Rowe voters approve additional Fire Department shift

  • The Rowe Annual Town Meeting was held outdoors on Saturday at Rowe Elementary School. Staff photo/MARY BYRNE

Staff Writer
Published: 6/21/2020 1:38:35 PM

ROWE — An additional day shift at the Fire Department was approved at Annual Town Meeting Saturday morning, but not before a short debate on the necessity of the $19,000-line item of the public safety budget.

All 32 articles on the budget were approved as amended, including a budget that, with slight changes made to certain line items, came in just below $4 million.

Town Meeting took place at 10 a.m. outside Rowe Elementary School on Pond Road. Residents sat on lawn chairs they brought themselves, and votes were counted by raised hands.

Administrative Assistant Paul McClatchy III, who also serves as a member of the Finance Committee, asked that the $19,000 line item for Fire Department shift work be considered separately from the public safety budget.

The motion to vote on the item separately passed unanimously, at which point Fire Chief Dennis Annear approached the microphone.

“Right now, during the day, you have little to no fire protection within your community because most everybody is working out of town,” Annear explained. “There are whole bunch of items that have to be taken care of on a normal basis today because of OSHA, and it’s tying up our volunteers and it’s tying up the people who come for training on Thursday night.”

The $19,000 proposed in the budget would fund two shifts per week for carrying out the various inspections and other daily work required of the department. The salary of that individual would be set by the Selectboard.

The Finance Committee, however, did not recommend the shift work line item on the basis that unless the town were to fund a full-time department, there would always be a gap in coverage. Ultimately, the committee felt the cost was high for what the town would get in return.

Finance Committee member Loretta Dionne said when the committee met with Annear, he was unable to tell them how many fires happened during the day in the last five years. She said the committee was willing to recommend the shift work line item if a grant was obtained, but otherwise she didn’t support it.

Annear said although he attempted several times, he was unable to access the site for which to apply for the grant.

A handful of residents, including Ramon Sanchez, spoke in favor of the shift work. He said in the short time he’s lived in Rowe, he’s required both fire and medical services, the first of which was for a fire in his backyard.

“We had to get response from two neighboring towns … to get it under control,” Sanchez said. “The second one was medical, and it took almost three hours to get a response. We didn’t get a response from this town or Charlemont. We finally got a response from Greenfield. There are incidents here locally that something like this, I’m sure, would help out.”

Ultimately, voters passed — though not unanimously — the $19,000 line item in Article 16, and in a second vote approved the public safety budget, which totaled $152,192 without the Fire Department shift work line item.

In other business, a roughly $1.5 million school budget was approved as amended, with an increase of $35,000 to the Rowe Elementary School operating budget. Selectboard member Chuck Sokol explained that the proposed budget was $28,000 less than what the School Committee originally asked for, noting the anticipated financial challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Park Commissioner Laurie Pike asked to reduce the Pelham Lake Park budget by $2,300, which she attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We’ll be unable to safely run some of our programs,” she said.

The hour-long meeting wrapped up with an acknowledgement to public health nurse Sheila Litchfield, who is leaving her role on June 30.

“On behalf of the Board of Health, congratulations to our town nurse,” said Maggie Rice, chair of the Board of Health. “She has been a great asset to the town of Rowe.”


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