HARVARD -- Selectmen have begun to review the proposed budgets of departments under their jurisdiction as the annual budget-building season starts.
Tuesday night, they heard from four department heads.
The Finance Committee requested that all departments submit level-funded budgets this year, with the exception of cost-of-living increases. Department heads were also asked to include in the proposal one wished-for item they'd like to add if they could.
Finance Director Lorraine Leonard said she'd ask for a Human Services director, which would benefit all departments and might not end up in her own.
Given the many changes in state reporting rules, multiple tasks in that category now land on the desks of town employees who must take time away from their primary duties to tend to those tasks, Leonard said, including the Town Clerk.
Having a part-time H.R. Director would make the reporting process for the town's 275 to 325 part-time, full-time and seasonal municipal employees, plus School Department staff and retirees "consistent," Leonard said, whereas now "something could slip through."
Council on Aging Director Deb Thompson said the top item on her wish list would be to up the hours of the program coordinator from seven to 12 hours per week, allowing the council to add substantially to its program roster. Part of the position is paid for with the COA's formula grant, Thompson said, which also helps pay the part-time outreach coordinator.
"The town has been very good..." to the COA for the last few years, Thompson said. For example, it made a "huge difference" when the selectmen agreed to move the MART dispatcher from Town Hall to Hildreth House, adding a pair of extra hands there as well. The regional transit agency covers 14 hours of the 19-hour position.
Lucy Wallace, a former COA member, is the board's liaison to the COA now. She asked if the outreach coordinator's hours would need to be increased in the near future, given the anticipated rise in the senior (60 and older) population, recorded as 1,114 in the 2010 federal census.
"The reality is," the position should grow with the need for outreach services, but the challenge is to keep the hours under the benchmark for benefits, Thompson said, adding that some communities have skirted that issue by hiring two part-time coordinators. She doesn't favor that idea, however.
Wallace said she wasn't suggesting another wish list item; only that folks should be "mindful" of the dilemma down the road. She also asked if there's any chance MART will replace the town's rusty old van any time soon.
Hopefully, Harvard will be high on the list as MART replaces its aging fleet, Thompson said.
Fire Chief Richard Sicard said his wished-for item is an increase in his department's expense line. Truck repairs and equipment devoured "half my budget this year," he said.
On the plus side, some savings came from removing the cost of the eight-hour administrative assistant from the Fire Department budget. Now, it's a shared position, and the Police Department carries the full cost in its budget, Sicard said.
Leo Blair suggested that Sicard list vehicle maintenance as a separate line item rather than rolling it in with other expenses, even if the budget is approved as a total amount. It's all about presentation, Blair said, so townspeople can see the true cost of keeping up the fire trucks.
Sicard said he could do that, "no problem."
Police Chief Edward Denmark said he has expressed the same "wish" for 10 years: to have two officers on every shift. Now, he does, in large part thanks to savings from the communications budget that is now "gone," he said.
The switch from a town-centric dispatch desk located at the police station to joining with two other communities in a regional facility at Devens also fulfilled another wish: new communications software the department "inherited" via the regional dispatch system.
With the department's fleet of cruisers on replacement rotation, he's on track there, too, Denmark said. As for maintenance, his officers are expected to "own" the cars they drive on the job, he said. That way, there's incentive to keep their cars in good shape. "If they treat it like garbage, that's what they'll be driving," he said, adding that the one officer, one car scenario also ensures each vehicle gets its share of off the road down time.
Earlier in the meeting, the selectmen appointed two new police officers Denmark recommended to fill two vacancies.
Sketching the search process, Denmark said it was very selective and the review committee carefully screened the 35 applicants before bringing finalists in to interview. "The people we select are the foundation of any organization," he said. "It's important to hire the right people."
In this case, people who not only pass tests and background checks and have completed police academy training, but also have experience with community policing in a small town.
The two new patrol officers fit the profile. Tim Schaeffer has had 10 years of experience in the region, holds an associate's degree and has had significant training in the field. Tim Miner has had five years of law enforcement experience in Northampton and Hubbardston.
In addition, the selectmen, at Denmark's request, appointed Nelson Perry as a reserve officer. Perry has worked as a part-time and full-time dispatcher for the department, has been trained and certified as a reserve officer and now works part-time in the town of Berlin.
There is still one full-time vacancy, Denmark said, but he's in no rush to fill it. Besides sticking with his scrupulously selective hiring philosophy, the chief said he'd prefer to wait until current union contract negotiations are complete before posting the job.