AYER — A recent Wednesday marked the final Finance Committee meeting for Chairman Larry Keenan, who opted against reappointment, and decadelong member Mary Spinner.
The day before, selectmen reappointed Brian Muldoon for a new three-year term and appointed newcomer Jesse Reich to fulfill the one-year balance on a vacant seat. No decision was made as to who would assume the chairmanship.
Two vacancies remain on the five-position committee.
As is typical for the Finance Committee at year’s end, the four present members tackled reserve-fund transfers for unforeseen expenses:
* The most significant reserve-fund transfer was for $49,178.70. Town Administrator Shaun Suhoski has run out of the selectmen’s meeting to hastily draw up the 11th-hour request. The sum will cover payment to two law firms: Boston-based Kopelman and Paige is defending the town against two wrongful-conviction actions; and Andover-based Gilbert & Renton is working to secure reimbursement from former town insurance companies to cover the ongoing litigation expenses.
Suhoski stated that a $214,000 March reimbursement payment from one insurance company arrived too late to be “certified” for the town’s use in the just-concluded fiscal year. “Thus, the litigation account was under-funded,” Suhoski said. Town Meeting had approved just $150,000.
In the coming year, it’s projected that the town’s litigation costs can be directly billed to the insurance companies. However, the companies have agreed to make payment “under reservation of right.” This means that if insurance companies are later successful in their efforts to fight off Ayer’s coverage claims, the companies may seek repayment from the town.
* DPW Supt. Dan Nason successfully lobbied for a $4,300 transfer to augment the $66,000 streetlight account to carry the DPW through the close of the fiscal year. He also appealed to the public to contact his office if there are streetlights that residents would like shut off. But, Nason predicted, “You’re not going to satisfy everybody.”
Other cost-saving measures under consideration are using energy-efficient bulbs and photoelectric switches instead of timers. “It’s an issue now,” said Nason of the streetlight expense. “It’s going to be worse next year.”
Keenan warned the $600-a-month streetlight overruns will otherwise have to be absorbed by the DPW, stressing that town departments “have to make do with less.”
Nason said he’d soon look to target neighborhoods where the DPW could recoup the biggest “bang for the buck,” and confirmed he’d seek fire and police department comment before shutting off lights.
* Veterans Agent Manny Velez sought and received a $2,733 reserve fund transfer to fund veterans’ benefits.
* For the selectmen’s office, a $53.35 transfer was backed to cover added costs from an increase in the number of parking tickets issued.
Spinner crunched the numbers and reported $1,016.95 was left in reserves to cover the six final days of the fiscal year. Keenan said the town fared well, having started the year with $130,000 in reserves for such transfers.