Town of NewSalem Selectboard
January 28, 2018
Stowell Building, New Salem, MA 01355
Convened: 7:00 pm
Present: Randy Gordon, chair, Wayne Hachey, Selectboard; Nancy Aldrich, Town Coordinator; Kathy Soule-Regine, MaryEllen Kennedy, Paul Chapin, Sue Cloutier, Broadband; Joe Cuneo, Fire Chief; Ken Bright
Selectboard Reviewed & Signed the Following:
Ø Payroll & Vendor Warrants
Appointments for MLP Board
Nancy started off by explaining that since the Special Town Meeting has approved the creation of an MLP Board, the Selectboard can now appoint members to sit on this elected board until the next annual town election. Kathy then put forward several names. Herself, Paul, and Sue. They would serve as the temporary members. Kathy explained that people would then run in the election, and the terms would be staggered. This prompted some questions from Randy regarding the staggered terms. Once settled there was some discussion regarding the size. Kathy felt that it would help prevent issues with quorum down the road. MaryEllen of course will remain as MLP Director. Sue then asked some questions regarding how the nomination papers would work. Randy briefly explained the process. Discussion ended shortly thereafter.
A motion was made by Wayne to appoint Kathy, Sue, and Paul as the MLP Board members. The motion was seconded by Randy and passed by majority vote.
Accounting Issues/Conversation with FRCOG
Nancy went over the current situation with Free Cash and the concern by various departments as to the considerable pressure the Town Accountant is under. The Town Accountant has been struggling under a lot of work and has had some difficulties as a result with some department heads. There has been no communication as to why the situation is what it is. FRCOG has responded to these concerns by looking for a community compact with the Commonwealth. They are looking to get another municipal accountant so that they can lower the number of towns that each accountant is covering, therefore reducing the stress and helping avoid these kinds of situations. Randy expressed concerns about the situation given some losses. The town has been unable to make one time purchases that Free Cash would afford and that results in some real financial pain. Nancy reported that Wendell has also been experiencing problems. There was then discussion about how beneficial it would be to ask the Town Accountant to come in and report. Randy noted that if there were other options or choices the town might find a solution. Wayne agreed. There always appears to be a problem. Joe noted some of the challenges for municipal accountants and for private bookkeepers and CPAs in entering the field. There is a real shortage emerging of qualified people. Municipal accounting is sort of counterintuitive to the way private accounting is done. Joe asked if there is a contract with FRCOG. Nancy responded that it is a 3-year contract. She also outlined the benefits of the FRCOG program. Wayne asked if the Town Accountant has reported how close he is to getting Free Cash certified. Nancy was unaware of a date for that. Joe outlined some issues that are of budgetary pertinence to him that he hasn’t been able to get. He is able to get some information and is able to sort of figure out what he needs, but it would be nice if he could get more information. Wayne agreed to talk to the Town Accountant to try and determine what information he needs to get Free Cash certified.
Highway Dept. Truck Quotes
One company, HP Fairfield reported they do not have anything at this time. Sarat Ford comes to $47,500, Brookside Equipment is $45,000. Brookside also gives the best trade and the vehicle would be a 2013. The town would trade in two trucks, F550 and a F350. Randy asked about the operability of the vehicles. Nancy responded one is inoperable and the other is close to it. Wayne noted that the one that isn’t yet inoperable, is pretty bad and he’s asked Highway to take it off the road in the past. So this is a good moment to dispose of it. Nancy then reported that the truck from Brookside would pretty much be ready to go. Wayne reminded that the town meeting authorized up to $50,000. Randy then had a few questions about the underlying truck. Wayne noted that there is nothing substantive that would prevent this purchase. It was decided to proceed with the lowest quote.
A motion was made by Wayne to accept Brookside Equipment’s quote at $45,000 after trade ins. Randy seconded and the motion passed by majority vote.
Fire Department Wage Proposal/Minutes from Personnel Board Meeting
Nancy gave the Selectboard a copy of the proposal that Joe gave the Personnel Board. Joe then took over and explained his plan. It’s a revamping of the wages for firefighters and is based on what the surrounding communities are doing as well as on data from FRCOG. This would put the town in the middle range. The towns step system would not be applicable to the Fire Department if this proposal is approved. It does essentially give raises, but in such an event COLA’s would be deferred for FY20. Wayne asked if the raise would be better than a COLA. Joe responded it would be. There are a few who make enough that they wouldn’t see much of an increase. But most of the firefighters would. That said he felt this would be helpful. It would create more classifications so that there would be probationary rates, and on up. Wayne asked if this is being done in Wendell. Joe responded that Wendell already pays higher wages than New Salem, and even with this change, New Salem would be close to .50 cents less an hour than Wendell. The thought would be to make it effective retroactively at January 1st. The department pays quarterly, and there is enough money to do the pay through now until end of fiscal year. He has already spoken with the Town Treasurer and she suggested he build this into the departments FY20 budget request to the Finance Committee. Wayne asked if this would help insurance rates. Joe responded that it probably wouldn’t affect those metrics, but there are other things that can be done to help that. Randy then went over the proposed system and how it would work, including for ranking and for certifications. Joe responded by explaining the nuances and how performance can come into things as well as longevity.
