Great Barrington Fire Department maintenance account debated at budget hearing


GREAT BARRINGTON — A potential hike of $55,000 in the inspection/maintenance account of the town's Fire Department was the principal topic of discussion at Wednesday night's public hearing on next year's municipal budget.

Voters in May will be asked to approve a total municipal budget of $10,879,922, a sum that represents slightly less ($9,280, or .093 percent) than what was expended this year.

The meeting was hosted by the Finance Committee, with the rest of the town's department heads, the selectmen and other town officials also present. In fact, though the selectmen's meeting room was packed on Wednesday, there were only about a dozen members of the public in attendance.

The Selectmen and Finance Committee will vote on their recommendations to the annual town meeting Monday at the selectmen's meeting at Town Hall.

The overall town budget, with the town's assessment from the Berkshire Hills regional School District factored in, jumps to $22 million. The town's assessment is up $560,123, or 4.65 percent.

That figure was approved last month at a School Committee meeting.

On Wednesday night, most discussion concerned the Finance Committee's decision to reduce a $110,000 line item to $55,000 in the Fire Department's inspection/maintenance budget. The Finance Committee's overall fire department budget is $464,845, up $25,636, or 5.9 percent next year.

The funding would enable Fire Chief Charles Burger to hire two additional employees to handle maintenance, repairs and inspections within the firehouse.

The original request by Burger was $110,000, up about $85,000 from this year's request. The Finance Committee opted to cut that to $55,000.

This generated some consternation among members of the department in the audience.

Former Chief Harry Jennings said his successor, Burger, generally worked 90 hours a week in an attempt to complete maintenance and repair work within the firehouse.

Firefighter Rob Gaughran told the committee that "when I answer a call, I need to know the equipment I use has been properly maintained."

He chided the committee for reducing that line item, saying that Burger was "an honest guy. If he asked for this much money, it's probably less than he really needs."

"I can't think of a department we should support more," said resident Gabrielle Senza. "Let's support our fire department. Cut somewhere else."

Selectmen Chairman Sean Stanton suggested the town charge for fire inspection fees as a way to make up some of the difference. This drew a sharp rebuke from Finance Committee member Walter F. Atwood III. He opined that the town should not burden taxpayers with additional fees.

There was also discussion on the new radios for the Police Department, although not as spirited as concerning the fire department discussion. In addition, there was some grumbling about the school budget, which was not the purview of Wednesday night's hearing.

Contact Derek Gentile at 413-496-6251.


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