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By Jon Bishop

jbishop@nashobapub.com

AYER — Finance Committee members and the Board of Selectmen held a joint meeting Tuesday to review the fiscal 2016 budget and the working draft of the May 11 Annual Town Meeting warrant.

On the budget front, some of the sections showing increases in Department 100, or general government, included the selectmen line item, which was listed at $176,422, about a 15 percent jump from the previous year.

Town Administrator Robert Pontbriand said part of that number consists of higher pay for Carly Antonellis, assistant to the town administrator. The position was advertised at $46,000 and she was hired at $53,000.

The Town Clerk line item also included an increase: The recommended amount for fiscal 2016 was $77,132, up from $73,702, or 4.7 percent.

The total recommended general government budget was $697,142. This year it was $658,106, a 5.9 percent increase.

Pontbriand said more details will come at Town Meeting.

Department 300, or public safety, began with a discussion about the Police Department, which in fiscal 2016 is proposed at $2,105,481, up from $1,991,834, or 5.7 percent, over the current year.

Police Chief William Murray has asked for a records clerk, because record-keeping has fallen to personnel. The position would “free up our detectives, who are now stuck with clerical duties,” Murray said.

Finance Committee Chairman Scott Houde said his committee had already talked about the position and so he asked the selectmen for their thoughts.

Selectmen Chairman Chris Hillman asked if it could be considered a catching-up position.

Pontbriand pointed out that the Police Department is unique, because it receives a lot of public-records requests with sensitive information, meaning criminal investigations.

“The intent is to free up all of these other folks” from performing clerical functions, Pontbriand said.

Houde said the position would be nonbenefited and part-time, and Murray said it would be nonunion.

“Part-time seems to make sense for me, at least for this fiscal year,” Hillman said.

After some discussion, members dropped the Police Department line item by $6,000. It had to do with additional pay for reserve officers, Pontbriand said later, when asked about the decrease.

The fiscal 2016 recommended Public Works budget is $1,218,267, a 5.5 percent increase from the $1,154,573 budgeted for this year. One of the line items, street lighting, showed a $2,400, or 3.1 percent, decrease from this year. Its recommended fiscal 2016 amount is $74,000, down from $76,400.

On this, Town Accountant Lisa Gabree said net solar metering has been “very beneficial to this town.”

During the warrant review, Finance Committee member Pauline Conley asked why the Fire Department contract wasn’t included in the Town Meeting warrant — referring to the fall Town Meeting held Oct. 27 — like the ones for the police and the police dispatchers. She said it was signed in enough time.

“Any implication that this administration has hid money is inappropriate,” Pontbriand said in response, noting that everything, including the contracts, has been included in the omnibus budget.

“There has not been a contract in five years that has been included on time,” he said, which is not a reflection of any of the parties.

He said every contract is on the town website, under the Board of Selectmen.

“I take this very seriously,” he said, and he said the implication is that the administration and the town government are not transparent. “I beg to differ.”

The police and police dispatcher contracts are Articles 5 and 6, respectively.

During OPEB (Other Post Employment Benefits) discussions — Article 24 — Hillman asked whether there were any projections, and Houde said the last one was $11 million.

Of that $11 million, Pontbriand said, they have about “$500-and-something-thousand” towards it.

The Finance Committee recommended all warrant articles, with the exceptions of 36, 40 and 41, because they do not deal with financial matters. Selectmen recommended all of the articles it sponsored.

There were 41 articles, none of which were citizens’ petitions.

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