Otis residents to vote on 3.3 percent budget increase, police chief articles

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OTIS — Whether to keep the current police chief and an operating budget hike of 3.3 percent highlight the annual town meeting on Tuesday night.

Voters gathered at 7 p.m. at Town Hall face dueling citizen petition articles: one asking the Select Board to retain Roberta Sarnacki as chief for another three years; the other would call for her removal from the Otis Police Department.

As for the proposed fiscal 2017 municipal spending plan of nearly $5.29 million, it reflects a $174,000 increase over the current fiscal 2016 budget, according to town officials. If approved, the average single-family homeowner could see a nearly $89 hike in the property tax bill after July 1. The town's Board of Assessors will officially set the new tax rate later in the calender year.

Sarnacki, who doubles as chairman of the Select Board, has been the part-time police chief since the summer of 2009, currently earning a salary of slightly more than $14,000.

The petition to oust the chief was signed by 14 registered voters, but if approved, would be advisory only, according to Town Administrator Christopher Morris.

"The article is not legally binding upon the Select Board because town meeting does not have the authority to instruct the [board] in regard to the appointing or hiring of personnel," he said.

Morris noted the same holds true for the petition article in favor of Sarnacki staying on the job, also endorsed by 14 registered voters.

"Roberta's continued performance and dedication to this position has warranted such a measure and such an appointment would help to remove personality and politics from the equation," as written in the petition.

This is the second time in six years the police chief's job has come under scrutiny by Annual Town Meeting.

In 2010, voters rejected a request the police department be reorganized and include a full-time chief. Sarnacki opposed the idea, saying she is effective as a part-timer and Otis doesn't need a full-time chief.

The police chief items are the last two of the 16-article warrant that focuses on operating expenses and special expenditures for the new fiscal year.

Morris cited three major reason for the proposed budget increase: The Farmington River Regional School District assessment is up by $89,180; municipal employee health insurance will cost an extra $12,420 as premiums are increasing by 14 percent; and the Otis Rescue Squad budget reflects an additional $10,800.

Among the special money articles, the Highway Department looks spend a total of $150,000 to replace a pair of seven-year-old vehicles; dump truck and pickup truck. If approved, town surplus funds, or so-called "free cash" would pay for the trucks.

Another article seeks $15,000 in free cash to fund the replacement of the gymnasium floor at Town Hall, formerly the Otis Consolidated School.

Contact Dick Lindsay at 413-496-6233.


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