Fire department wages reviewed

Planning and zoning budget also discussed

Dec. 22, 2011

By Luke Baynes

Observer staff


Town budget talks shifted location Monday to the Pinecrest Village Community Center – and shifted focus to the fire department, and planning and zoning department budgets.

At the center of Fire Chief Ken Morton’s presentation to the Williston Selectboard was a request for a wage increase for firefighting and emergency medical services personnel.

Morton pointed out that the budget he prepared was decreased by the town manager’s office prior to being presented to the Selectboard.

“This is not the budget that I gave the town. After I presented the budget to the town, there were a couple of adjustments made in the area of salaries, and those adjustments totaled $8,392,” Morton said. “So if I were to make a request, it would be to actually add in the $8,392 — and that’s the Board’s decision, but I’m a little bit nervous.”

Although the fiscal year 2013 budget doesn’t propose an increase in on-call firefighter wages, Morton provided the wage scale of his on-call staff as an example that firefighters as a whole are underpaid.

“We pay our call firefighters $8.87 per hour when they start, and minimum wage, as of Jan. 1 (2012), is $8.46 per hour,” said Morton. “So we pay our firefighters and EMTs 41 cents more per hour than minimum wage, and I think that’s a problem.”

Williston Town Manager Rick McGuire acknowledged that the points Morton made regarding on-call wages were valid, and noted that the $8,392 budgetary decrease was based on curtailing the overall budget.

“The wages for call firefighters historically was low, and gradually each year we’ve been increasing it by the cost of living, but that doesn’t change the fact that it was low to begin with, and it’s still low,” McGuire said. “Eventually that adjustment will need to be made in some form or another.”

Selectboard Deputy Chairman Jeff Fehrs observed that issues such as wage increases underscore the challenge the Board faces with balancing service improvements versus reasonable property tax increases for town residents.

“The overall town budget as presented to us is (a 4-percent increase), which I think is actually a good budget, but along with that comes around a 9-percent-plus increase in the revenue that comes from taxes,” Fehrs said. “We have to weigh trying to provide the resources and the staff requirements that the town needs, but we also have to answer to the taxpayers.”


Williston Planning and Zoning Director Ken Belliveau appeared before the Selectboard and spoke about the need for a current set of aerial orthophoto images to update the town’s geographic information system.

“The last set of good images were flown in 2004,” Belliveau said.

He noted that the variable cost for the aerial photographs would require a $10,000 “placeholder” in the budget, but said they are valuable to ensure accurate planning studies.

“Having an additional set of data on the average of every 10 years is a tremendous tool to have, because it allows you to make comparisons over time,” said Belliveau.

The updated orthophoto images will contribute to a proposed 3.6-percent increase in planning and zoning expenditures. On the other side of the equation, revenue for the department is projected to increase 22.2 percent.

Belliveau said the projected revenue increase takes into account the planned Finney Crossing development north of Maple Tree Place, which “has been issued its first batch of permits.”

“We’re anticipating they’re going to come in with more permits in the upcoming fiscal year,” Belliveau said of Finney Crossing.

He also remarked that construction on Vermont 2A of a CVS/Pharmacy and an adjacent mixed-use commercial building, to include Panera Bread and a Verizon Wireless store, are “likely to break ground in the spring.”

“There seems to be some synergies and some momentum in terms of building activity and growth in town,” Belliveau said.