AYER -- Selectmen took time Tuesday for some housecleaning with Town Administrator Robert Pontbriand taking point on a number of issues left from 2013.
Anticipating the upcoming budget-formulation process for fiscal 2015, Pontbriand led off with a draft-spending plan for the selectmen's office that holds the line on most items including BOS stipends at $11,446 (an amount that will be revised down when the board's membership is reduced from five to three later in the year); BOS secretary at $53,180; town counsel at $78,000; and the Cemetery Department at $2,500.
Showing an increase over 2014, was police and fire LEL insurance at $117,284, up from $106,622; workmens' compensation at $53,753, up from $48,867; building and liability insurance at $132,137, up from $131,046; and the town administrator's salary at $92,066, up from $91,242 reflecting a previously negotiated 2 percent increase.
Pontbriand told selectmen that although the draft had been given to the Finance Committee for review, he had yet to meet with the panel to discuss the new spending.
Pontbriand is expected to meet with the Finance Committee Jan. 22.
Pontbriand called the budget level funded, but with final insurance costs still outstanding.
"There's nothing really new proposed in the budget," said Pontbriand. "It's pretty straightforward."
Also Tuesday, selectmen:
* Voted to appoint Parks and Recreation Director Jeffrey Thomas to the Dam and Pond Committee with a term to expire June 30.
* Voted to approve and sign a quit-claim deed for the acceptance of Easy Street as a town way. The action follows authorization for the move made at Town Meeting.
* Voted to approve a draft RFP (Request For Proposal) for property at 76 Central Ave., where a single-family home is to be constructed as part of a Habitat for Humanity project. The town was required by state law to issue an RFP formally putting the project out to bid. The affordable-housing project is expected to be picked up by a nonprofit developer. When completed, the home is to be sold to a qualifying buyer earning no more than 80 percent of the median income of area households. Bids on the RFP must be submitted by Feb. 3 with the winner chosen Feb. 5.
* Asked Pontbriand to prepare a draft RFP for disposition of the old Central Fire House on Washington Street. The action was previously authorized at town meeting. According to Pontbriand, before the RFP can be issued, the property will need to be appraised and a selling price set. Selectmen gave its blessing to Pontbriand to prepare the necessary paperwork, prepare a budget for all costs that might arise in the course of the disposition process, and to find alternative storage space for equipment belonging to the Parks Commission currently kept in the disused building. The draft RFP is expected to be ready by the end of the month.
* Decided to seek input from the Finance Committee before making any decision regarding setting a townwide rate for employee life insurance. Currently, life-insurance coverage for employees is $2,000, paid for by both the town and its employees with each paying 75 percent and 25 percent respectively. Last year, the Insurance Advisory Committee recommended revising the rate up to $10,000 while retaining the current payment formula. Since then, it was discovered that not all agreements with the town's various unions included the same 75/25 split while some did not even mention it. With no record on when or how the current life-insurance payment was created, unions have asked the town to clarify the issue. Leaning toward adopting the same formula for all town employees, selectmen decided to postpone consideration whether to increase the payment from $2,000 to $5,000 or $10,000 until a breakdown of the costs involved could be drawn up and input received from the Finance Committee.
The meeting ended with an exchange among board members sparked by complaints from Pauline Conley about selectmen sometimes being left out of the loop in email exchanges emanating from the selectmen's office.
To make sure lines of communication were always left open, Conley asked that all email passing through the selectmen's office be forwarded to selectmen.
Other members felt they did not need to know everything that passed from various departments to Pontbriand with James Fay boiling the opinion down to simply expecting the town administrator to "keep the boss informed," meaning selectmen, of what was going on.
Conley next brought up the issue of meeting schedules, demanding that all members be asked first if they could attend before scheduling one.
By then, however, some members began to express impatience with her concerns, with Jannice Livingston characterizing them as "kindergarten stuff."
"I don't know why we have to nitpick everything," said Livingston. "This is getting painful going over things like this over and over again. Sometimes you can make a meeting and sometimes you can't. If there's a quorum, then it can go on."
But Conley insisted that advance notice and asking if members can make it was only "common courtesy."