retirement System, an assessment that the district receives from the BCRS board. In the current fiscal year, the fire district was charged $22,734; in FY25, that jumps to $31,480, an increase of 38 percent.
 
Other increases of note include the district's insurance cost, which is going from $70,000 to $80,500 (15 percent) and the line item for stipends for the district's call-volunteer firefighters, which is getting bumped from $46,000 to $57,210 (24 percent).
 
Those increases are somewhat offset by a $15,000 reduction in the salary line for FY25, which goes from $115,000 to $100,000, a drop of 15 percent.
 
The second expenditure on the warrant, if approved, would come not from new taxation but from the district's stabilization fund.
 
Article 4 seeks to raise from stabilization $420,000 for a new "fire truck vehicle."
 
This is the mini rescue truck the Prudential Committee discussed at its April meeting as a potential replacement for the fire department's Engine 1.
 
At the May meeting, the committee heard about under body corrosion issues on Engine 2 that are nearly as bad as those the panel saw in pictures of Engine 1. 
 
Assistant Chief Michael Noyes told the Prudential Committee that increased use of chemicals, like calcium chloride, used to de-ice the roads, have wreaked havoc on the department's apparatuses.
 
The good news is that newer equipment, like the water tanker purchased in 2021 and the mini rescue truck it plans to purchase in the coming fiscal year will be less susceptible to the problem.
 
"I guarantee you the rescue truck will have a stainless steel subframe," Noyes told the committee.
 
Of course, that material also drives up the cost of fire apparatus compared to decades ago, like when the department purchased Engine 1 (2001) and Engine 2 (2006).
 
"The trucks are built better today," Noyes said. "[Engines 1 and 2] are better built than the trucks 30 years before them."
 
The department does use equipment designed by one of the volunteer firefighters to wash the undercarriages of its vehicles after they go on the road, but it's a losing battle, Noyes said.
 
"With calcium chloride sitting on the frames, it's just eating them away," he said.
 
While the department plans to replace Engine 1 if the stabilization fund expenditure is approved on Tuesday, it is waiting on a quote to find out the cost of refurbishing the newer Engine 2.
 
"So we could have Engine 2 refurbished and, theoretically, bring it beyond 30 years?" Prudential Committee member Alex Steele asked.
 
"Pretty much similar to what we did with Engine 3," Fire Chief Craig Pedericini replied.
 
Several of the articles on the annual meeting warrant deal with special one-time spending items outside the M&O budget and will be familiar to regular meeting attendees.
 
Article 6 asks to raise and appropriate $80,000 to put into the stabilization fund, the same funding level approved last year. Article 7 asks for $10,000 for communications equipment; equal to FY24. Article 8 seeks $12,000 for firefighter turnout gear; last year the meeting approved $10,000 for that expense.
 
Article 9 would reallocate the remainder of $36,000 approved by the 2023 annual district meeting from the purchase of automated external defibrillators and a CPR device to go toward the purchase of a decontamination washer for personal protective equipment gear.
 
And Article 11 seeks $60,000 for the fire station project to conduct a review of the design and value engineering to keep the project on budget. Last year, meeting members approved $70,000 for design work for the planned Main Street station.
 
In other business at Wednesday's Prudential Committee meeting, the panel learned that the district has received responses from four potential construction management firms for the new station. Proposals are due to the district on May 30, and the district's selection committee has scheduled interviews for June 5.
 
District construction consultant Bruce Decoteau Wednesday told the committee that by mid September the district could have shovels in the ground at the Main Street (Route 2) site.

Tags: annual meeting,   fire district,   fiscal 2025,   

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Pittsfield Council Passes $216M Budget, Cuts Schools

By Brittany PolitoiBerkshires Staff

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The City Council closed budget season just before 10 p.m. on Tuesday, approving a $216 million spending plan for fiscal year 2025. This includes a cut to the School Department.

Councilors approved a $215,955,210 spending plan that is a 5 percent increase from this year and includes a $200,000 reduction to the $82 million Pittsfield Public School budget. The budget passed 10-1 with Ward 2 Councilor Brittany Noto in opposition.

All conversation was related to the schools, as droves of staff members came to council chambers believing this was a direct slash to positions. It was agreed that misinformation sparked the uprising and was attributed to a "divide" between the school district and the council.

"The amount of misinformation that happened, I don't want to dig into how it happened but it is concerning," Ward 6 Councilor Dina Lampiasi said.

"And when I look at the emails that I received over the last several days from parents and people who are in the School Department, it's apparent to me that there is a divide here and there are a lot of people that agree with us that something isn't working."

Councilor at Large Earl Persip III emphasized that there should be a focus on communication — noting that Superintendent Joseph Curtis has communicated more than previous holders of his title.

"I think there is something missing from what you guys have said to us and from what we hear and that's where we struggle," he said.

Curtis maintained that a staff email he sent out was purely informational and did not make unsound claims, noting that "certainly this was an incredibly complex budget season." The FY25 spending plan includes the reduction of 53 positions, some related to the sunsetting of Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief funds.

"There was no negativity put forward," he said. "There was a recounting of what happened and some possible next steps in the process because I feel it's incredibly important for the school community to know the process."

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