Athol FinCom approves less from Reserve Fund Monies than chiefs ask for

  • Members of Athol's Finance and Warrant Advisoty Committee met Tuesday night to weigh budget transfers and the warrant for the upcoming annual town meeting. Left to right: Amy Craven, Gary Deyo, Ben Feldman, Chairman Kenn Duffy, Paul Nelson, Michele Tontodonato and Mike Butler. Photo/Greg Vine

  • Athol Fire Chief Joseph Guarnera and Police Chief Craig Lundgren appearing Tuesday night before the town’s Finance and Warrant Advisory Committee. Photo/Greg Vine

  • Athol Finance and Warrant Advisory Committee Chairman Kenn Duffy makes a point during the committee's meeting Tuesday night. Photo/Greg Vine

For the Athol Daily News
Published: 5/15/2019 10:00:38 PM

ATHOL — The Finance and Warrant Advisory Committee met Tuesday night to consider requests from Police Chief Craig Lundgren and Fire Chief Joseph Guarnera for the use of Reserve Fund cash to cover salary-related costs.

Guarnera has asked for the larger amount, nearly $78,000, to cover costs through the end of the current fiscal year. The chief presented the committee with information Tuesday noting his department has started FY19 with a payroll budget of just over $1.5 million. Thus far, more than $1.4 million has been spent. Guarnera projected he would need $176,000 to cover payroll until June 30 but noted there was only about $130,000 left in that budget line.

In addition, he will need some $17,500 to cover holiday pay, which is paid out in June, $12,000 for ambulance incentive pay, and $2,300 for additional expenses.

At a committee meeting in late April, Guarnera explained the department had incurred high overtime costs because there are two firefighter vacancies, two firefighters are out on injury status (not injured on duty), one firefighter is attending the academy, one firefighter is out on IOD status, and another has received retirement disability.

He also noted Tuesday night that the ambulance incentive bonus had not been budgeted for.

Lundgren explained in April, “Every officer is required to have 40 hours of training a year. That hasn’t occurred in the last couple of years. So, this year every officer has completed his 40 hours of training. That’s a huge overtime cost when you send an officer for a week-long training and multiply that by 13 or 14 officers. That’s a lot of money.”

Lundgren said the yearly training is required by the state, noting officers could lose their certification and have their arrest powers taken away if they don’t complete it.

The Police Chief was requesting $40,000 from the reserve account to help him finish out the fiscal year.

However, committee Chairman Ken Duffy explained there is just over $78,500 in the reserve fund, much less than the total of nearly $108,000 being sought by Lundgren and Guarnera.

“I spoke with the Town Manager and he advised me he may need some money for the legal line item, to pay for legal fees,” said Duffy. “The amount needed there could fall somewhere between $12,000 and $14,000. So, I’m hesitant to spend too much out of reserves at this time.”

“If the Town Manager doesn’t need that money after all,” said Duffy, “maybe we can come back and give a little more to each department. But, for now, I’m suggesting we give the police and fire departments $30,000 each. That will leave us a little bit of cushion should it be necessary to find more money for legal fees. If not, we can look at distributing the remainder to the chiefs.”

The committee voted unanimously to abide by Duffy’s suggestion.

In other action, the Finance and Warrant Advisory Committee unanimously endorsed all but one of the 28 articles on the annual town meeting warrant. The only article the committee left unaddressed was Article 28, which calls for a ban on the use of food service ware made of polystyrene (Styrofoam) and solid plastics that are not marked with a universal recycling number.

“This isn’t really within our purview,” said Duffy. “Our charge is to consider those items that will potentially create an expense to the town or spend funds from the town budget. This doesn’t really fall within those guidelines.”

The annual town meeting is scheduled for Monday, June 10 at 7 p.m. at the town hall.

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