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Raises proposed for town workers and officials

ATHOL - At a meeting Oct. 18, that was expected to be gripped in a controversial showdown over local ambulance service, the Thurman town board proposed a 2 percent raise in salary for elected government officials and town employees. The decisions on ambulance squad's funding and future was postponed to Oct. 19 - although plenty of comment was heard about the issues, including talk of an impending squad shutdown.Proposed by the board at its fiscal meeting and budget hearing, the idea of raises were presented as a way to reward and encourage theindividuals on the town's payroll. During the present year, the salaries were capped at 2009 levels. Interim town supervisor Al Vasak suggested the raises, mentioning part-time employees like Thurman's two deputy town clerks, who each earn less than $7.50 per hour."We have to be able to make people at least want to do these jobs," Vasak said. "We need to give them enough to put gas in their cars and cover their expenses."Vasak noted the level salaries of last year, and a general lag in growth over time, even affecting key officials like the town clerk, who earns about $18,000 per year. He promised to investigate comparable wages for similar positions in other neighboring towns, and make suggestions for raises as appropriate."It's not so much about strict dollars and cents, as it is to send a message to these people that we appreciate them," Vasak said.The 2011 town budgetary allocation for the Thurman Emergency Medical Services, however, has been more controversial, as talk has circulated about multiplying their allocation or seeing the agency wither due to lack of funding.Squad officials threatened impending squad shutdown after the town board balked several weeks ago over their request for $150,000 in 2010, a substantial boost over last year's $55,800 allotment. The squad has cited a need to regain its Advanced Life Support certification, with most of this sum paying for full-time paid staff. After the board took issue with this initial figure, EMS officials lowered estimates more than once, dropping first to $75,000, then Monday to a sum of $72,103.Vasak and the board members talked briefly with EMS representatives prior to the budget hearing, and decided Tuesday's general meeting would serve as a better forum, prompting some EMS officials to walk out.Later in the evening, the matter was debated in the public comment period, with both residents and board members openly questioning the need for such services in the town. Vasak said Thurman hosted only 80 ambulance calls last year, as opposed to neighboring Warrensburg, which fielded 1,250 calls."The town is not mandated to have EMS. Are they going to be quicker than Warrensburg? Maybe a minute or two," Vasak said. "Can we afford it? The answer is ‘No.'"

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