AYER - The Ayer Finance Committee considered the need for added manpower in the town Building Inspections Department in light of the $56 million Ayer-Shirley Regional High School renovation project on Washington Street.

Committee Chair Scott Houde said Ayer's part time Building Inspector Gabe Vellante is working both with Town Administrator Robert Pontbriand and the School Building Committee to "gauge what the schedule is going to be and what the assistance is going to be."

Ground hasn't broken on the comprehensive overhaul of the school. It was not immediately clear if there would be a financial impact in this Fiscal Year 2013 or if the assistance would be needed starting in Fiscal Year 2014 which commences on July 1.

Houde said the school has also sought a reduction in the fees paid to the town to cover inspection services "based on goodwill." Houde added "we're all in this together," when hearing some committee members mumble about the fee reduction request.

Houde noted that "some selectmen have asked if we need a full time inspector now." Committee member Michael Pattenden and Capital Planning Committee Chair Mary Spinner noted that was attempted in the 2003 budget. Spinner said the money was ultimately not incorporated into the budget at that time when Vellante advised "he can do it all, so it came out."

Committee member Brian Muldoon said Vellante had likewise advised the committee in the past that he could adequately cover the town on a part time basis. "But Gabe has said he cannot do this," added selectman Pauline Conley.

"And it's only for a two and a half year time frame," said Houde.

Conley noted "the contractor bears the permit fees" as part of the burden of assembling a bid on the project and that the project is not paid by the Ayer-Shirley Regional School District above and beyond the contract. "It should all be built into the cost of the construction."

"Whatever, the cost of inspections is still going to come back to us in the assessment," said Houde.

As for hiring assistance for the Building Inspector, Houde noted that Vellante also serves as Building Inspector for both Harvard and the Devens Regional Enterprise Zone (DREZ). Vellante makes $28,000 a year on a part time basis in Ayer.

--FINANCIAL POLICY, DEVENS STUDY SUBCOMMITTEES

The Finance Committee agreed it was time to invite other officials to reconvene working subcommittees to create and revise as needed the town's financial policies Houde said the team approach worked before with participation from both the Ayer Board of Selectmen and the Ayer School Committee in the days before the schools were regionalized with Shirley.

Houde sought the committee's permission to approach the selectmen to gauge interest in participation in a fresh round of financial policy review. "We had less push back with selectmen buy in," said Houde.

The committee agreed, voting to form a standing fiscal policy subcommittee to include members of the selectmen, the regional school committee and "other personnel as necessary."

The committee temporarily held off on forming a second subcommittee to study the financial impact of Ayer's potential resumption of governmental jurisdiction of former Fort Devens Army lands.

Houde had suggested the Ayer selectmen could serve on such an Ayer study panel.

But Conley said she's "strongly recommend" that Ayer selectmen not serve on the study panel, but that instead it be filled with financial advisors and perhaps a realtor. Conley noted that the Harvard selectmen charged its Harvard Devens Economic Advisory Team (DEAT) in such a way so that it's independent and "not a political organization."

Houde agreed to table the motion to convene a Devens study panel until he could more closely review Harvard's DEAT model.

--HARSH WORDS FOR CONTINGENT LOCAL AID FIGURES

In advance of the May 2013 Annual Town Meeting, Houde expressed concern with any move to grant employees cost of living adjustments (COLAs) atop step increases.

"The concern I have as a taxpayer is you combine steps with COLAs and you're looking at at 4-5 percent pay increases," said Houde.

"And don't forget longevity pay, too," said Muldoon. 

"My guess is we'll roll into Town meeting with two versions of the budget - theirs [the selectmen] and ours, which is fine," said Houde. "That's absolutely perfect and how the process should work."

In preparing for the Fiscal Year 2014 budget, Houde said he was dismayed to hear the Patrick Administration's take on the fiscal blue print during a conference call hosted by Lt. Gov. Timothy Murray. Houde said he and Pontbriand took in the message together.

"They say" they're making "a big investment in local communities," said Houde. To that end, every town is to be level funded based on Fiscal Year 2013 figures, with an addition calculation to take into account a community's "ability to pay."

"All of these are contingent" on legislative approval of revenue-boosting taxes, like the sales and income taxes. Houde didn't mince words on the administration's budget advisory.

"We got garbage to work on," said Houde. "We got numbers that I have no faith in."

While promising more Chapter 70 aid for schools, the state aid figures are "built around revenue that does not exist, which is ludicrous...idiotic."

"I'll be blunt. I've been seething over this," said Houde over the take-away from the conference call. "It absolutely gives the towns nothing to work with. They ended it with 'We need your support."

Ayer- Shirley Regional School District Supt. Carl Mock is to present the school's annual assessment numbers to the Ayer Finance Committee on Feb. 13. The Nashoba Valley Technical High School assessment figure was due by late last week.

Follow Mary Arata at twitter.com/maryearata.