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Williamstown Finance Committee Questions Budget Lines
By Andy McKeever, iBerkshires Staff
10:03AM / Wednesday, March 23, 2011
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WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The town will have to contribute about $12,000 more next year to the Hoosac Water Quality District's budget.

The district's operating budget is up by $38,124 — from $1,217,464 to $1,255,588 — which translates to about $12,000 in the town's contribution to the wastewater treatment facility that services three municipalities. The town pays about 34 percent of the total budget, which the Finance Committee said Tuesday was an unfair agreement.

"Basically, 34 percent is the best we're going to get in an unfair world," Dan Gendron, Finance Committee member, said.

The Simmonds Road plant serves North Adams, Clarksburg and Williamstown, with each municipality paying their share according to meters. However, the metering sites are not always accurate and the town foots the bill for the margin of error, according to town officials. While that agreement may seem unfair, town officials said it was financially better than going through capital improvements to add metering stations to gain a more accurate reading.

"We can't meter our system because we have too many inlets," Town Manager Peter Fohlin said.

According to the plant's Chief Operator Bradley O. Furlon, historically the usage has been billed that way, at about 30 percent for Williamstown and 70 percent from North Adams. The agreement originated with the passing of the Clean Water Act of 1977 when all three towns operated separate plants. They joined together to offset major capital improvements to the plants.

The budget increase is mostly related to increases in employee health insurance costs and general plant maintenance. The plant also will be embarking on $2 million in capital improvements in the coming years.

While reviewing the town's budget Tuesday, the Finance Committee also raised concerns over the veterans services line. The 2011 budget is on pace to be overspent by $12,000, according to Fohlin.

The town splits a service officer, David Robbins, with Adams and North Adams. The towns reached that agreement when all three lost their own agent last year. The agreement is working out well for the town, but Robbins is authorizing the payout of more benefits than ever before.

Committee member Elaine Neely suggested that Robbins may not be directing the veterans to other financial sources and instead authorizing payments from the veterans services budget line. Neely and Fohlin both raved about their former officer Michael Kennedy.

"New people do things differently and that's not always in the ways that cause smiles," Fohlin said. "We look to be in a pretty serious hole."

Currently the town has spent $22,000 and is on pace to expend $32,000 of the $20,000 budget line. Next year, the town is expected to budget $35,000.

Proposed changes at the Council on Aging also stirred debate because a move to cut payroll is failing. Earlier this year the outreach coordinator resigned and instead of filling the position, Administrative Assistant Kathy Poirot has split her time between the Council on Aging and Town Hall. That has not been working on either end.

"We have an individual going in as an outreach worker but she really isn't an outreach worker. She knows a lot about insurance, she's really good and she's really enthusiastic but she's not a social worker," Council on Aging Director Brian O’Grady said.

The lack of a full-time position reduces the amount of services the council is able to provide, O'Grady said.

Fohlin said that it has issues with coverage in Town Hall as well and if the budget process goes smoothly, restoring the full-time position is the first thing on the agenda.

The remainder of the budgets examined by the committee Tuesday raised no eyebrows because nearly all were level-funded in every aspect except employee health insurance and longevity. The library budget also will be increasing slightly.
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