AYER — With a spate of repeat, long-lasting forest fires on the Ayer/Groton town line over the summer, Ayer fire Chief Robert Pedrazzi appeared before the Finance Committee on Nov. 4 to give fair warning of a possible need for a reserve fund transfer.
One firefighter is in rehab due to injuries sustained on the job. Another is off for his third military deployment in seven years. Then there were the brush fires, a couple of house fires and a tire-yard fire.
Pedrazzi noted the he’s spent half of his “call” or standby firefighter budget in the first quarter of the fiscal year.
“To see it half gone in the first quarter of the year is not a good sign,” he said.
The brush fires consumed a lot of budget.
“I have to have coverage here. We can’t have everyone out in the woods,” he said.
“Sometimes I feel like I’m standing on golf balls because it’s moving around so much. There are a lot of things up in the air,” Pedrazzi said of the budget.
“I won’t know till end of the year. I’ll know better in December if three-quarters of it is gone,” said Pedrazzi. It’s been a dry summer and fall and the risk of further forest fires exists until winter snows come.
Chairman Brian Muldoon said he and Selectmen Chairman Rick Gilles sat down last week and worked out some best guesstimates for the upcoming budget cycle. The gloomy forecast, based on last year’s numbers and a projected 5 percent cut in local aid, was that the town would be “$1 million in the hole this year.” And if a series of budget policies, recently endorsed by selectmen as a set of “best practices” were disregarded, the delta between the red and the black ink would shrink to $119,000.
Ayer’s certified free cash number from the Department of Revenue is still up in the air. Free cash is the balance of unspent funds left in the town budget at the end of the fiscal year, June 30.
“We won’t know for several weeks,” said Muldoon. Asked to guess, Town Accountant Lisa Gabree said, “Depends. It could be as low as $350,000. It’s way less than last year.”
Last year’s free cash tally was $1.4 million.