AYER — More information, please. That was the gist of the Ayer Finance Committee’s sentiment regarding a selectmen initiative seeking authority up to $756,485 to enter into a contract with technology-company Johnson Controls, to help save energy costs and reduce the town’s carbon footprint. Off-setting the contract cost is a $150,000 state grant for the project.
It is uncertain from where the remaining $500,000 balance would come. The selectmen have proposed funding the cost from the town’s Urban Development Action Grant, borrowing the money or blending the two approaches. Borrowing costs for the project are not factored into the $756,485 sum.
In preparation for the May 10 Annual Town Meeting the Finance Committee reviewed the warrant earlier this month and opted against making a formal recommendation on the selectmen’s energy proposal. Instead, chairman Brian Muldoon urged his peers to let the warrant “go out blank and just speak on the floor” as to whether or not the committee’s questions have been answered regarding the project.
“They make it seem like it’s going to pay for itself. Are we going to establish a fund to pay for this?” said Muldoon.
“They are salesmen that require us to use their supplies and suppliers,” said former selectman Pauline Conley from the audience. “In exchange for buying into their 15-year plan, they promise us $61,000 a year or they’ll make up the difference. … But what if that company goes out of business? Then what? I don’t know. Is there a contingency?”
Committee member Glen LaPierre said that in his workplace, he’s seen similar energy audits result in an expensive resolution plan that. “It cost a lot of money to put that stuff in,” he said.
Committee member Jesse Reich sat through the Johnson Controls presentation on April 13. He commented that some savings would take as long as 30 years to realize and in other instances longer than the life-expectancy of the energy-saving apparatus being installed.
“We don’t have to do every single thing that they propose” said Reich, suggesting a cut-off mark at items that would show savings in fewer than 15 years. “Let’s go look at those. For others, maybe that doesn’t make sense at this time,” he said. “Some of this makes good sense but we shouldn’t be gambling or taking risk.”
“We have their audit results,” said committee member Scott Houde. “We can go elsewhere (to realize the energy savings).”
* In other business the committee approved the $23 million omnibus budget for the fiscal year starting July 1, 2010. The vote was 4-0 with committee member Andrew Crowley abstaining. The budget represents a $1.16 million increase over the current year’s budget.
* The committee agreed with the selectmen’s recommendation that $50,000 in savings from the school committee’s renegotiation of the transportation contract with Dee Bus Service be put in the Reserve Fund rather than moved to the general education budget or left in the transportation line item, both of which would have increased the bottom line in either account and rolled into the regional school committee budget next year.
* The committee endorsed 2-percent salary increases for elected officials, including the Selectmen, Assessors, Treasurer, Town Clerk, Collector, Tree Warden and Moderator.
Wages and union contracts spurred Reich to ponder the creation of a policy capping salary increases at 2-percent, stating that Proposition 2 1/2 prevents revenue raising without overrides and so raises above 2-percent are “not sustainable” in this fiscal climate.
“I’ll be honest. That’s the route I’d like to go,” said Houde, before joking that any contract negotiated beyond that point should land negotiators in stockades in front of Town Hall.
“That’s the New England way,” said Reich. “How about tarring and feathering them?”
“We need a complete review of contracts, where they’re union contracts or not. As long as we have a five-year plan that says we’re negative, and Proposition 2 1/2 and most of the town budget is wages” Reich said the time has come to opt against contract deals that are “politically expedient or make friends.”
“Look at private industry,” LaPierre said, “They give you 1 percent, 2 … If you’re lucky 3 percent.”
Muldoon rued that the town’s five-year structural deficit realities were wheeled into the contract negotiations that he sat in on this year. “They didn’t really care. They said ‘Yeah, that’s nice. We’re looking at this year,'” he said
As to the current alignment of all the terms for the town contracts to come due at the same time, Reich pondered, “Has anyone wondered if we’ve created one big monster union?”