AYER -- The town's latest lawsuit involving the U.S. government is requiring money from the reserve fund for legal counsel.

Town Administrator Robert Pontbriand told selectmen on Tuesday that the lawsuit involves the U.S. government suing the Boston and Maine Railroad for environmental contamination of two local ponds.

But the railroad has listed Ayer as a third-party defendant, he said.

The lawsuit is one of two that Pontbriand presented to the board as unforeseen costs that needed to be covered for fiscal year 2014.

"That matter alone, which just came in the last month, has already cost the town close to $7,000 in legal fees to prepare our defense," he said.

The other lawsuit dipping into the reserve fund involves Bolduc Enterprises, the town's deputy collector, suing the town for an alleged breach of contract.

Selectmen approved a $15,479 reserve fund transfer for legal costs for both lawsuits.

Selectmen appointed Kevin Johnston as the town's new benefits and payroll manager, a position met with some opposition by Treasurer Stephanie Gintner.

Johnston currently serves as Shirley's treasurer, and his start date is yet to be determined.

Town Clerk and Tax Collector Susan Copeland proposed new operating hours for her office, but asked selectmen to consider the new hours for Town Hall as a whole.

"It's based on resident requests," she said. "In my almost 60 days of being here, I've had a few requests of later hours or people having to take time off from work."

Copeland said that surrounding towns offer an evening with extended hours and a day with an earlier release time, which is typically Friday because the foot traffic and phone calls slow down.

Selectmen voted in the new hours of 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday, Wednesday and Thursday, 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Tuesday and 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Friday. The new hours will be in effect starting Aug. 4.

The board also tackled the staffing for the town's building department, an issue selectmen have been grappling with for the past two years.

Two of the major issues, Pontbriand explained, were selectmen's ongoing commitment to property enforcement and improvement of office availability.

Building Commissioner Gabe Vellante proposed a building commissioner working Tuesday and Thursday and an assistant building inspector working 15 hours a week at $25 an hour, up from the previous wage rate posted with the job in the past.

A part-time assistant, Vellante said, would give him flexibility to work on permiting, zoning and other matters.

He also proposed an administrative assistant working four hours a week at $18.07 an hour.

Selectman Gary Luca pointed out what he called an odd situation of a union position being managed by Vellante, who is also in a union. He wondered who would direct an assistant inspector, if hired.

Selectman Jannice Livingston said she believed the town administrator and selectmen would.

Luca also said he'd like the assistant to go to 18 hours and did not think the department needed an administrative assistant.

Selectmen ultimately voted to advertise an assistant building inspector job at $25 an hour for up to 18 hours a week.

Conversation then digressed after Hillman looked at his phone, visibly upset and saying that he does not need a text message from a former selectman commenting on the matter.

"Ms. Conley, you can come and sit in the audience if you want to comment on what we did," he said to the camera. "Feel free to come to the meeting and you can comment. Don't sit home and tell us we look stupid, because you're at home and we're here."

After the meeting, Hillman said the text read, "You guys looked really stupid during your discussions with Gabe."

A second text after his comment to Conley, he said, read to stay off of electronic devices during the meeting. Hillman explained that he keeps his phone near the table because his son has high blood sugar.

Conley was reached for comment after the meeting but said in a text message to ask Hillman for the texts first. She did not respond to any additional opportunity to comment before deadline. 

Toward the end of the meeting, Luca also brought up an extra item aimed at Treasurer Stephanie Gintner.

"I'm curious on why the treasurer would put in for payment to herself for over $1,800, and it was stopped, thank God, by the accountant," he said. "Is there any reason you'd put in for a payment for yourself after town meeting set your salary?"

Gintner said she did not wish to comment on that.

After the meeting, Pontbriand noted a letter sent on June 21 listing the sum for extra time and work done with payroll and benefits since Assistant Treasurer Melisa Doig resigned.