The Plympton Board of Selectmen met on Monday, January 23, 2017. Fire Chief Warren Borsari brought to the board’s attention a serious staffing issue currently occurring with the town’s paramedics.
According to Chief Borsari, the Fire Department is having problems staffing ambulances. He says, “We’re having issues retaining certified medics for a number of reasons including there being opportunities for advancement in other municipalities.”
He went on to say that the base pay for a Plympton Paramedic right now is $12.40 per hour. On January 1, 2017, Massachusetts, minimum wage increased to $11 per hour. With this in mind, the current pay Chief Borsari said is causing retention problems.
Chief Borsari says, “The minimum wage at $11 is making this (leaving) an economic decision for our paramedics.” He went on to propose that paramedic wages be in the $16.50 to $21.88 per hour range.
Typically proposals for pay increases are heard before Wage and Personnel rather than the Board of Selectmen, Wage and Personal was involved, but this staffing shortage is serious enough that Chief Borsari feels the guidance of the Board of Selectmen is necessary. The Fire Department is in danger of falling below state mandates for the number of paramedics needed on duty at a single time.
If that were to happen, Plympton would be at great risk. Chief Borsari told the board, “I discussed the risks with you and the risk is that we will have to drop to the basic life support. Most calls today are advanced life support.”
Borsari cited examples of what constitutes basic life support and there weren’t many. Things like a twisted ankle or an abrasion are categorized as a basic life support call. Chief Borsari continued, “Any altered mental status is advanced life support, and that’s dehydration, it could be a sugar problem, or a medication problem.” It’s also worth noting that any chest pain is considered cardiac until proven otherwise.
The board had previously asked the fire chief if any other towns in the area only have the basic life support system. He said that there aren’t any local municipalities without the advanced life support system,in fact, there are just a few communities in Western Massachusetts relying only on the basic system.
Selectmen had been made aware of the issue when the Chief reported to the board last fall, and had begun to run some numbers on what a pay increase would look like prior to the meeting. Specifically, Selectmen Clerk John Traynor took some time to assess the cost. This assessment also took into account raising the wages for basic EMTs who are currently paid $10.40 per hour.
Traynor answered, “If we were to go to a rate of $16.50 and a paramedic to $19…annual cost would be $311,000.” He also ran numbers on rates that more mirror the wages in Halifax. He says, “If we look at something closer to Halifax, it would be $18 for basic and $23 for the paramedic.” That would cost the town $358,000 annually.
This will add cost to the budget and is something the board needs to address. Selectperson Christine Joy also pointed out that there’s a revenue risk associated with falling below state mandates for the advanced life support system. She told her board, “It seems like if we don’t move in this direction and we’re not able to provide service for these advanced calls, we’re going to end up losing money and this will be even more in the red than we currently are.”
Traynor acknowledge that it’s something the boards needs to tackle, but it wasn’t something that could be solved in one night. Finance Committee input as well as more Wage and Personnel input are both necessary.
Selectmen later moved on to updates on some older business. Specifically, plans for handling and complying with the new Public Records Law were considered.
In July of 2016, Governor Charlie Baker signed Chapter 121 of the Acts of 2016, “An Act to Improve Public Records,” which became law on January 1, 2017.
The bill sought to improve access to public records by requiring towns and cities to have an electronic system in place where public records can be requested and sent out via a public records officer. The public records officer has ten days to produce the requested material or to give an answer why they cannot be produced within the timeframe and to give an estimate of when the records can be made available.
During the previous Board of Selectmen’s meeting on Monday, January 9, 2017, Town Clerk Tara Shaw presented a walkthrough of the electronic system she had put in place. She was also looking for ways to streamline the process because of the sheer amount of work required by the new law in addition to her responsibilities as town clerk.
One solution that will be implemented is simply putting as much information online as possible. The more information that is there, the less request there should be. Tara Shaw also says this will help with the public records request process because in many cases, sending a requestor a link to something that has already been made public should suffice.
One solution that Shaw and Traynor looked into was software that streamlines the process. According to Traynor, this would be a custom access database that self maintains public records.
Shaw says, “Right now, we are using four different programs.” She also mentioned that using one would streamline the process and make it easier for others besides her to use as well.
Starting this database would require funding. However, Selectwomen Christine Joy says, “This may fall under a technology grant.”
Though she’s using four different programs for this public records process, she did say that the Virtual Town Hall’s features for the town’s website have proven useful. Traynor suggested Shaw run a class on how to use Virtual Town Hall for the departments and she is willing to do this.
Shaw and the board also made progress on determining some of the secondary records access officers. They will be responsible for the public records for their respective departments.
For the school department, Peter Veneto, the principal at Dennett Elementary School will preside as the secondary records access officer. The police department will use Administrative Assistant Leanne Cashman and the fire department’s records will fall under Fire Chief Warren Borsari.
As far as the concern over needing another public records officer, Tara Shaw acknowledge last meeting there really wasn’t room in the budget for even a part time position. The finance committee was in attendance for some of the meeting though and suggested putting funds in the reserve fund for the Public Records Law rather than hiring new permanent staff.
The Finance Committee discussed financial planning materials from the Collins Center Group that are intended to help with the town’s budget.
According to the Finance Committee, this year’s budget in particular is expected to be tight. There are many capital requests coming in and.priorities need to be set.
Selectmen said that progress was made on the job description for the position of Town Administrator. It’s making progress but does still need more work.