AYER - The Ayer Finance Committee unanimously approved a string of reserve fund transfers on Wednesday night to cover overspending in several accounts to close out Fiscal Year 2012.
An $8,667.92 overage was incurred in legal services. Town Administrator Robert Pontbriand said the need for town counsel ramped up especially in the second half of the fiscal year. The line item was originally budgeted at $68,400.
Town Accountant Lisa Gabree said the health insurance changes had a "major impact" on the legal bill. Pontbriand said another unanticipated expense was the $11,300 worth of legal services consumed by the Planning Board.
Pontbriand said the board did vote, however, to release a $5,000 earmark set aside for zoning bylaw legal review to help defray the town's legal bill. Pontbriand said "perhaps they should have their own counsel line item."
Arbitrations and grievances have contributed to the overspending, too, Pontbriand said "as well as some other issues."
Finance Committee member Michael Pattenden wondered if it would be "worthwhile for us to have a town attorney" if the overage brought the total FY12 legal spending to $77,000. "It's got to be getting close to the cost for a new person."
"I honestly don't think so," said Chairman Scott Houde. "I don't think we're even close to that." Houde said corporate in-house counsel he's experienced in industry earns well above that wage.
"Now we have a whole law firm we can rely on," said committee
Instead of paying a "downtown" Boston law firm, committee member Marianne Zawacki wondered if the town should "look to other law firms that are less metropolitan" to see what a "more local" firm or attorney might charge.
Pontbriand said it's "something we could definitely do" via a request for proposals and quotes for legal services. But Pontbriand noted that Kopelman and Paige has fit the bill for Ayer's diverse legal needs of late.
When the town prepared and passed a sex offender residency restricting bylaw, Kopelman and Paige provided an expert attorney, Pontbriand said. The firm provides expert assistance regarding solar power net metering agreements for municipalities as well as municipal labor law. "But its definitely something we can look in to as far as comparable quotes," said Pontbriand.
Given the "breadth of issues" town counsel has assisted with last year, the overages is a "very modest request to balance this account," said Pontbriand. But for the legally-demanding second half of the fiscal year, "We were running in really good shape."
A $91,729.55 transfer was approved to cover an uptick in enrollment of Ayer students attending the Nashoba Valley Technical High School. Originally estimated at 48 students, upwards of 54-59 students ultimately enrolled in the vocational high school.
As a result, per pupil expenses jumped over the $104,730.35 originally budgeted to cover tuition. "The projection was lower than reality," said Pontbriand. "How is this unforeseen or unexpected? Obviously the numbers are higher than we'd budgeted for."
There was a $535.30 transfer to pay for salary within the new Information Technology department. Budgeted for just a 52-week year, there was no cushion to absorb the fact that there was a 53-week year in terms of pay periods.
And, finally, there was a $146.23 transfer for the selectmen office. Following the failure and replacement of a computer in the office, additional monies were needed to by toner cartridges and Pontbriand's June cell phone bill for his town-issued Blackberry device.
The fiscal year ends with some $10,000 left in the Reserve Fund account.
With members Houde and Briand Muldoon reappointed for fresh 3-year terms by Town Moderator Dan Swanfeldt, the Finance Committee paused to reorganize. The committee unanimously re-elected Houde as its Chairman. The Vice Chairman post switched from Muldoon to John Kilcommins. And the secretary/minute taking function switched from Kilcommins to Zawacki.
The Ayer Finance Committee next meets on Wednesday, July 25 at 7 p.m. at Ayer Town Hall.
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