|Williamstown Fire District Facing Decisions on FY23 Budget|
|By Stephen Dravis, iBerkshires Staff |
02:17PM / Wednesday, March 30, 2022
|At last week's meeting of the Williamstown Fire District's Prudential Committee, it was announced that longtime committee member Ed Briggs, right, will not be seeking another term on the body.|
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The chair of the committee that governs the fire district warned that the district's fiscal year 2023 budget would not be a "slam dunk" for voter approval this spring.
John Notsley asked his fellow Prudential Committee members to hold a special meeting on April 13 to focus on the budget the committee will present to residents at the May 24 annual district meeting.
"We have three heavy duty things the fire district is faced with," Notsley said at last week's virtual meeting. "Number one is the building [project], obviously. The second thing will be, operationally, our budget for next year and the year after for personnel replacements, all sorts of things. The third thing is capital — replacement of trucks and equipment down the road.
"There are a lot of things coming up in the FY23 budget that we'll have to look at, discuss and come up with a presentation. … This may not be a slam dunk, which it's been in the past. It's going to entail a lot of discussion."
The Fire District is a separate taxing authority apart from town government.
Although property owners receive a single tax bill as a matter of convenience, properties are taxed at different rates for the town and district, which are broken into separate line items on the bill. The town portion, which is much larger and includes money to pay the town's assessment from the Mount Greylock Regional School District in addition to costs borne directly by Town Hall, like the department of public works and police services.
The town budget is approved by voters at the annual town meeting; the Fire District budget is approved at a similar meeting, held usually one week later.
Last Wednesday, the Prudential Committee learned that the FY22 budget is mostly on track with the spending plan the meeting approved last spring, but the numbers are going to be "tight" as the district moves toward the June 30 close of the fiscal year, according to Treasurer Corydon Thurston.
There are a couple of areas of concern that came up in Wednesday's meeting. Thurston said the Fire Department already has used more than 90 percent of its maintenance budget for the fiscal year with several months left to go. Chief Craig Pedercini said the district is going to go "considerably" over its training budget for the year.
The latter issue arguably is good news.
"We have a firefighter going through the Firefighter I-II [certification] program, which is 330 hours," Pedercini said. "In lieu of giving him an hourly rate, we've always given them a stipend. We also have a basic rookie class we're putting on for eight new members."
The maintenance budget is skewed partly by an issue with the chief's 10-year-old sport utility vehicle. The Prudential Committee last year discussed replacing the SUV, which currently has about 90,000 miles on it, in the FY22 budget. Pedercini told the panel last week that he is being told the ballpark for a replacement currently is about $67,000.
"We generally have kept vehicles six years," Pedercini told the committee. "The last one I think we kept eight years. The running boards are starting to rust. It's either put money back into the vehicle or think about replacing it."
As for the building project, activity there will start ramping up now that the district finally has a contract
in place with its architect. That contract was signed earlier this month, Thurston informed the committee last week.
Part of its design fees will be paid from the proceeds of a $400,000 state grant
the district received last year.
The Prudential Committee approved spending up to $10,300 to have the grant writer behind last year's successful application to develop a new application to the commonwealth's Rural and Small Town Development Fund.
"We have submitted our letter of intent," Thurston said. "The actual application isn't due until June. … What we're hoping for is the maximum under the building category, a $2 million grant. That's a bigger chunk than we sought under architecture and design. We're going to shoot for the moon and see what happens."
Meanwhile, Pedercini reported that the district's Building Committee plans a design development meeting kickoff on June 30 with hopes of having construction documents ready by the fall of this year.
In other business on Wednesday, the Prudential Committee decided unanimously to engage Adelson and Co. of Pittsfield to conduct the district's fiscal year 2022 financial audit. Earlier this year, the district learned that the auditor it has been using would not be providing the service any longer, and it sought bids from three different firms.
Two of those firms responded to the request for proposals, and the committee went with the Pittsfield CPAs whose clients include the town of Williamstown.
Wednesday's meeting began with the announcement that longtime Prudential Committee member Ed Briggs will not be seeking another term on the body when his current term expires.
"Ed has served us well for so many years that it's hard to imagine having a meeting without him," Notsley said. "His experience, his thoughtfulness, his care for the department and the district goes unseen. It's been quite a run."