|Dalton Fire District's $3M Budget Approved |
|By Sabrina Damms, iBerkshires Staff|
04:48AM / Wednesday, May 10, 2023
|Voters in the Dalton Fire District attend Tuesday night's annual meeting. |
The Prudential Committee takes questions during the meeting.
DALTON, Mass. — Voters approved all 24 articles on the warrant at the annual Fire District meeting on Tuesday night at the Stationary Factory.
Around 45 voters attended the hourlong meeting to approve the budget and various money articles for salaries, equipment, and operating costs.
Multiple residents asked questions regarding the pay increases for the water district's staff.
District voters approved the appropriation of $705,841, a 4 percent increase for the Water Department's operating budget bringing its total to $704,841.
A driving force of this is increases in pay for Water District personnel. In the last three to four years, the district has trained and licensed new employees only to lose them to competing companies and other water departments with better pay.
In an effort to improve its retention rate, the department increased the pay for the superintendent, assistant superintendent, and laborers.
District voters also approved the appropriation of $132,315 for administration, an 18 percent increase from the previous year.
Part of this increase is due to a 20 percent increase in the treasurer and clerk's salary that has increased from $60,000 to $72,000.
The district's Treasurer and Clerk Melanie Roucoulet said she is working an additional 15 hours a week now that her workload has increased.
Roucoulet is now responsible for human resources and ambulance scheduling, said Fire District Chair James Driscoll
The district voters approved the appropriation of $50,000 for the Fire Department's reserve for contingencies account.
This is so the department can account for the overtime that it does not have a handle on yet, Driscoll said.
The department's contingencies account has been underfunded for a number of years so now the district is trying to increase it so it is closer to the water districts contingency budget, he said.
Voters were split on this item since it is such a large increase. Last year the contingency budget was $10,000.
The ambulance budget was also approved in the amount of $703,506, a 19 percent, or $122,293 increase.
The department went to an Advanced Life Support system in October and since then it has generated about $485,000, Driscoll said.
The district expects its reimbursements to get higher so it may be looking at maybe $200,000 in taxes, he said.
The ambulance also provides services to other towns including Hinsdale, Lanesborough, Pittsfield, and Windsor
Voters also approved appropriating $4,000 to cover Dalton's support system fee.
One resident recommended looking into charging the town of Dalton for the ambulance services that are there to protect its citizens.
The district voters also approved an appropriation of $597,837 for the department's operating budget, a $50,388 or 9 percent increase from FY23.
The major cause of this increase is mainly the increased costs for maintenance and equipment, Fire Chief James Peltier said. The prices for equipment have increased and so have full-time firefighter salaries.
The department has also budgeted $20,000 for overtime, which it did not do last year.
Voter Thomas Irwin asked if residents can expect budget increases next year.
The district is anticipating that the budget will level off but this is still only the second year that they have used the ALS system so there are still a lot of unknown variables, Driscoll said.
"The fire is up a little bit but not in regards to what the inflation rate is. It's commensurate. We're working hard to keep our funding as level as possible so that we don't have these big increases," Driscoll said.
"And I think we've done a good job over the last several years and making sure that we're pretty much level funded each year so I don't foresee this happening again next year but I don't have a crystal ball."
Voters also approved appropriating $10,700 to cover the cost of upgrading three of the Fire Department's automated external defibrillators that are too out of date to repair.
Also approved was the appropriation of $10,700 to fund an Electronic Manikin, a human-size device used for cardiopulmonary resuscitation training. Currently firefighters have to go to Springfield for training.
Voter Jean Gingras asked why these types of meetings are not better advertised noting there is only one sign in front of the fire station that is not visible unless a resident were to drive down the street.
Driscoll said the district advertises the meeting on its website, which is separate from the town and that they try to be welcoming and transparent.
"This is one of the biggest crowds we've had in a long time and I thought the questions were good. I'm glad people had questions," he said.
"You're always welcome to come to any of our regular meetings, which is usually the third Tuesday of every month with any questions you might have at that point. We try to run a very, very transparent operation."
The district may reach out to inquire if the town website can be used to help advertise meetings, Driscoll said.
One of the challenges that they face is the decrease in newspaper readership, Driscoll said. So they welcome any suggestions that residents may have on improving advertisement of meetings.
Voter Lawrence Gingras also raised that he believed voters should consider the abolition of Fire District because it is an outdated system developed when residents owned mills.
"I think we should seriously consider transferring all operations of Fire District, personnel, facilities, assets and liabilities to control the town of Dalton," he said.
Currently half of the town's emergency services comes from the town of Dalton and half from the Fire District, he said, and there are two separate annual meetings for taxation and some Dalton residents may not know that.
"I would say 60 percent, at least, of town residents don't realize that our Fire District facilities are not part of the town of Dalton," Gingras added.
Voter Adelard Nadeau disagreed with this, saying based on the number of years serving on the Prudential Committee, the members of the district government are better at maintaining a good budget than the town of Dalton.
The remaining articles passed with little to no discussion.