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Williamstown Fire District Eyes Slight Decrease in Spending for FY21
By Stephen Dravis, iBerkshires Staff
12:40AM / Monday, May 18, 2020
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WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The Williamstown Fire District plans next month to ask voters to approve a budget that is down 1.5 percent from the fiscal year 2020 spending level.
The Prudential Committee, which oversees the district, at its Wednesday meeting, reviewed the FY21 spending plan and other warrant articles for the June 30 annual district meeting.
The meeting, like the annual town meeting and elections, have been moved from May in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In another nod to the public health crisis, the meeting will be moved from its usual location in the cafeteria at Williamstown Elementary School to the school's gymnasium.
The larger space will enable participants at the meeting to spread out. Prudential Committee Chair John Notsley explained that since there is no school at WES, the custodians will be able to leave the floor covering down in the gym after the town's election on June 23.
The fire district election, as usual, will be held on the evening of the meeting. Balloting will run from 4 to 7 p.m. with the meeting scheduled to start at 7:30.
District Moderator Paul Harsch and Notsley each is on the ballot running for re-election to his respective office.
Most of the nine articles on the warrant for the district meeting are related to its finances for the coming fiscal year.
The largest item is Article 5, which covers the district's maintenance and operations budget. It is up by a little over 3 percent from FY20, going from $488,151 to $503,169, a difference of $15,018.
Most of the line items in the M&O budget are either flat or have slight decreases. An exception is the line item for management services, which is up by 74 percent, from $13,500 to $23,500.
District Treasurer Corydon Thurston said the change mostly is attributable to recategorizing money the district already spends each year.
"For example, the clerk and treasurer are now appointed positions and their pay will be moved from the salary account to management services, and $2,000 of that is the clerk's salary, which is new," Thurston explained. "Two support services from the town, at $3,000,  were moved from [a different line item] plus some office support for the chief were moved and increased for the new year.
"Finally, we are over budget for this year for outside bookkeeping support, and I'm expecting to pay more and require more hours in the year ahead as well. I also included a slight contingency for an increase in services we receive from the town."
The $10,000 bump on the management services line is more than offset by reductions elsewhere in the warrant.
Unlike last the year, the district is not asking voters for a special appropriation from new tax revenue to pay for design work on a fire station the Prudential Committee is looking to build on Main Street. It will, however, be asking, in Article 6, whether district voters will approve a $20,000 appropriation from free cash to support that work.
The biggest ticket item on the warrant is Article 7, which seeks to spend $380,000 from the district's stabilization fund for a new tanker truck.
"It was highlighted in the report from our consultant," Notsley said. "We've been putting it off for some time. I think it makes all kinds of sense. The fact of the matter is, our trucks are getting old, and they're going to have to be replaced sooner or later.
"This is an opportunity to get a truck for a pretty reasonable price."
The next request on the warrant is for $50,000 from taxes to help replenish that stabilization account.
Early in Wednesday's discussion, one of the committee's newest members, Richard Reynolds, asked whether the district might want to skip funding the stabilization account in FY21 given the current uncertainty in the economy.
"I would hate to cut into that, to be honest with you," Notsley replied. "I think it's a necessary evil."
Thurston agreed later in the meeting.
"If there are concessions to be made, maybe do it from something else," he said. "If you get off track with capital [savings], you can get in trouble pretty quick."
Article 9 on the warrant seeks $20,000 from taxation to be used as matching funds for any federal or state grants the district may pursue in FY21. As recently as a month ago, that item may have been a little higher, but Assistant Chief Michael Noyes informed the Prudential Committee Wednesday that he has decided not to submit a grant request under the Federal Emergency Management Agency's Staffing for Adequate Fire & Emergency Response [SAFER] program.
The federal grant awards local fire departments funds to pay for additional full-time firefighters. FEMA pays up to 75 percent of the cost of the position the first two years; the local department is obligated to pay at least 65 percent in year three.
Noyes said he felt the Williamstown district could prepare a better application for the next round of SAFER grant applications, and the Prudential Committee endorsed that decision by a vote of 5-0. 
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