More Marlborough budget woes because of snow

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By Art Simas Community Reporter

Marlborough – Department of Public Works Commissioner Ronald M. LaFreniere requested and received another $500,000 from the City Council Feb. 14 to deal with snow removal costs and pay anticipated bills.

The city's snow and ice budget is now at $2 million.

With the approval, At-Large Councilor Michael Ossing, who also chairs the council's finance subcommittee, said the money depletes the city's free cash account.

“There is no more free cash,” he said. “I want you all to keep this in mind when considering other transfers.”

Ward 1 Councilor Joseph F. Delano Jr. suggested the council approve $250,000 instead of the $500,000. He said he thought $250,000 would be sufficient to cover the next few weeks.

Delano also noted the need for closer departmental scrutiny.

“I don's want to hamstring the city, but I get so many complaints from residents who say they see plow drivers riding round and around after an area has been plowed, racking up hours and time.”

LaFreniere said he would be requesting additional funds if the bad weather continues through the rest of the winter.

The vote to give the DPW $250,000 was defeated with Delano, Ossing and At-Large Councilor Steven Levy voting for, and the remainder of the council voting against that proposal and in favor of funding the full $500,000.

In other business, the City Council unanimously approved the appointment of Jennifer Crawford-Claro as director of the Council on Aging for a three-year term. She holds a bachelor's degree in business and a master's degree in community counseling from the University of South Alabama.

Mayor Nancy E. Stevens had recommended her to this position last summer but with the reorganization/consolidation of Human Services, Veterans” Agent and Council on Aging, the appointment had to be postponed until now.

The City Council also held a public hearing on amending the city's requirement of first-floor living space at future retirement communities for people over 55. Currently the requirement states that the first floor must comprise at least 66 percent of the total living space.

Stephen F. Reid, commissioner of the Marlborough Zoning Inspectional Services, said 66 percent is too restrictive for developers. He suggested editing the language to current law that will ease any potential future development.

Shawn Nuckolls, project manager for Toll Brothers, a developer that is working on a project on Fitchburg Street, said 66 percent is too restrictive from a planning point of view. He said most retirement homes they have built have 61 percent to 63 percent of the living space on the first floor. He added it would be better to let the market decide the appropriate percentage.

Elizabeth Bannon, 24 Whispering Brook Rd., said she was more concerned with people refinishing their basements, and then using that as an extra living space with appliances and adding another bedroom, which is forbidden according to the building code.

Ward 6 Councilor Edward Clancy also said he was concerned about the potential of extra bedrooms in a basement, as well as outdoor access in case of fire.

Reid said the building code for any dwelling would stipulate the type of bedroom allowed.

In other business, Councilor At-Large Arthur G. Vigeant stepped down as council president to address Fire Chief Ricky A. Plummer on his request for $30,000 to fund firefighter overtime.

“So where are we regarding changing the department policy and slowing down the overtime?” Vigeant asked.

Plummer said he is in negotiations with the firefighters union and told Vigeant that he would rather wait to make department wide changes rather than piecemeal changes that may save a few dollars now, but may not yield expected results in the future.

“I's looking for long-term savings,” the chief said. “We have to talk some more [with members of the union].”

Vigeant said he didn's see the point in waiting.

“I want to see this implemented, he said. “I's getting antsy.”

Plummer said, “Between civil service and the union, I can's change their working conditions. I understand your frustration but I can's do it overnight.”

He added that the reorganization of the department will not affect the overtime budget.

He said he has three vacancies that have not been filled and another two firefighters out with injuries.

“It's cheaper to pay overtime instead of paying a firefighter year-round.”

Delano told Plummer, who has been on the job for about 10 months, “We'se expecting a lot from you. We will support you to the hilt, but we'se got to move on.”

In the end, the City Council voted to approve $30,000 for the overtime account.