Budget, capital item articles given green light for Athol Town Meetings

Members of the Finance and Warrant Advisory Committee met with Town Manager Shaun Suhoski (in foreground) and Capital Program Committee member Jim Smith (not pictured).

Members of the Finance and Warrant Advisory Committee met with Town Manager Shaun Suhoski (in foreground) and Capital Program Committee member Jim Smith (not pictured). PHOTO BY GREG VINE—

By GREG VINE

For the Athol Daily News

Published: 05-28-2024 1:49 PM

ATHOL – The Finance and Warrant Advisory Committee Thursday night completed its review of the warrants for the upcoming Town Meetings, both of which are scheduled for June 10.

The Special Town Meeting begins and 6:30 p.m., and the Annual Town Meeting at 7 p.m.

The committee began the review process the previous week but held off on a discussion of two ATM articles – one seeking approval of Town Manager Shaun Suhoski’s proposed fiscal year 2025 budget, the other seeking nearly $850,000 for a Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) for the upcoming fiscal year. Suhoski is proposing a general government budget of $19.3 million. When education spending and the sewer, water and transfer station enterprise funds are included, the total FY25 spending package comes to nearly $28.9 million.

The CIP includes $85,000 for a pair of existing truck leases. Some members of the committee have expressed doubts about using leases for the purchase of capital items, but Capital Program Committee member Jim Smith said the process has worked well when it comes to securing much-needed equipment – in this instance, for the Department of Public Works.

“We don’t want to get to the point where we need $280,000 for one piece of equipment and have to take a big chunk out of our capital planning (budget),” said Smith. “So, that’s why we did the leases. We tried it for a couple of years, and it seemed to have worked.”

In addition to the leases, other monies in the CIP for the DPW include $200,000 in non-Chapter 90 spending – which is used for local road projects – $25,000 for used equipment, $89,000 for pickup trucks for the water and sewer divisions, and $105,000 for an all-season dump truck body. Spending for the Police Department includes $75,000 for a new cruiser, $25,000 for repairs to the police station, and $29,000 for ballistic vests. The Fire Department would receive $65,000 for repairs to the fire station, $21,000 for a power chair, and $45,000 for a vehicle for travel to inspections. Another $50,000 is proposed for repairs to the animal control building on Thrower Road, and $10,000 would be used to purchase air conditioning units for town buildings.

In the end, the FWAC voted unanimously to recommend passage of the Capital Improvement Plan.

Budget discussion

Committee member Mike Butler noted that Suhoski’s budget reflects an increase of nearly 15% in Fire Department spending for FY25. At the Annual Town Election in April, voters approved a Proposition 2 ½ override to fund the hiring of three new personnel for the Fire Department, while the Selectboard committed to supporting the hiring of a fourth through the regular budget process.

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“All of those staff are included in this budget,” said Suhoski. “The fourth person is funded for nine months, so we hope to hire them after the first quarter. We’re making sure we come in under tight revenue, but all four are included in this budget – yes.”

Also noted by the committee was a nearly 44% jump in the transfer station enterprise fund. The town manager said this was due to the ever-increasing cost of hauling waste out of the facility.

“We have a pool of, like, two companies that will haul,” said Suhoski. “We go with the most competitive, but the hauling price is going up.”

He added that no immediate increase in transfer station sticker fees is anticipated, but will likely come in the future.

“It’s a self-sustaining and hopefully the users will find value, but if they don’t find value, they won’t buy the stickers and we’ll have to revisit them,” he said.

Suhoski told the committee that he hopes that, with National Grid’s plans to expand capacity in its system and upgrade the Royalston substation, the town is revisiting an eight-year-old proposal to site a solar array on the former town landfill in hopes of generating funds that would subsidize operation of the transfer station.

The committee approved Suhoski’s proposed budget without any changes. Once again, the vote was unanimous.

Greg Vine can be reached at gvineadn@aol.com.