Ashfield Town Meeting voters to consider expanding Park Commission, $40K for cruiser

  • Voters at next week’s Ashfield Special Town Meeting will be asked to allocate up to $40,000 toward purchasing a new police cruiser. Staff File Photo/Paul Franz

  • Ashfield’s Special Town Meeting will be held at Town Hall on Tuesday, Nov. 29, starting at 7 p.m. Staff File Photo/Paul Franz

Staff Writer
Published: 11/22/2022 2:42:42 PM
Modified: 11/22/2022 2:42:31 PM

ASHFIELD — Requests to change the number of members on the Park Commission and to allocate up to $40,000 for buying a new police cruiser will come before Special Town Meeting voters next week.

The meeting will be held at Town Hall on Tuesday, Nov. 29, starting at 7 p.m. The warrant includes six articles.

Selectboard member Steven Gougeon explained that $25,000 was already appropriated for a new police cruiser at Annual Town Meeting in early May. At the time, the plan was to appropriate the money to purchase the cruiser over two years.

However, due to supply chain shortages and price hikes, the town has decided to purchase the cruiser before the next Annual Town Meeting and is asking for up to another $40,000 now. Town officials were able to find a 2022 model that would be available, and they expect the prices to rise substantially next year.

“Instead of waiting and not getting what we need or getting something for a lot more money, we are trying to appropriate the money early to keep costs lower,” Gougeon said.

The town’s two cruisers are replaced in cycles on an eight-year basis, with one being replaced every four years.

“I was lucky to find the cruiser when I did,” commented Police Chief Beth Bezio. “If I waited until next year, we would not have a cruiser for a long time.”

The next biggest expense on the Town Meeting warrant is for $30,000 to go to Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School and Franklin County Technical School. Gougeon explained that Annual Town Meeting allocates funding before final enrollment counts exist for each school.

“That is something that is always a big guess every year,” he said. “Sometimes we appropriate too much, other times we underestimate.”

The enrollment of Ashfield students at the two schools was underestimated this year.

“The town estimated eight would attend (Smith Vocational) and we have nine,” Town Administrator Paul McLatchy III wrote in an email. “We also estimated three for (Franklin Tech) and we have four.”

Additionally, the Selectboard is asking residents for $25,000 to pay out unused vacation time for employees.

Over the past year, the Selectboard has changed the employee handbook. Previously, there was unlimited vacation time rollover allowed year after year. The board now hopes to incentivize employees to take vacation by limiting vacation rollover to two weeks.

“We want to encourage people to use it,” Gougeon said. “We don’t want it to be a savings account.”

However, longtime employees have saved up more than this two weeks of vacation time. So, in changing the policy, the Selectboard hopes to pay the employees who have extra vacation time they will not be able to use.

Another item on the warrant asks for $5,000 to purchase all the streetlights in town from Eversource.

The Selectboard hopes to secure grant funding to change the light bulbs on the streetlights to LEDs that would save energy and money. To qualify for a grant, however, the town must own the streetlights themselves, which are owned by Eversource.

According to McLatchy, the town would experience a 69% drop in energy prices, or $2,000 per year, with the switch to LEDs. Officials plan to buy approximately 21 streetlights, but the exact number is still being determined.

The Selectboard is also asking for $1,000 to provide a bonus for Town Collector Lynn Benson, who recently became certified by the Massachusetts Collectors and Treasurers Association, Gougeon said. Although the town adopted a law that allows for a $1,000 annual bonus for a certified collector, money was not budgeted for that bonus this year.

Lastly, the Park Commission is seeking to expand from three members to five, which would require a change to the town’s bylaws. The warrant explains the Park Commission’s workload has increased over the last few years, but with no corresponding increase in membership. The change would allow the workload to be spread over a larger number of people. If approved, members would be elected to the new seats in May.

To view the full Special Town Meeting warrant, visit bit.ly/3OvK5Hq.

Bella Levavi can be reached at blevavi@recorder.com or 413-930-4579.


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