SHIRLEY -- Police Chief J. Gregory Massak and Council on Aging Director John Oelfke presented their departments' fiscal 2014 budgets to selectmen and the Finance Committee during a joint session of the two boards Monday night. While each of them stuck mostly with a level-funded bottom line, there were some exceptions in both cases.

The communications (dispatchers) budget was basically level-funded, Massak said, except for 1.5 percent in "contractual raises" and another 2.25 percent in step increases.

The overtime rate also went up slightly, but it's fairly close to last year's figure, he said.

He also said a small increase in the expense line was due in part to other "contractual obligations" such as uniform allowances.

Massak also had some revenue to report, with $20,000 from the state's E-911 program and more money anticipated from the same source set to come in from last year's grant.

"There's no issue with the dispatch budget at all," he said.

The chief, who has been with the department for more than 20 years and had achieved the rank of lieutenant when he took on the top job, fulfils a dual role, acting also as a patrol officer, with his time on the job each week divided by standard shift rotations. Right now, he's still "status quo" at four days on, two off, Massak told the selectmen.

Even though he consistently works days now versus swing shifts, a better arrangement would be for the police chief to be in the office during business hours, when other executives expect him to be, including town department heads and other police chiefs.


The selectmen favor it, too, but there's an added cost attached.

The scenario hinges on hiring another police officer, the cost of which, with benefits, would be about $48,000, he said. Asked if other factors would offset the increase, Massak said there's some potential savings in the setup, but it would still cost more.

The added officer figures into an alternate budget projection Massak presented with the level-funded version, which also includes increased hourly wages for the janitor.

The janitor has been working 15 hours a week instead of the 10 originally budgeted for, with the difference made up from a previous surplus, Massak explained. Upping the line to 19 hours, without benefits, would cost $11,951 versus $7,100. The increased cost would be worth it, the chief said. "He does an exemplary job."

Massak explained that the expense line went up mostly due to the cost of gas for police cruisers. There's also been a slight increase in dues and membership costs that provide instruction and access to police services from "many other communities," he said. The value-added list includes accident reconstruction, motorcycle officers and SWAT teams.

In addition, Massak signed up for slalom-style, high-speed chase cruiser training at Devens and for a program in Grafton that provides online firearms training for just $500. "It's very cost effective ... great real-life training for the officers," he said.

Having "beefed up" the department's training budget last year, it's all set for now, he said.

Overtime is "pretty level" from last year, but about $10,000 in the red. "Every year, we go over in the prison watch" area, Massak said, referencing overtime paid to police officers to guard prisoners held in the cells overnight. This year is no exception, with arrests up, he said, especially on weekends.

Finance Committee Chairman Frank Kolarik recalled a similar discussion last year and asked if there's been any progress on the regional lockup option.

Area police chiefs are "very interested" in the concept, Massak replied. "We all think it's a great idea," and it would cut liability potential for the towns. There's even a site picked out for the facility in Billerica. But the Middlesex County sheriff, whose call it is, apparently hasn't made the necessary moves to make it happen. It would be a significant cost savings, but the plan is on the back burner right now, he concluded.

As for the regional dispatch center at Devens, that's slated to open in July. 

The selectmen passed on the option of joining the facility when it was offered, deciding instead to see how it works out and whether touted cost savings pan out.

They're still in wait-and-see mode. If staffing requirements turn out to be higher than anticipated, for example, that would add to the cost and reduce savings, Massak said.

Massak also laid out in detail his plans for phased-in replacement of the department's fleet of cruisers, two of which recently arrived. One new vehicle, a Ford Interceptor, replaces an older model Crown Victoria. With six versus eight cylinders, it's more fuel-efficient and he's hoping for costs savings, he said.