As the former chairman of this elected commission, I do agree with the concept of this new ruling to govern the town; however, it is the hidden expenses that will occur to ALL the taxpayers, on or about the same time that taxes will increase dramatically should the override on the new high school pass.
The following is a list of those expenses:
The treasurer/collector will become an appointed position (no longer elected)
The town clerk will become an appointed position (no longer elected)
A strong fire chief will be appointed (we will no longer have a Board of Fire Engineers)
Of course making those changes will cost money. A few current department heads have a contract with the town which you can see on the town of Pepperell's website. These contracts are negotiated by the town administrator, Board of Selectmen, and the individual involved. Just like any union employee the department head has the same right to negotiate what they would like in their contract. These negotiations are always held in executive session and the minutes are not released until the contract(s) are signed.
Now let's discuss the strong fire chief. This will most likely have the largest impact on the town's expenses. Like our police chief, under Massachusetts General Laws, he/she will also be covered. It's the same law for both.
Presently we have a volunteer fire department, headed up by a five (5) person Board of Fire Engineers who are elected by the firemen and appointed by the Board of Selectmen.
All you have to do is look around at the surrounding towns of similar size and population, who thought it was great to go to a full-time fire department. We have Townsend, that, I believe, is working on their second strong chief; we have Groton, who has lost their strong chief and is left with a building which is not yet finished, and is costing the town a fortune; and Littleton, who I personally called to see how they were doing and I was told that they wish they hadn't gone the route of a strong chief. These are all issues which were never mentioned by the remaining members of the Charter Commission. I wonder why?
The most expensive aspect of this change to our fire department is the cost. I predict that once there is a strong chief in place, he will want a full-time fire department and two fire stations that will allow the firefighters to have overnight accommodations. Can we afford that? And as an added benefit, the full-time firefighters will want to join a union -- and they have every right to do so -- but, again it will cost us more.
Now can anyone tell me exactly why we would want to eliminate our current volunteers -- I sure can't. It makes absolutely no sense. Some of these young men and women come from generations of firefighters in this town. They live locally, obviously love what they are doing and certainly, individuals who put their lives on the line everyday for our community, (including our police, EMTs and dispatchers), do not need to be told "your services are no longer needed."
In closing, please consider what I have written. I have been a resident of this town for over 45 years, I have served two terms as a selectman, and served on numerous other boards and committees in Pepperell. I will continue to be honest and truthful with what I say and what I believe, which is why I resigned from the government charter commission after serving over a year. The majority on this commission just did not want to listen to anything the rest of us had to say. Please give this some serious thought on the tax impact this will have on every resident of this town, especially our seniors. VOTE NO ON APRIL 28 and allow the remaining four or five members to re-think these issues.