Ashfield moves forward with full-time fire chief, approves $6.4M budget

  • From right, Ashfield Selectboard members Steve Gougeon, Todd Olanyk and Tom Carter during Annual Town Meeting on the town common on Saturday. STAFF PHOTO/MAX MARCUS

Staff Writer
Published: 6/6/2021 4:41:45 PM

ASHFIELD — The 97 voters at Annual Town Meeting approved a $6.4 million budget on Saturday, including a somewhat controversial assessment for the Mohawk Trail Regional School District and funding to establish the fire chief as a full-time position rather than a part-time one.

All 25 articles on the meeting warrant were approved, with voters gathering on the town common. The Mohawk Trail Regional School District’s $2.8 million request and the $65,000 for a full-time fire chief both generated discussion, but passed as proposed.

The school budget was criticized by several voters, who said the school district’s model was not sustainable and that the schools should be moving more aggressively toward sustainability.

Mohawk Trail Superintendent Sheryl Stanton admitted that the district is not sustainable, but emphasized that efforts are being made to develop a model that member towns can reasonably afford.

“We’re not there yet,” Stanton said. “Our goal in the budget is to build sustainability.”

The idea of hiring a full-time fire chief may have been more controversial. Through an amendment, the $65,000 to fund the new position was separated from the total public safety budget so that it could be debated and voted separately, although ultimately it passed as originally proposed.

Some voters questioned whether a full-time, paid chief is necessary, considering the town has previously gotten by with a volunteer chief who is paid a stipend. Others said that Ashfield should move toward some sort of regional fire protection service, and should not be investing so heavily in its own department.

The Selectboard said regionalization is a potential future change for the department, but that investing in the department now is necessary before regionalization — or any other new model — can be seriously considered.

Part of the new chief’s role, Selectboard members said, will be to help assess the town’s needs, and to determine whether a different model such as a regional service might ultimately be better.

“What we’re trying to do right now is to re-establish our department after years of neglect in a lot of ways,” said Selectboard member Steve Gougeon. “We see this as a first step to figuring out what the future of the Ashfield Fire Department might look like.”

While Annual Town Meeting began at 10 a.m., it was preceded by a Special Town Meeting at 9:30 a.m. that included only one warrant article, which saw voters approve $12,905 to replace the Fire Station’s floor. The floor was damaged as a result of leaks during the winter.

Reach Max Marcus at
mmarcus@recorder.com
or 413-930-4231.


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