AYER -- Terrance Perham says he has to keep his windows shut to keep out the fetid odor emanating from the house next door, and he wants to know why the town hasn't condemned the building, destroyed in a fire three years ago.
"The roof is caving in. It smells. And I'm afraid of kids getting in and getting hurt," the Willard Street resident told selectmen on Tuesday night.
Perham and resident Mary Spinner, who declined to give her address, were invited to take seats at the table with the board to discuss the issue. Spinner said she shared her neighbor's concerns, deferring to Perham to describe the situation.
Selectmen Chairman Pauline Conley told the residents that the board would respond to their complaints "within two weeks or at the next meeting."
During the brief talk with the board, Perham, who lives at 39 Willard St., said he had discussed the situation with the building inspector and Board of Health, but without getting any results. He was asking for help from the selectmen.
He said he had called the building inspector again last week.
"The fire was three years ago and the building inspector said the owner was going to sell," Perham said, describing the house at 37 Willard as "rotted, with trash in the cellar" that was tossed inside the building after a window fell out.
Conley urged Perham to attend the next scheduled meeting of the Board of Health to make his complaint. She also said the issue would require input from the town's attorney who will be meeting with the board on June 11.
Selectman Chris Hillman said he has been "pushing property cleanup" across the town and on Monday had driven past the destroyed building on Willard Street. "I was appalled," Hillman said. "It's in no condition for any place, but in a development with children, it's unacceptable. Mr. Perham can't open his window. We need to address this."
Perham left the meeting after making his appeal to the board. Out of earshot, in the hall, he said he was frustrated by the town's response.
"The fire happened three years ago, and the building has not been condemned," he said.
Following the public comment, David Mahar, director of Economic and Community Development, asked the board to approve a lien subordination request and to extend employment for a part-time professional in the office.
Maher told the board that the part-time position is crucial to the program's operation, in part because the other employee in the office, Sue Provencher, will be leaving at the end of June. Funding for the position, held by Alicia Hersey, runs out on June 30.
Selectmen voted unanimously to allow the Community and Economic Development office to fund the position through June 30, 2014 with "program income." Those funds are generated from participants' successes: a person who sells a home after it is restored with CDBG funds is required to return a portion of the proceeds.
CDBG money is funding from the federal Housing and Urban Development program that is distributed through the states. Cities receive funds and get to decide how to use them. Towns must compete for the federal dollars.
"It will be like having no one in the office," Mahar said in his pitch to the board. "There's always activity in the office and if we continue her (Hersey) part-time through December, we can ask for approval to apply for another grant."
Maher said the program has enough income to fund the 15-hour a week position for three years. The job pays $18.95 per hour, a rate determined by union contract.
Maher also asked selectmen to consider supporting a regional application for the next CDBG grant, given heightened competition for the federal money and the town's lower needs score.
He suggested that the town seek a partnership with neighboring Shirley, a better candidate for federal funds because of its lower needs score. The score is based on median income and related factors.
Selectmen directed Town Administrator Robert Pontbriand to contact Shirley officials to discuss a possible joint application. Pontbriand said he would call Shirley officials on Wednesday, adding that if the board decides "to move forward" with a regional grant application, the regional concept could become a discussion item at a future selectmen's meeting.
Conley said taking a regional approach could "broaden the horizon on grant applications for CDBG," or "free money."
Maher recommended that the town hire a grant writer or professional grant-writing company, necessary to give the town a competitive edge.
In other business on Tuesday night, selectmen accepted a quote for a new fire chief's vehicle: $35,367 for a 2013 Chevrolet Tahoe SSV to replace the 2002 Tahoe the chief is currently driving. The cost of the new truck includes options, accessories and a $3,000 trade-in for the 2002 vehicle.
The board heard a request from Town Clerk and Tax Collector John Canney II to extend the temporary assistant tax collector's employment to July 15.
Board members said they would consider the request, but only if funds are available.
During a discussion following the request, board members were divided over whether the town needs an assistant tax collector. Chris Hillman and Pauline Conley said they don't see a need; Gary Luca and James Fay supported the position.
Other discussions centered on economic development during the so-called "Devens transition," board policies and procedures, which the board has been reviewing and revising in segments, and goals and objectives, formalized in a report made by Pontbriand.