Firefighter override passes by narrow margin at Athol Town Election

(From left) Athol Fire Chief Joseph Guarnera, Athol Firefighters Association President Travis Braley, Fire Department Staffing Advisory Committee Chair Ken Duffy, and Selectboard member Rebecca Bialecki discuss the Proposition 2 ½ override, which was approved by Athol voters at Monday’s Town Election.

(From left) Athol Fire Chief Joseph Guarnera, Athol Firefighters Association President Travis Braley, Fire Department Staffing Advisory Committee Chair Ken Duffy, and Selectboard member Rebecca Bialecki discuss the Proposition 2 ½ override, which was approved by Athol voters at Monday’s Town Election. PHOTO BY GREG VINE

The old ballot deposit box still employed in Royalston’s Town Election recorded that 245 votes had been cast as of 7 p.m. on Monday.

The old ballot deposit box still employed in Royalston’s Town Election recorded that 245 votes had been cast as of 7 p.m. on Monday. PHOTO BY GREG VINE

By GREG VINE

For the Athol Daily News

Published: 04-02-2024 2:10 PM

ATHOL– A Proposition 2 ½ override aimed at increasing staff at the Athol Fire Department passed at Monday’s Town Election.

By only 96 votes – 639 to 543 – voters said “yes” to a $286,000 override to fund the hiring of three paramedic/EMT/firefighters. Funding for a fourth firefighter will be included in the proposed FY25 town budget.

Last year, Fire Chief Joseph Guarnera and other town officials had proposed an override seeking $895,000 to fund the hiring of eight firefighters but, in the wake of that ballot question’s defeat, it was decided to ask for a lesser amount.

“I’m very happy,” Guarnera said after the results of the election were announced. “This is a step in the right direction. It’s a great thing. After the people learned a bit more about what we were talking about and what the issues were, I think we might have changed some opinions – probably a lot of opinions – and it’s a good thing people turned out to vote. It’s a good thing for the fire department; it’s a good thing for the town.”

“I’m just elated with this outcome,” said Selectboard member Rebecca Bialecki, “because it shows that the townspeople who got the information made the right decision, the decision that was best for everyone. So, I’m very excited.”

Finance and Warrant Advisory Committee Chair Ken Duffy – who also chaired the Fire Department Staffing Advisory Committee that authored the override – said he wanted to see as many people at the polls as possible in order to get a sense of what the town wanted.

“We still have some long-term needs but, right now, this will stabilize the service and put us on firmer footing while getting some help to the staff that needs it,” said Duffy.

Following the Town Election vote, the override will go to Town Meeting, where residents will once again vote on the matter.

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“This will definitely be a boost to morale,” said Athol Firefighters Association President Travis Braley. “I don’t think there will be any issues at Town Meeting. We’ve been down this road before; the first time we were told ‘no,’ but this result looks promising.”

Chauvette wins seat on School Committee

Lee Chauvette will once again represent Athol on the Athol Royalston Regional School Committee. Chauvette defeated political newcomer Jason Savoy, 808-362 votes in Athol and 107-69 votes in Royalston, to win a one-year term on the committee.

“I would like to thank the voters of Athol and Royalston for bestowing the honor and privilege of returning to the School Committee,” Chauvette said in a press release. “I look forward to bringing my level of experience back to the committee. I also look forward to working with the committee itself as well as the central office and school staff. As an elected official I will work hard as I always have to best represent the needs of the district as well as the communities.”

A ballot question asking Athol voters to approve a series of changes to the Town Charter passed easily, 690-457.

Candidates elected without opposition included incumbent Town Moderator Larry McLaughlin and incumbent Selectboard member Andy Sujdak.

Christie Wehmeyer and Frank Visco II were unopposed in the race to fill two three-year seats as Athol representatives on the School Committee. Wehmeyer was appointed last year to fill a vacancy on the committee. Visco ran unsuccessfully in a four-way race for two seats committee in 2023.

Royalston Town Election

Monday also saw Royalston’s Town Election, in which Bill Chapman – making his first foray into town politics – won a seat on the Selecboard, defeating former Selectboard member Gary Winitzer, 211-38. Chapman will fill the seat vacated by Den D’Amico, who chose not to seek re-election after two terms on the board.

Roberta Newman will return as one of Royalston’s representatives on the A-R School Committee, running unopposed for a three-year term. Newman will assume the seat vacated by longtime committee member Carla Rabinowitz.

Greg Vine can be reached at gvineadn@gmail.com.