Dudley - “We started the year off with a bad snowstorm in January that immediately brought us over budget,” said Steven Sullivan, chairman of the board of selectmen. “But we weathered that storm and were able to come off well for the year financially.” The Town was even able to move some money into the stabilization fund.
Mr. Sullivan emphasized that the budget balancing was accomplished because of the town employees’ dedication and their willingness to learn new jobs. “Without their cooperation we wouldn’t have come out the way we did.” He also credits the leadership of Town Administrator Peter Jankowski, managing the work so that the Town did not have to lay off any employees.
Economic development for the town is always a goal, and this year’s establishment of a new Economic Development Committee was one of the hopeful things that happened on that front. The EDC will start at a grassroots level and take a long range view, said Mr. Jankowski. The building fee moratorium, extended again this year, was also intended to help spur economic development.
Another positive economic development was the agreement for the extension of the Oxford sewer line to run through Dudley, potentially allowing new businesses to tie into the line.
At the May town elections, incumbent Anthony B. DiDonato Sr. was reelected to his 13th term as selectman, receiving 594 votes versus challenger Sean Guerin’s 359 votes.
Also at the election, incumbent Conrad Allen was returned to the Board of Assessors with 567 votes. Patrick Flynn won the Town Moderator position with 41 write-in votes. Dudley-Charlton Regional School committee member Pauline Aucoin was reelected, as was S.W. C. R. V School District member Alfred Reich, John Zajkowski and Thomas Fournier were elected to the Board of Health. William Fyffe and Stacy Adamuska were reelected to the Library Board of Trustees. Water Commissioner Daniel O’Connor was reelected to another three year terms Guy Horne and Jeff Blanchard were successful write-in candidates for the Planning Board.
Question One on the ballot changing the Town Clerk from an elected to an appointed position was opposed 589 to 365. Two other ballot questions asking the town be permitted to assess additional real estate and property taxes were both defeated.
At the Annual Spring Town Meeting later in the month, voters approved a $13 million budget for fiscal year 2012, which was balanced with a 5.3% ($362,435) cut in operating expenses along with a draw of $125,000 from the stabilization account. The Fire Department sustained a $68,808 cut in programs and overtime, the Police Department received a cut of $49,969, and the highway department $33,489. In addition the sewer department operating costs were reduced by $80,172 and the water account by $27,959.
New Fire Chief and expanded emergency coverage
The year also began with the retirement of Fire Chief Jeffrey M. Phelps, who had served Dudley for 33 years. For the next six months, Emergency Management Director David Konieczny and Father Peter Preble ably ran the department.
In June Dean C. Kochanowski was installed as the new Fire Chief, Emergency Management Direcctor, and Forest Fire Warden. Previously Chief Kochanowski was a lieutenant in the Holden Fire Department and EMS director in West Boylston.
One of Chief Kochanowski’s first actions was to restructure the department with the promotion of Lt. Paul Konieczny to the position of Fire Captain/Assistant Emergency Management Director. Another was to recommend the addition of two per diem positions to Emergency Management Services, allowing the department to respond to calls between 6 p.m. and midnight, hours which had been uncovered.
Selectmen supported the expanded coverage and the plan was implemented in November after voters approved funding for the proposal at the fall town meeting.
“We saw immediate results,” said Mr. Sullivan. He cited a recent example when the ambulance responded to an emergency is just two minutes during the now-covered timeframe. Previously the response would have had to come from a neighboring town.
“And we did this in a way that was fiscally responsible. We didn’t cut one department in order to fund another one,” he said.
Selectman Tony DiDonato passes away
In September, the town was saddened when the just reelected Selectman Tony DiDonato died at age 89.
“That caught us all off guard,” Mr. Sullivan said. “He was one of the cornerstones of the Board of Selectmen. He was truly a cheerleader and advocate for Dudley. If anybody had a problem, they’d go find Tony.”
Mr. Jankowski added, “Every selectman takes a role. Tony’s was to take care of people, and he did an excellent job. He was ‘old school’ politics.”
The special election to serve out Tony’s term took place December 19. Peter Fox, chairman of the Personnel Board won the position with 424 votes. Finance Appropriations and Advisory committee member John J. Marsi came in second with 388 votes, and form selectmen Alfred Reich had 177 votes.
Projects – new and old
Selectman Nancy Runkle reviewed the progress of various construction projects in the town.
Retail projects included the new Rite-Aid store, which opened in May, and the new Cumberland Farms, which is well under way to completion in the next few months, after four years of discussion.
I. F. Engineering Corp, a manufacturer of high tech DOD products, is constructing a new facility at 245 West Main Street and will move its operations from Connecticut to the new plant. The company will employ close to a hundred employees. While this location is zoned commercial, the bylaw had to be changed to accommodate this particular business, Ms. Runkle said.
Real progress is being made on the West Dudley Bridge, which was deemed structurally unsound by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation three years ago and has been closed since. Because it’s a state bridge, the town has had to depend on Mass DOT to rebuild it. In fact, the bridge will be totally replaced.
The highway department, the selectmen, and the town administrator have been diligently working to get this project underway. Mr. Jankowski has talked with Mass DOT every other week, and has made real progress. The taking of property has been done, the construction contract has been awarded, and Verizon and National Grid are now moving the power poles. The hard date for project completion is November 6, said Mr. Jankowski. After that date, the contractor incurs penalties.
Up on Dudley Hill, Nichols College is constructing a new 30,000 sq. ft. student center, scheduled for completion in the fall of 2012. Also in the plans is the rebuilding of the section of Center Road from the four corners to just west of Healy Rd. The road was never constructed correctly, but had simply been paved over an unstable base time and again over a century, explained Ms. Runkle. This time it will be built correctly. Nichols funded the design and the state will pay for the reconstruction.
There was no movement in 2011 on the Stevens Mill proposal, said Ms. Runkle. The town is still supportive of the owner receiving tax credits and to eventually renovate the structure for residential and retail use.
EPG Solar sought approval to build a solar energy facility on a parcel of land located at 236 Blackmer Road in Dudley and extending into Southbridge.
At the end of the conversation, Chairman Sullivan comes back to the people he loves to talk about - the people in the Town Hall, and how they make Dudley the town that it is. He tells about how they worked to reopen the beach, to bring Santa at Christmas, and to make sure there’s tree a lighting.
He mentions Town Accountant Deb Thibaudeau, along with Brian Dorval of the building and grounds department, and Michelle Jervis, Selectmen Administrator, who personally take the time to help with the dog shelter. “Deb will actively badger her friends to take the dogs,” he said
He also complimented Mr. Jankowski.”He’s a strong administrator, he solves problems for people.”
As for his part, Mr. Jankowski said that in his 15 years as a town administrator, he sees this as a board that works very well together. There is not a lot of conflict, he said.
Dudley looks good to go for 2012.