Town Warrant Articles Include Another Request for a New Fire Station

February 12, 2016

 

by Lynne Ober

For the majority of the morning there was little discussion on the 15 warrant articles presented by Hudson Selectmen.

Voters will see a second request to build a new fire station (Warrant Article 6), but this year Chief Rob Buxton was able to answer all the questions asked at last year’s deliberative session to the satisfaction of community members.  While a more in-depth look at this warrant article will appear in the HLN next week, a number of money-saving factors related to this bond request were discussed.

Because the new fire station using a proven plan used previously by Londonderry, Hudson residents benefit from significant savings as Hudson Fire Department did not have to pay an architect to design from the ground up.  Buxton also had figures for renovating the existing Burns Hill Fire Station and found that it was cheaper to build the new one.  Part of that fact is related to the Burns Hill station’s odd-sized, narrow lot that has wetlands on both sides of the existing building.  The plan calls for the new station to be built on existing town land on Lowell Road.  This property has access to existing town water and sewer and will have a natural gas heating system.

Chief Buxton showed response times, and, after much research, found that more homes, businesses and property will be served quicker from the proposed new location than what is possible from the Burns Hill location.

After much financial review, it has been decided to ask for a 10-year bond as this will also save taxpayers significant money.  Buxton said that the cost of the bond would be approximately $280 spread over 10 years or $28 per year on the average home.  He did not give a cost-per-thousand figure.

Warrant Article 7 is the operating budget in the amount of $24,384,481.  This budget actually represents a decrease of three cents per thousand on the tax rate.

Both Warrant Articles 8 and 9 have no impact on the tax rate and are paid by users of town water and sewer systems.  In both cases, there is no increase to users either, and these quickly passed to the ballot.

The next four warrant articles (10-13) relate to wage and benefit increases for town employees.

Warrant Article 10 is for Hudson Firefighters, IAAF Local 3154, for three years.  Selectman Rick Maddox said it was the “next step of ensuring quality people in the Hudson Fire Department.”  This also includes dispatchers and paramedics who staff the ambulance service.  It consists of a two-percent raise plus step increases if the employee is eligible.  The first year of the contract will require an additional $79,829.  The second year will require an additional $74,451, and the last year amounts to an increase of $74,361.

The Hudson Support Staff (Warrant Article 11) will add one cent to the tax rate in the first of three years and two cents in each of year two and three according to Selectman Ted Luszey, who said, “This contract provides for a two-percent cost of living adjustment each year.  Eligible employees would also receive a step on their anniversary date.  The contract also provides for a one-time pay scale adjustment for the assistant town clerk/tax collectors, utility clerks and the deputy town clerk/tax collector based on comparable area towns’ salary data.

The amount of money raised by this contract is $32,562 in the first year, $32,562 in the second year, and $31,606 in the third and final year.

All of the contracts included language to reopen the agreements for the purpose of negotiating any changes in the health insurance plan that may be necessary to avoid the application of the “Cadillac Tax” to the town, but since all of these are three-year contracts there should be no impact as the “Cadillac Tax” will go into effect in five years unless federal law changes.

Warrant Article 12 for Hudson Police, Fire and Town Supervisors Association also provides for a two-percent COLA in each of three years and step raises for eligible employees.  Selectman McGrath said the contract would add three cents per thousand to the tax rate the first year, another 3 cents per thousand in the second year, and 3 cents per thousand in the third year of the contract.  The first year $78,662 would be raised, in the second year $73,290 and in the third year $71,368.

Warrant Article 13 presented by Selectman Pat Nichols was to provide a 9.24783 percent raise for the elected Town Clerk/Tax Collector, who currently earns $54,921.  This article raises the salary to $60,000.  Nichols said they looked at six surrounding towns and decided to provide a salary that was above the mid-point of the other towns.  The warrant article asks for an increase of $6,035 which includes benefit increases as well.

Warrant Article 14 is to hire one full-time police officer.  Selectman Coutu spoke to this article that asks for $85,343 for salary and benefits, of which $35,652 is for benefit costs.  Finance Director Kathy Carpentier said that the budget always asked for the family benefit level for new employees.  This would have a 3-cent per thousand impact on the tax rate.  Coutu said staff had not been increased since 2007.  He said there were 32 staff members in patrol, of which eight were supervisory staff.  According to Coutu there are three lieutenants and five sergeants.  The remaining 24 are patrol officers, and this would add one more patrol officer.

