Northfield voters pass $9.58M budget, fire chief term extension

By EMILEE KLEIN

For the Recorder

Published: 05-03-2023 3:32 PM

NORTHFIELD — Annual Town Meeting voters sped through 27 articles on Monday, including the town’s $9.58 million operating budget and petitioning the Legislature to extend the fire chief’s term.

The 139 registered voters who gathered at Pioneer Valley Regional School approved the articles in less than an hour. Besides the budget, most articles allocated funds for replacing equipment.

Article 4 approved the $9.58 million budget that will pay to run various government departments and cover officials’ salaries in fiscal year 2024, representing an increase of $554,657, or 6.14%. The funds from Article 4, when combined with other town and state expenditures, equate to $11.25 million, a decrease of $1 million from the current year’s total. Resident Brian Bordner said he appreciated the work of town officials to lower the total expenditures, but the approved number still costs $3,878 for every person in the town, or $323 per month.

“People go through life struggling for money,” Bordner said. “[They] make out a monthly budget and never know what taxes ask of them. They don’t realize how much taxes cost them.”

Article 17 to lengthen the term of Fire Chief Floyd “Skip” Dunnell III passed unanimously after he explained the reason for the request. Specifically, the vote authorizes the Selectboard to petition the Legislature to pass a bill allowing Dunnell to continue serving in his position until either Dec. 31, 2026, or until the date of his retirement or non-reappointment, whichever comes first. Public safety employees are required by state law to retire by age 65, but an act of the state Legislature can allow an individual more time in their field.

Dunnell first mentioned the desire to continue his involvement in the development of the Public Safety Complex. During the Special Town Meeting on April 19, the project did not receive the two-thirds majority required for borrowing authorizations, zoning changes, and property acquisition and transfers, sending the project back to the drawing board.

“Reason No. 2 is I’d like to spend the next two years with the members of the Fire Department in working with my replacement as leader of the Fire Department,” Dunnell said before mentioning his more personal reason for the article. “I became chief in 1976. In 2026, I would have served you folks, the town as Northfield, for 50 years.”

Articles 5 and 6 both requested money for emergency medical services. The first article approved $572,371 for an Emergency Medical Services Enterprise Fund that supports department operations. The second applies some of those funds to outfit a third ambulance. EMS Chief Mark Fortier explained the money comes from excess revenue.

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All three articles pertaining to the maintenance and security of Northfield Elementary School passed with no discussion. The school will get a key card access system, new blackout roller shades and renovated bathrooms. Funds for a new sewer line along Meadow Street, a smaller truck for the Highway Department, and a new grill and shed for the Senior Center also passed.

During the meeting, Selectboard Chair Barbara “Bee” Jacque honored former Selectboard and Finance Committee member Lois Stearns for her 32 years of service in Northfield’s municipal government. Jacque read an official citation from Sen. Jo Comerford thanking the 92-year-old woman, who retired from the Finance Committee in January. Jack Spanbauer accepted the award on Stearns’ behalf, acknowledging much of her work behind the scenes and crediting the smoothness of Town Meetings to Stearns.

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