All articles approved in back-to-back Annual, Special Town Meetings in Northfield

  • Approximately 100 registered voters turned out for back-to-back Annual and Special Town Meetings at Pioneer Valley Regional School on Monday, where voters approved every article on the two warrants. Staff Photo/Zack DeLuca

  • Approximately 100 registered voters turned out for back-to-back Annual and Special Town Meetings at Pioneer Valley Regional School on Monday, where voters approved every article on the two warrants. Staff Photo/Zack DeLuca

  • Northfield Police Chief Robert Leighton explains the Police Department’s budget during Annual Town Meeting in Pioneer Valley Regional School’s gymnasium on Monday. Staff Photo/Zack DeLuca

  • Approximately 100 registered voters turned out for back-to-back Annual and Special Town Meetings at Pioneer Valley Regional School on Monday, where voters approved every article on the two warrants. Staff Photo/Zack DeLuca

Staff Writer
Published: 6/30/2020 2:15:54 PM

NORTHFIELD — Intermittent thunderstorms forced approximately 100 voters inside the Pioneer Valley Regional School gymnasium on Monday, where they passed all articles during an Annual and subsequent Special Town Meeting.

During Annual Town Meeting, voters approved an omnibus budget of roughly $8.3 million for fiscal year 2021. That figure includes about $4.4 million for the Pioneer Valley Regional School District assessment, and $462,069 to be paid to Franklin County Technical School.

A 1.6 percent cost-of-living increase for town employee salaries was also approved as part of the omnibus budget. In a statement written in the meeting warrant, Finance Committee members said the town must pay competitive wages to maintain its trained, experienced workforce. Finance Committee Chair Lois Stearns spoke to the budget during the meeting.

“We had a chance to get all of our interviews in before this virus came along,” Stearns said of the omnibus figures. “We had done the usual of talking with all our department heads. We had the budget requests from them all and we deliberated on them. We feel that these recommendations are the best use of the money we have available.”

Two other articles on the Annual Town Meeting warrant saw voters approve expenses for EMS and Fire Department equipment. One article sought $15,000 to purchase a new power unit for the Jaws of Life and other rescue gear. Another requested $37,000 from an Emergency Services Enterprise Fund to replace the current ambulance cardiac monitor which, according to the warrant, “has reached the end of its usual life and can no longer be serviced.”

Speaking to the rest of the Fire Department’s budget, Fire Chief Floyd “Skip” Dunnell III said there was a slight increase over the previous year’s budget due to the need for new turnout gear. He said the department tries to replace this gear on a rotating basis. Otherwise, Dunnell said the budget was essentially level-funded.

Voters also approved $159,000 for completion of several projects at Northfield Elementary School. These projects include repair of the phone, intercom and clock systems, an update to the fire alarm system and replacement of carpet and tile.

Town Coordinator Andrea Llamas explained the town chose to split the warrant into two parts, with the Annual Town Meeting warrant containing articles that needed to be addressed as soon as possible. The Special Town Meeting warrant had articles that could be approved at a later date, if necessary, but voters opted on Monday evening to continue, and hold the Special Town Meeting immediately.

Two of the Special Town Meeting articles involved Police Department equipment. One asked to appropriate $56,000 for a new police cruiser. The other article asked to transfer $2,000 from free cash to purchase a new radio system and microphones because the county’s emergency radio system is converting to digital technology, as opposed to the current analog system. The original article asked for more money for the radio system, but Police Chief Robert Leighton clarified that this was an error and that the department was only requesting $2,000.

Speaking to the Police Department’s budget during the preceding Annual Town Meeting, Leighton said it makes up about 5 percent of the total town budget. He said the presented budget is what’s required to maintain staffing levels and service the town.

“As far as the budget itself, this accounts for four full-time officers and that includes a school resource officer,” Leighton said. “I’ve been working with the superintendent to reinstate that position at the high school. We’re hoping that by this fall we will have a school resource officer back at Pioneer.”

The only article not recommended by the Finance Committee as being “essential” at this time was a request for roughly $7,000 to repair the aging and damaged Charles Preston Memorial in the main lobby of Town Hall. After discussion among voters, this was ultimately approved.

Voters also approved transferring $20,000 from the Town Hall electrical project account for the installation and operation of an electric vehicle charging station. Other articles saw voters approve the appropriation of $2,250 for a locking safe so the treasurer can store cash and checks, and $15,000 for Town Hall security improvements, including a new key card system.

Another article approved $35,000 for the purchase and installation of a ventilation system in the town garage that will remove fumes from the trucks running, painting and welding.

Zack DeLuca can be reached at zdeluca@recorder.com or 413-930-4579.

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