Northampton's Fire Chief
Ambitions of Fire Dept. Boss
Meet Little Official Resistance
By Edward Shanahan
The so-called “Resist” movement in Florence raises perennial questions about the relationship of that section of the city and downtown, or city government. There has long been a tension between the two, at least in my memory since coming to Florence in 1971.
The most recent source of strain was the imperious action of the Fire Chief Brian Duggan making an end run around established procedure, in the name of fire safety. He imposed totally arbitrary and hefty fees on businesses – including Florence Hardware – for the storage of certain materials. Store owner Todd Sienkiewicz went to court and got the fees overturned, thus triggering the call to Resist, or at least the appearance of Resist signs.
Coupled with some nasty zoning disputes in Florence in recent years, the chief’s actions seemed to exacerbate the them (City Hall) vs. us (downtown Florence) mentality.
Chief Duggan came to Northampton from Northborough where he had a reputation for free-spending ways to add to the town’s rolling stock and other expensive hardware. The knock on him by some was that he had an empire-building mindset, which seems to have continued since his arrival here.
It did not take long before he persuaded the mayor and City Council to spring for a new $750,000 fire truck, and then to begin the slow but steady task of creating an ambulance service in the department, first acquiring two modestly priced units and then buying a $160,000 red beauty.
This was all carried out while the city had a no-cost 24-hour seven –day private service.
On course, normal annual increases in the Fire Department budget could not finance all of these capital expenditures and additional operating costs, but there are always those surprise fees that the department could tack on. And tack on it did without City Council approval, until the judge called a halt and the chief got taken to woodshed in a closed meeting of the City Council several week ago. We still don’t know what was said, but the mayor came up with her own, more modest substitute fee schedule.
The budget, however, is able to support Duggan’s $114,000 salary, somewhat more than the school superintendent receives, and we are told he has also a lucrative consulting business on the side.
As of July 1, the city takes over as the primary weekday provider of ambulance service, with another private firm Am B Care having a contract to provide coverage nights and weekends and for non-emergency transfers, which is where the big revenue (medical insurance payments) is.
So it appears, the chief’s small empire continues to expand. There may be a Resist movement in Florence, but overall it seems city officials find Chief Duggan’s plans for his department mostly Irresistible.
And so far as we know, AMR, which had the ambulance service contract for a decade still remains here with its fleet of nearly 10 units parked at offices at the former Multi-Color factory building off Bardwell Street.
We’re told by reliable sources that Richard Covell announced at a recent board meeting his intention to resign as a trustee of Look Park. The former President of the defunct Heritage Bank has served as treasurer of the board for 27 years. He told the board he hoped it would consider naming board member Rob Ostberg as his successor.
Being treasurer of the park is no picnic.
The park has been facing financial difficulties in recent years. As expenses, some of them associated with the creation of the Garden House, outpace revenue, the park has increasingly had to draw down its endowment for operating costs. In fact, between 2000 and 20005, the park’s yoysl endowment decreased by about $4 million, federal financial reports indicate.
Meanwhile, elsewhere on the local endowment front, at the May meeting of the Trustees of Forbes Library, TD Banknorth investment advisers from Pittsfield reported that at the end of March the library’s endowment stood at just slightly more than $3 million, which is somewhat smaller that it was some years ago before money was taken for various physical renovations to the interior and exterior of the library.
Income for the endowment and the principal itself are restricted and not available for operating expenses, based on the terms of the will of Charles Forbes, the library’s benefactor. Thus, when city funds are scarce. as is the case now, the endowment can not be used, for example, to pay salaries to keep the library open on Sundays.
Three trustee positions will be up for grabs in the fall election, the seats now held by David Bloomberg, Bonnie Burnham and Peter Rowe. Burnham has indicated she plans to seek re-election. Two years ago the largest field ever, nearly a dozen candidates, sought election to the library board.
At its most recent meeting, the trustees moved ahead with the legal steps necessary to enlarge the board from it current five members to seven, which will require action by the Probate Court, City Council and state legislature. This process could take many months, according to trustees.
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