First of two public hearings
held Monday night.
DUDLEY - “Ten dollars and fifty cents a month doesn’t seem so awful,” said townswoman Jeanne Kosakowski after listening to the various requests from town departments and spokespeople who, in total, requested that the selectmen of Dudley add a ballot question to the November town meeting warrant requesting a Proposition 2 ½ override for $500,000.
According to town treasurer Richard Carmignani, the average homeowner would see a tax increase of $125.64 annually, based on the median home value of $209,400. That is roughly ten dollars a month. Selectman Paul Joseph pointed out that, “We’re not talking about a tax increase. We’re talking about maintaining our basic services: fire, police, ambulance, education.” There didn’t seem to be any real dissention at the special town meeting; there was nobody who came out against any of the requests for an override.
The first of two public hearings began at the Dudley Municipal Complex at 6:37 on Monday night. Chairman Jonathan Ruda started things off by imploring residents of Dudley to take advantage of all the information that is openly available to citizens. He stated that all meetings are recorded and posted on the town website (www.dudley.ma.gov) and that public servants are available in all departments to answer questions that citizens may have. He made it clear that it is essential that everyone understands the importance of the two issues that were being heard.
Sean Gilrein, superintendent of schools for the Charlton/Dudley Regional School District, was the first to speak specifically about requests for override monies. The schools are requesting $250,000 that would go toward a variety of expenses. He stated that the district can no longer sustain the resources available without coming to the town for help.
Though specifics weren’t given, as voted on by the school committee at their last meeting, the money would go to things like: $100,000 in capital projects, $75 per student for technology, $350,000 toward instituting movement to the common core for K-5 and $88,000 for books and supplies for grades 6-12. The school committee had previously voted to NOT specifically breakdown their request because the needs change from year to year, though they are always present. They feared that putting in specific line items would be short-sighted because if, for example, they allocated $100,000 toward technology, then every subsequent year would have a budget of $100,000, even if that figure was too high for that year.
Selectman Joseph asked if this money would be used for school “wish list” items or if it was to simply sustain the services that the schools already offer. Gilrein confirmed it was to simply maintain the level of service it currently has. The school committee has already had to cut 30 positions. This money is necessary to prevent even deeper cuts.
Steven J. Wojnar, Dudley Chief of Police, requested funds to offset the cost of staffing. In his tenure at the department, Dudley has lost a dispatcher and four officers due to cutbacks. “As a community, we’re not generating enough revenue. We are significantly underfunded compared to other communities.” He continued on, telling the selectmen that of all the surrounding towns, Dudley is the most under-represented, per capita, by police. In Clinton, there is a population of 13,500 with 28 police officers. Leicester, which has a population of 11,140, similar to that of Dudley’s, has 18 officers. In contrast, Dudley has only 12 officers. Selectmen Joseph commented that “we are substantially understaffed.” The original request by Wojnar was for $93,000, of which $62,000 would be for additional salary and benefits and the balance would be for computer expenses, training and overtime. The Town Administrator’s office suggested the amount of $25,000.
The fire chief, Dean Kochanowski, requested $168,000 in order to extend the EMS paramedic coverage to be twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. As it stands, they currently have EMS on duty (dispatched from their homes) from 6pm until midnight. These shifts are funded through November. In addition to keeping these EMTs on call and extend the service to include paramedic response, direct from the station (which cuts down on response time,) additional funding would be required. The requested amount would cover a full year of Paramedic level response 24 hours a day. When asked about the difference between EMTs and Paramedics, Kochanowski said that having a paramedic is “like having an E.R. come to your house,” where an EMT can basically do CPR. Selectman Steven Sullivan added on a personal note that he had been a heart attack victim and paramedics had diagnosed and treated him within twenty-two minutes. He is a believer that quick response is extremely important.
“We need help from the people who support the schools.” Selectman Peter Fox once again implored the audience, “We need help from the public. Get your friends and neighbors out there. You’re equally as important as we (the selectmen) are”” in this override matter.
A few other items were part of the request to override. The clerk requested $5000 for elections, Veteran’s Services requested $28,000 for benefits, and Vocational Education requested $45,000. Gas, postage, insurance and items like streetlights rounded out the total amount.
If passed, the override would be written into the budget indefinitely until it was repealed by another vote at town meeting. To many at the open hearing, they worried that the “large number” of the override would scare people off. Spectator Jeanne Kosakowski reiterated right before the meeting was adjourned, that “That’s a couple of coffees (per month) at Dunkin Donuts…If people would throw their change, two quarters a day, into a cup” that would pay for this “much needed” and worthwhile override that funds so many services.