On Tuesday June 26, the Shutesbury Select Board held an open meeting attended by residents interested in the contract for the Fire Chief. At the meeting, the Select Board indicated that per its policy, it would listen to residents but not respond. Questions were raised at the session by residents and the Select Board members made note of these.
The Select Board is committed to providing timely but accurate information, so answering these questions will take time. The first step is that following its June 29 meeting, Select Board members agreed to share the questions they heard with the Town Administrator. A list of the questions was on Friday, July 6, a little later than we hoped. Following that, on a rolling basis, the answers will be posted here as available. New questions should be sent by email to email@example.com.
The Select Board thanks the Shutesbury community for its interest in understanding the situation by asking questions and seeking answers. I
Questions Select Board heard at the Meeting June 29, regarding Fire Chief
- Does the Highway Superintendent classify as administrative? Is he allowed to collect salary and overtime?
Answer: Our Highway Superintendent is an equipment operator and laborer as well as a manager of his dept. This position currently is about 20% administrative. The position is not required to attend meetings beyond those for permitting and any at the request of the Select Board. This position does receive overtime and is on call 24/7. Dispatch calls the Highway Superintendent in for unsafe road conditions both day or night.
- During the negotiations, did Selectboard consider cost of replacing Walter? What will it cost to provide service if Walter leaves?
Answer: The Select Board did not consider the cost of replacing Walter. A study of the Fire Department needs to be completed to determine full costs. During the process the negotiating team tried to get a picture of the functions that Walter provides the town that part-time fire chiefs in other small towns do not provide their towns by asking for a full list of the fire chief’s activities and essential fire department tasks. No costs, at this point, have been determined for those services or repairs if contracted out to others or done in a repair facility.
- What will be the salary for a new fire chief?
Answer: This question is a hard one to answer with a number. There are multiple facets to determining any salary for any position in town. The Select Board is not assuming a need for a new fire chief. However, if Walter is to leave, the Select Board would need to make determinations and assessments of need and structure that is right for Shutesbury. There would need to be information gathering about other similar towns. There would be input from the Personnel Board and the Finance Committee.
- What was the pay scale used to determine comparisons?
(among Shutesbury staff or with other fire chiefs, not clear)
Answer: Shutesbury is unique among small towns to have a full-time fire chief which makes it difficult to find direct comparisons for the negotiating team to utilize. The Personnel Board uses salary charts for Franklin County and Hampshire County as tools to compare other municipal jobs. The town does have a position grading system used by the Personnel Board to determine the level of positions. This is the primary tool used. The fire chief position is currently graded at the highest level.
- Why not use $5,0000 from annual library allocation for the Fire Chief’s salary?
Answer: The funds for the library allocation for FY19 are already appropriated and at this point are unable to be used for a different purpose.
- Why not use the savings from Hampshire Health Trust for FY19 to pay for the Fire Chief’s increase?
Answer: We had health insurance premiums budgeted for an increase in co-pays. We were lucky unions convinced the Hampshire Health Trust not to make plan changes such as increasing co-pays. We are looking at premiums potentially rising next year if plan changes are not implemented. The Hampshire County Trust savings is a one-time savings for the town. The $5,000 increase in the Fire Chief’s salary is not a one-time cost. It is on a three-year basis as that is the length of the contract.
- Why not create a fund that can be accessed by the Fire Dept, at its discretion, to pay for the Fire Chief’s salary?
Answer: The Fire Department is given an operating budget on an annual basis through the voting of the budget at Town Meeting each year. Currently there are also fire department salary lines for the fire chief, fire fighter training, and fire fighter response. It is possible for a new fire chief salary line for a specific purpose to be created.
- Salary should be set by Special Town Meeting?
Answer: Contracts have a negotiation process and cannot be set by town meeting. Only the Select Board has the authority to sign and negotiate contracts. Special Town Meeting may be used to allocate funds for a salary if not allocated for within the existing budget. During our budget process, we try to set all salaries at annual town meeting. The Select Board, Finance Committee, and Personnel Board meet as a group and agree to a percentage salary increase, 2 ½% for FY19. This salary increase is given to all non-school and non-contract employees. Some contracts accept the annual salary increase set by the Boards above. Some contracts specify a higher salary increase amount. Some contracts have been as high as 3% annual increase for many years.
- Does the Selectboard have an emergency fund it can tap??
Answer: No, the Select Board does not have access to funds. With that said there are two ways the Select Board can access funds in an emergency. The Select Board can call a Special Town Meeting, where Town Meeting decides whether to allocate funds. The Select Board also can make a case to the Finance Committee to transfer funds from the Finance Reserve fund for a special reason.
- Can we increase taxes to pay for the Fire Chief’s raise?
Answer: Yes, taxes can be raised to fund an increase in salary, but the funding can only be spent for an increase to the fire chief’s salary if the Select Boards approves and signs the contract that does so. Otherwise, funds allocated to the fire chief’s salary not utilized is moved to Free Cash at the end of the fiscal year.
- What is the plan if the town lacks a fire chief and fire department?
Answer: We are participating in good faith negotiations. We will not solidify any plans during this ongoing process. However, we plan for a future that assures medical, fire and safety response for the people of Shutesbury.
To know what resources that might be available to Shutesbury we have reached out to neighboring towns. We have found that there would be support for the protection of property and safety of the people of Shutesbury. Town officials will for a transitional period establish aid agreements with other towns and their fire departments when mutual aid is not appropriate.