By Amaris Castillo

Town Manager Jim Duggan has hired an outside firm to determine whether the town has appropriately applied a law that aims to close the pay gap for town employees in military service.

Duggan met with representatives from Melanson & Heath, a public accounting firm last week, but as of early this week, Duggan said there was no decision.

The cost for hiring the firm was not available.

The move to hire the firm stems from the now-deferred article sponsored by Dracut firefighter Justin George, who also serves as a medic for the National Guard. George's article at Town Meeting had hoped to adopt Massachusetts General Laws Section 33, Chapter 59, under which public employees who serve in the military are paid fully while fulfilling their military service obligations through drills and training. The benefit from the law is up to 34 days.

"As I've said, once the auditor confirms the method to which we apply the current law to our municipal employees who serve in active duty, I'll consider the issue closed and would expect the Article that was postponed until the November Town Meeting be withdrawn," Duggan wrote in a text message to a reporter.

George, who said he deferred the article to create and present the actual cost and impact to the town, said he's glad there may be a resolution.

"I've been asking for this since I've been on the department because I didn't think the math or the answer of what it entails -- the current bylaw -- made sense," George said. "This was the initial hope, to get this solved.


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George has said this isn't about him being paid more, but about the principle.

According to Duggan, the Board of Selectmen has requested that Dracut Fire Chief David Brouillette evaluate past practices and time away over the past year for any Fire Department personnel with military responsibilities.

"They wanted to understand the impact financially within the department," Duggan said.

Selectman Tony Archinski, who was away on vacation last month when the Board of Selectmen voted 3-1 not to recommend the article ahead of Town Meeting, said he would have voted in favor of the article, as Selectman Tami Dristiliaris did.

"I prefer to stay out of the weeds, and I can boil the fat off the bone and I can basically say it really boils down to, 'Do you want to support our men and women in uniform or not?'" Archinski said.

Follow Amaris Castillo on Twitter @AmarisCastillo. Her email address is acastillo@lowellsun.com.