Randy had some questions about the discretionary parts of the proposal. If someone got every possible certification, would they end up getting every possible raise for that. Joe responded that it probably wouldn’t seeing as there would be budget limits plus other factors that would apply. Randy then asked about how many firefighters fall into each category. Joe elaborated on where the numbers of things stand, including junior firefighters and probationary ones. A junior firefighter would be under 18 but at least 16. Wayne noted that since Joe is a strong Chief he could do some of this one his own. Joe agreed, but said that he’d rather have the support. Nancy asked at what point the Commonwealth hits the new $15 per hour minimum a year. It was unclear if that is 3 years or 4 years out. The minimum is currently $12 per hour. She noted that a number of positions in town don’t hit that, and while towns are exempt from that minimum, it isn’t entirely fair. Joe generally agreed to that end. He then went over some other factors, such as whether he would continue to have a Deputy Chief or not once the current one retires. Calendar year 2018 had the most calls the town has had. Hopefully those numbers drop this year. Joe then noted again the support he has from the Town Treasurer and the Personnel Board. Randy asked if this would impact the Chief’s wages. Joe responded that it wouldn’t. He reminded that his situation is different as he is not an hourly employee but rather a salaried employee. Randy asked some questions about the budget process and how the department will pay for the change in this fiscal year. Joe elaborated on the budget process. Randy then asked about any overspending. Joe responded it would only occur in a situation where there was monumental fire activity. Nancy agreed suggesting that in such a case a reserve fund or stabilization funding move could be done at town meeting.
Randy noted some correspondence with the Selectboard from the Town Treasurer as to wage increases. Many departments are requesting increases, which is normal during this stage in the budget process. Some thought should be put into the matter as it has been a while since the town has seriously considered wages and its step system. Randy felt that this plan is a solid one, but if it is done, this does not mean that the Selectboard supports other shifts in wages that would occur mid fiscal year. If the Fire Department can do this within its budget and manage it, that is acceptable. But the Selectboard must be cognizant of the needs of the town and other departments. In other words, this should not be creating a precedence as such shifts should be done at the start of fiscal year. Joe agreed saying that it should always be a criterion that the department be able to sustain any change.
Wayne made a motion to accept the proposal of the Fire Chief caveated on the before stated understanding of the Selectboard as to the setting of any precedence. The motion was seconded by Randy and passed by majority vote.
Radio Informational Meeting
The meeting is at 7:00 pm at Greenfield Community College on January 31st, 2019. Joe reported on the meeting saying it would be to discuss some possible funding from the Commonwealth for radios and communication equipment among other things. There has been frustration with the process with the Commonwealth regarding this topic over the years. But it the Commonwealth really needs to put together something.
Landfill Monitoring Proposal for Next Three Fiscal Years
Nancy reported that the landfill monitoring is done on 3-year contract basis. The cost is $5,200 a year. Wayne asked if this is done by FRCOG. Nancy responded that it isn’t. The town has been with this company for a few years, but had gone out to bid prior to hiring them. The price was the best, and the new agreement would keep the price flat at the $5,200 per year. Wayne felt that the town wouldn’t do any better and this is required by DEP. There was some brief discussion of how many years that the town is required to do this monitoring. Nancy responded it is typically for 40 or 50 year periods.
A motion was made by Wayne to accept the agreement. The motion was seconded by Randy and passed by majority vote.
Meeting with Wendell
Originally Wendell was going to invite New Salem’s Selectboard to come to its meeting on February 5th, 2019, to discuss planning for possibly instituting a shared Police Chief after the two towns current chiefs retire in a few years. Unfortunately, Wendell’s meeting agenda got lengthy and they have decided it would be better to meet with New Salem instead. Nancy reported that they have therefore been scheduled for February 11th, 2019.
The Selectboard determined to approve the minutes from January 14, 2018.
A motion to adjourn at 7:58 pm was made by Wayne. The motion was seconded by Randy and passed by majority vote.
Jakob K. Hamm, Selectboard Clerk