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By Jon Bishop

jbishop@nashobapub.com

AYER — Monday’s Special Town Meeting, which 92 residents attended, approved all of the articles on the warrant and finished before 8 p.m., but it still had some fireworks.

Article 4 brought some heated discussion. It asked the town to vote to transfer $50,900 from Department 200, the Treasurer’s account, to the fiscal 2015 Department 100, General Government Department, or the Board of Selectmen’s Account, in order to fund the Benefits and Payroll Manager, the successor position to the Assistant Treasurer.

Resident Lee DeLuca asked about the purpose of the position, arguing that it seemed like it still fell under the treasurer.

Town Administrator Robert Pontbriand said “the position is an expansion upon many of the assistant treasurer duties,” including a human resources function. He later added that the Benefits and Payroll Manager reports to the Board of Selectmen.

Resident Frank Maxant called the position and funding illegal, to which Town Moderator Tom Horgan accused him of “casting aspersions.”

“This is not the forum for this,” he said.

Maxant responded that town meeting is the forum for everything, and he again questioned the ethics of the position.

“There are no reasons we can offer to approve of this money, whether it’s legal or it isn’t,” he said.

Pontbriand said the purpose of the article is to transfer the funding, which would make the position whole.

“There is nothing illegal about the creation or the funding of this position. That is nothing more than an aspersion, as you stated, Mr. Moderator,” he said.

After the meeting, Maxant called the article “a naked power grab by the selectmen,” because, he alleged, it gives them full control of the town finances. And he said that, whenever Treasurer Stephanie Gintner posted an Assistant Treasurer position opening, it would get taken down, something he called “brute force thuggery”.

Gintner said that the $49,174 used in the article was from the Assistant Treasurer and the rest, $1,726, came from her expenses. Both she and Maxant said that the Assistant Treasurer is not a dual appointment. The Treasurer makes the pick, and it is then approved by the Board of Selectmen.

To these allegations, Pontbriand said that the position is a “policy and an administrative one.”

“It was done in the best interest of improving the town’s payroll, benefits and overall human resources,” he said.

Pontbriand said that, under Massachusetts General Law, the assistant treasurer is a joint appointment. When the former assistant treasurer left, he told Gintner that they needed to sit down and discuss the future of the department. On the position posting, he said that Gintner did not have the authority to post it.

Pontbriand said the $49,174 is the salary amount and the $1,726 comes from supplies and services that are payroll and benefits in nature: W2 forms, senior health benefit forms, payroll benefits expenses. The costs will be borne by the department, he said.

Many people praised new Benefits and Payroll Manager Kevin Johnston’s performance.

During the meeting, Vice Chairman of the Board of Selectman Jannice Livingston said that, since starting, he has “hit the ground running and has not stopped moving.”

“This transfer is strongly recommended,” she said. “We’ve got an A-plus candidate here.”

Gintner, after the meeting, said that he was “doing a good job.”

“(Johnston) was a quick learner,” she said.

Article 5, Patrick Hughes’ citizens petition that would see if the town would reduce the Planning Board terms from five years to three years, had to be amended. Town Counsel Mark Reich, an attorney with Kopelman and Paige, said that Town Meeting cannot say, as written in the article, “the two candidates with the most votes” would “be elected to a three-year-term”; “the candidates with the third and fourth most votes” would “be elected to a two-year-term”; and “the candidate with the fifth most votes” would “be elected to a one-year-term.”

“That’s not something that’s accomplished by town meeting vote,” he said.

Hughes then suggested an amendment that would remove the language referring to how the terms would be approached. It was approved.

On the proposal itself, he said that the “five-year-term seems to be an impediment.” He noted that, in the last election, “no one ran for the Planning Board,” and he said it might have been due to the length of the term.

Other boards are able to manage three-year-terms, he added.

Voters approved this, too.

After the meeting, Hughes said that he was not surprised with the fact that it had to be amended. He also observed that the Board of Selectmen is “far more complicated, and they get three-year-terms.”

“If someone wants to continue, they’ll continue,” he said.

Article 1, which asked the town to appropriate $100,000 from the fiscal 2015 Community Preservation Fund to fund the Habitat for Humanity duplex to be built at 76 Central Avenue, saw discussion over the money and its use.

Ernie Guertin wondered about the site’s cleanup costs.

David Maher, Ayer’s Director of Community and Economic Development, explained that the town cleaned the site with funds from the Community Development Block Grant.

Selectmen Chairman Chris Hillman said that the $100,000 “seems slightly high,” noting that $70,000 seemed more appropriate.

“I’m just curious where the $100,00 came from,” he said.

Maggie Monroe-Cassel, the executive director of Habitat for Humanity of North Central Massachusetts, said that, in the past, the town gave $35,000 for the previous home.

“We used that previous figure,” she said. They compared it with other Habitat for Humanity projects, and considered inflation.

“This is a good price, in that two units are being built,” she said.

Finance Committee member Pauline Conley, who is involved with Habitat for Humanity, noted that, if the CPC money isn’t needed for the project, it won’t leave the town.

The “money is going to be used if we don’t raise the funds we need to raise,” she said. The cost of the duplex is $310,000.

It was approved.

Town meeting also approved the acceptance of Deer Run, Partridge Run, and portions of Hickory Way and Old Farm Way, Article 2, and $4,000 to fund Ayer’s portion of the Teenage Anxiety and Depression Solutions contract, which was Article 3. The contract runs from Nov. 1 through Oct. 31, 2016, and serves students or families of students in search of mental health services.

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