Neither Warrant Articles 15 nor 16 was unanimously supported by selectmen as voters will see on the ballot.  However, Selectman Rick Maddox said that his ‘not recommended’ votes were solely based on prioritizing warrant articles by need.  “I was afraid we were asking for too much.  I know we need both of these positions, but I didn’t want to ask for so much that people started voting no.”

Warrant Article 15 asks to increase the part-time recreation department office assistant from part time to full time.  Instead of working 29.5 hours per week for 43 weeks of the year, she would work 40 hours for 52 weeks of the year.  With the Hudson Senior Center staffed by only one person, the office assistant currently fills in at the Senior Center to cover vacation days etc.  The cost is $23,982.

Warrant Article 16 requests the hiring of a part-time IT entry-level technician at the cost of $28,073, which would add 1 cent per thousand to the tax rate.  Although there were several questions about this, no changes were made.  Lisa Nute did tell the audience that she had been asking for another full-time person, and Selectman Luszey said he wanted to see the town and school district combine into one department for IT support.

Warrant Article 17 asks for $160,000 to replace the lining on the Central Street Bridge/Culvert.  Selectman McGrath asked the audience if they even knew they crossed a bridge when they drove down Central Street.  This bridge/culvert was built in 1974 and consists of a metal pipe that is 10 feet by 8 feet.  It was recently inspected and put onto the state’s red listed bridges.  According to McGrath it is now in danger of being closed to vehicular traffic.  The amount requested covers both engineering and the cost of construction.

Selectman Maddox also spoke and said that since Central Street was just repaved last year, selectmen felt that replacing the pipe was the most cost-effective method because it would preserve the paving.  In response to a question by John Knowles, Maddox explained that digging up the road and completely replacing the bridge and culvert would cost around one million dollars, so selectmen are asking for money to replace the pipe.

When Hudson resident Tracy Stevens asked about the immediate impact if this was voted down, Town Engineer Elvis Dhima said that Hudson faced having the state close the road as happened in Merrimack recently.  In that case residents dropping their children off at Hudson Memorial as well as other traffic would be detoured through the residential area.  Dhima estimated that 5,000 vehicles a day would be detoured.

Warrant Article 18, which would provide electricity, water, sewer and natural gas at Benson Park, was amended at the request of Shawn Jasper, who is the vice chairman of the Benson Committee.  Jasper explained that real costs were developed as a result of test borings and negotiations.  Liberty Utilities, for example, will run the gas line at no cost to the town if the trench is widened from two to three feet.  That warrant article would not cost $98,000.  According to Selectman Maddox, it would complete the town’s promise to bring the utilities into the park.

Jasper and other volunteers talked about how many volunteer hours have been spent developing the park and are continuing to be donated to maintain the park.

Although there was an amendment by John Stevens, seconded by Tracy Stevens to zero out the money entirely, those in attendance voted to lower the cost to $98,000 and take the question to the voters for final decision.

Warrant Article 19 proposes to take $285,000 out of town surplus and put it into trust funds.  Maddox said that sum represented the net proceeds from selling town land in 2015.  He said selectmen were trying to “think outside of the box on how to fund some town needs.”  Of that total sum, $95,000 would be added to the Communications Equipment and Infrastructure Capital Reserve Fund.  Maddox said that radios and other communication equipment seemed to have a life span “about as long as a gnat.”  An additional $95,000 would be added to the Recreation Field Construction Capital Reserve Fund, and $95,000 would be added to the Major Repairs to Town Buildings Capital Reserve Fund.

Jean Marie Holmes said she belongs to the Friends of Hudson Fields.  “Fields are a necessity.  Our kids play on rocks, weeds and dirt.  The fields are overused and over scheduled.”  According to her testimony selectmen have made a deal to build a new field without voter input.

This brought Fred Guiffrida to the microphone.  He noted that normally voters are asked whether to build a new field or not and said that putting this money into capital reserve funds does have a tax impact because it could have been used to lower the tax rate for all.

Both Scott Tice and Janice Walsh spoke in favor of the article.  Without changes, this article will appear on the ballot in March.