By Amelia Pak-Harvey
AYER -- Current and former town employees on Wednesday night are one step closer to receiving higher insurance coverage after the Finance Committee voted to approve additional funding for a coverage increase from $2,000 to $5,000.
Selectmen previously sought input on the matter from the Finance Committee. The new coverage would come with a voluntary plan that will allow employees to add on additional life insurance at no additional cost to the town.
Although the new plan would increase town costs by about $7,000, a letter from the assistant treasurer argues that basic life insurance has not been updated since the late 1950s.
"I think that $7,000 increase is definitely something we can figure out, and if it's been that long since the employees have had that increase I think we should take a look at it," said Chair Scott Houde.
With nearly all of the snow and ice budget gone, the committee also approved deficit spending for the Department of Public Works on Wednesday night. The town is allowed to deficit spend on the snow-removal budget, which can commonly run out of funds.
The committee allowed a reserve-fund transfer to the Fire Department for turnout gear, the protective clothing firefighters wear. Because of a new National Fire Prevention standard, the department needs six additional sets of gear at a cost of about $12,400.
The committee also threw full support behind the fire chief's request for a deputy chief with a salary of $75,000.
"During the day, it's hard for us to handle the amount of calls that we have with the three people that we have," said Chief Robert Pedrazzi. The department does not have one person dedicated to doing fire inspections, so workers are frequently torn between doing two things.
"What happens is they schedule the inspections, and if they have a call they have to respond," he said. "And it happens frequently."
DPW Superintendent Mark Wetzel is also requesting a town-engineer position for about $70,000. In a letter to the Finance Committee, Wetzel argues the engineer would "eliminate the majority of the engineering-related costs in stormwater and wastewater."
Selectmen still need to discuss both positions.
Other proposed increases in the draft fiscal 2015 budget include a 7 percent increase in money for Ayer-Shirley Regional District schools. There is also a $7,000 increase for town counsel, mainly for property enforcement and legal work needed to have town roads formally accepted for DPW service.
But Houde said he has a hesitation with the potential increase.
"We talked about this at length when Mr. Pontbriand was here, and it seems like with the current Board of Selectmen there's this quick trigger of saying, 'have town counsel take a look at it.' "
Member John Kilcommins said he would be comfortable level-funding the item. Houde said he would follow up with Pontbriand and break down some of the legal expenses.
The Police Department is also facing an 8 percent increase in salary and overtime.
The Finance Committee will need to present a finalized budget to selectmen by March, before residents vote on all of the changes at spring Town Meeting.
Follow Amelia on Twitter and Tout @AmeliaPak-Harvey