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Webster rejects pellet boiler, approves work to fire station

With an adamant “no,” voters at Webster’s town meeting sent a message that they did not want a wood pellet boiler for the town. However, the town’s fire hall will be getting some safety improvements to the tune of $128,000.

It was standing-room only as a crowd of more than 220 turned out to cast votes yesterday at the town hall.

Voters passed a budget of $1.3 million, which was up $53,500, or 4.3 percent, over last year.

The budget was supported by two of three selectmen, with Mason Donovan dissenting. He told voters yesterday that his disagreement was with the 3 percent raise for Webster police officers.

“Our police department has done a fantastic job,” Donovan said. “This is no question of your value. It’s just a matter of being financially prudent.”

Donovan went on to say he didn’t think it was fair that the police received a 3 percent raise in 2013 and then another 3 percent this year when town officials didn’t receive a raise last year and won’t get one this year.

However, voters didn’t seem to mind and voted the budget in unanimously.

They were less easygoing about two other articles on this year’s budget, the first of which was a proposed $128,120 to complete safety upgrades to the public safety building. This amounts to, among other things, putting new eaves on the building to allow snow to fall off the roof properly.

Currently, fire personnel have to put snow rakes on the roof to keep the snow from dropping off because when it does, it lands right next to the building, said fire Chief Robert Wolinski. During heavy snows, this is a big problem because in at least one instance it knocked the nozzle off the gas line leading into the building. The snow also falls in such a way that it piles halfway up one of the exit doors to the building, the chief said.

“I apologize having to bring this to you,” Wolinski said. “It’s come to my attention . . . that the building has had roof issues since it was installed.”

The building was constructed in 2011 with a roof with no eaves, a style more common in the South, not the Northeast.

The chief said there were times during the worst storms when firefighters had to get on the roof and shovel to keep the snow from piling too high.

In the end, Wolinski said despite its design flaws it’s a good building that was worth constructing. By taking care of these roof issues – and eventually issues of buckling pavement in the parking lot – they can keep it sound for years to come.

Voters unanimously approved the expenditure.

The new wood pellet boiler didn’t fare as well.

The article asked for $43,000 to design, purchase and install a wood pellet boiler heating system for the town hall. Martin Bender, a member of the town’s energy committee who spoke in favor of the boiler, said the town has a grant from the state that would cover $30,000 of the project.

Bender explained that there are two older oil-fired boilers the town is looking to replace in the near future, primarily because they are running at only 80 percent efficiency. Bender said that the energy committee determined electric and propane heating would be too expensive and the town can’t use natural gas, because the option isn’t available in Webster.

The committee concluded that oil or wood pellet boilers were the most cost-effective. He said oil would cost the town roughly $7,500 per year, while wood pellets would cost the town about $4,000 per year.

But voters questioned who would maintain, clean and empty the ashes from the pellet heaters. Bender said the company that would install the boiler would do the yearly maintenance and that someone from the energy committee would come out every other week or so to dispose of the bag of ashes by sprinkling them out on the school’s soccer fields.

But voters who spoke publicly about the issue balked at that plan, wondering where the money for maintenance was going to come from and how much it would cost. Some voters, who said they had experience with wood pellet boilers, also contradicted the notion the ashes would only have to be replaced every couple of weeks. At least one voter pointed out the terrible mess ashes would make on the soccer field. Still other voters wondered about other alternative forms of energy such as solar and geothermal heat. And a few more voters pointed out that this year, there was actually a shortage of pellets.

The article was defeated.

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