AYER -- State Rep. Sheila Harrington talked of pressing issues for Ayer at the state level before selectmen began their Tuesday night meeting.

Harrington discussed Ayer District Court and a bill about bringing a probate court system to Ayer. Ayer had a probate court system at one time, but it was taken away once Concord's probate court became very active. There is also a probate session in Cambridge.

Representatives from Ayer District Court feel they do not have the staff to support this type of court, but they are hoping that Harrington and her colleagues will work to instead place a larger probate session in Lowell in the next two and a half years.

"I'm not ready to say it is completely over for Ayer because, in essence, people from this area pay much more for attorneys for any probate matter simply because of distance," Harrington said. "It poses not only a financial hardship, but also people with small children needing to be in Cambridge by 8:30 a.m. is a challenge."

Harrington added that it is not fair for Ayer residents to travel that distance for probate matters, so she will do what she can to get a probate system to Ayer or at least Lowell.

Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) fraud was next on her agenda. Harrington is the ranking member on the Post Audit and Oversight Committee, which oversees the development and implementation of legislative auditing programs including EBT and SNAP benefits, or food stamps in Massachusetts.

Harrington has found that 99 percent of the time, most people receiving EBT benefits are taking the cash out of the system. "We need to tighten it up," she said.

Most shocking, she said, is the number of deceased people supposedly applying for benefits nearly 30 years after their passing. Commissioner Stacy Monahan has done a lot to combat fraud issues where this area is concerned, said Harrington, however, there is still a lot of work to do with the EBT system in general.

Many times people will buy items with their EBT benefits and return them immediately for cash. Harrington hopes to get those returns placed back on the EBT card rather than handing out cash.

Personnel study

After Harrington left, selectmen addressed several other points, including an update from a human-resources company working on a study of nonunion personnel classification and compensation to be done some time in October.

Sandy Stapczynski, president of Human Resources Services Inc., updated the board on progress thus far with the study.

She noted that HRS has administered position analysis surveys to employees that ask questions about what their current job requires them to do, what knowledge they need to have, what type of equipment they operate, what kind of technologies they use, etc.

HRS is collecting and analyzing salary market data and updating salary ranges and schedules as they work to put together the job descriptions.

"It is not our intention to cut anyone's pay, that is not our goal," Stapcynski said. "We want to check that the salaries fall within the average and (suggest) any adjustments.

"We are not doing an organizational study," she said. "We are studying what the job is, what the town wants the job to be, what are the requirements for the job, is it ADA-compliant, and how does it compare with the market? We are not the drivers of any organizational study."

Since HRS planned to be done Sept. 1, Stapcynski said the holdup may be the "sheer volume of work." But she said the study should be done in October in time for the town to work on its budget cycle before bringing the issue to spring town meeting.

"I think what's important is that you have a meaningful study," Stapcynski said.

Chairman Pauline Conley asked who will be responsible for ultimately deciding what the job description should be. Stapcynski answered that since HRS was hired as an expert in this area, it would provide the job descriptions based on research from employees, department heads, town officials and market information. She added that management does have input on what the job descriptions entail and does review them. 

COA vacancy

The board approved a Council on Aging vacancy posting for an administrative/outreach coordinator position and refurbishment of a fire engine for $141,849 to be done by Greenwood Emergency Vehicles.

Fire Chief Robert Pedrazzi presented the project to the board and discussed the comparison in price if they were to buy a new truck. A new truck would cost about $450,000.

The board agreed.

Streetlight replacement

An Interim Downtown Streetlight Replacement proposal was brought by Town Administrator Robert Pontbriand on the need for immediate lighting on Main Street and East Main Street.

There was a warrant article for fall Town Meeting to implement a long-term plan to replace the 10 streetlights over 18 to 24 months, but Pontbriand said there is increased concern from several residents regarding safety. He proposed a short-term plan that would activate key lights on Main Street as soon as possible.

Police Chief William Murray and DPW Superintendent Mark Wetzel put the plan together for an estimated cost of $76,000 for 10 streetlights.

Pontbriand discussed options for funding. One is to put the amount in a warrant article and request it from free cash at fall Town Meeting. "This is problematic because the town accountant is concerned about free cash" since a number of items on the warrant are requested to come from free cash, he said.

"The commitment to energy savings has been considerable," Pontbriand said. "For example, we used $25,000 of Urban Development Action Grants funding to fund the Johnson controls audit. ... We got a $150,000 grant to the Wastewater Treatment Plant, which we are realizing about ... a 65 percent reduction in fuel costs.

"The second point is those savings," said Pontbriand, "the $2,000 used for that audit has been paid and put back in the UDAG (account). The improvements that the town has made in the Green Community grant program, which was a $155,000 grant program, alone we received approximately $62,000 in energy rebates back from National Grid. ... Additionally, the town is ahead of schedule to meet the 15 percent (energy) reduction over the next three years. And lastly, the solar array that Town Meeting authorized last spring went live on Aug. 1.

"We are generating positive credits on all town accounts (in these various areas)," he said. "In conclusion, there are various streams ... to help the replacing (of the lights)."

The board voted to implement the interim street replacement proposal using the UDAG funds and any energy savings the town has acquired.